Reexamining the Church After COVID-19
With no viable treatment options available and vaccines still in development, it’s difficult to say how long COVID-19 safety measures will remain in place. The truth is, there is still much we don’t know about this virus. There is one thing that is almost certain…
The world will never be the same again.
In a recent post, we highlighted just a few of the changes that have happened across the US in recent months. Businesses are closing, industries are being turned upside down, and people are changing the way they live their lives. Even with businesses, restaurants, and churches reopening their doors, much of society is hesitating to return to normal. With all that has happened, it’s hard to say what normal even is anymore.
Many people are reluctant to reengage in person due to ongoing concerns over COVID. For others, they’ve simply gotten used to living their lives in the comfort of their own homes and personal schedules.
Regardless, we are seeing a rapid cultural shift, and if churches aren’t thinking about how they can adapt to the current situation, they risk joining the ever-growing list of establishments that have permanently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some churches are going as far as delaying their own reopening so that they can further assess the needs of their congregations and meet them where they’re at.
Pastor Levi Lusko, pastor of Fresh Life in Montana, recently said this:
“We’re choosing to not gear up into the mistake of longing to go back to life before COVID, nor are we trying to treat regathering as if it’s a silver bullet. We’ve chosen to say that this is a chance to reboot, reassess, to jettison old systems.”
Whether your church has reopened or not, this is a great perspective to have. At this point, reverting back to how things were being done at the start of 2020 seems like a move in the wrong direction. Instead, it’s time to think about what the church of the future could really look like.
Virtually the Same
Churches as a whole have done a great job of quickly adapting to quarantine measures. Some were able to simply hold outdoor services, providing space for people to drive up with their cars and either roll down their windows or tune into the service through their radio.
Most churches, however, placed the bulk of their attention on digital efforts.
Much of the church experience was brought online as congregations of all sizes were live-streaming entire services, hosting digital meetups, providing lessons and resources for children, posting daily devotionals, and more. Though churches are now reopening, they shouldn’t lose focus on these online efforts. If anything, they should start incorporating them into almost everything they do.
There is no doubt that providing a physical space for people to gather, connect, and worship is important. Church buildings have long been a place of refuge, and they should continue to be that and more. But it’s equally important to remember that the Church itself is not a building (or a series of buildings, for that matter).
When Paul lays out instructions for the Church in 1 Timothy 5, he doesn’t describe a facility or structure. He describes a people. As many already know, early Christians gathered in homes, especially once the Roman persecutions began around 64 AD. In a way, COVID-19 has brought us back to our roots.
Some churches express concern that increased online presence will ultimately hurt their overall attendance. However, according to an in-depth study carried out by Vanderbloemen, Pushpay, and Saddleback Church’s Pastor Jay Kranda, most churches have actually seen physical growth after launching online ministry.
The study, which was released last year, found that many people first attended online before then coming in person.
An online service option certainly offers a less intimidating point of entry for newcomers, especially those who are unfamiliar with church. Of course, it’s great for current members as well. It provides a way for them to remain engaged in their church even when they’re out of town, sick, or otherwise stuck at home.
Here in Minnesota, we’re all too familiar with being snowed in on a Sunday morning. Rather than scrambling to shift everything online when a blizzard is coming, churches could be at a place where they can carry out their normal operations whether people are able to make it to their facility or not.
A digitally-focused church isn’t just better equipped to handle a global pandemic; it’s positioned to make a much greater impact on 21st century civilization.
An increased online presence allows churches to remain more engaged with their communities throughout the week. Whether it’s posting daily devotionals, highlighting sermon segments, organizing volunteer opportunities, or issuing quick responses to immediate cultural problems, online platforms allow churches to reach far beyond the people attending services on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights.
A New Normal
Most of what we’ve seen churches doing during COVID-19 isn’t necessarily new. They have been leveraging social media, websites, video platforms, and apps for some time.
However, these methods have generally been used as an extension or an add-on, rather than a core focus.
Over the past months, churches have started to completely rethink the way they do just about everything, rebuilding a 2000-year-old practice with the latest tools available. Thankfully, they have some examples to look to.
Arguably the most prominent is Churchome.
At the start of 2019, Pastor Judah Smith relaunched The City Church as Churchome, a Christian community that’s built around an app as much as it is a physical location.
The Churchome app offers a digital lobby, live (and archived) sermons, commenting and chat functionality, interactive prayer boards, virtual groups, and more. Since launching, the app has been downloaded and installed hundreds of thousands of times. Meanwhile, Churchome itself has maintained active and growing in-person services, gatherings, and more.
Two years ago, the idea of virtual church sounded extreme. Thanks to COVID-19, it’s become normalized. That doesn’t mean churches need to put large amounts of funds towards developing a cutting edge, fully functional church app. However, they should be willing to reapproach how they serve and engage with their communities even as they’re able to hold services in-person once more.
The love of God and the message of the Gospel remains the same. This simply makes it more accessible.
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If you’re currently leading a church in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro, we’d love to hear about how you’re handling church in the face of current events.
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