Written by: Neil Franks
The world is different now, just how much, we do not yet know. But we do know the church will be affected. Whatever the final results of the economic impact of COVID 19, the church will feel it. Whether from the loss of multiple Sundays of offerings, or the lost wages from unemployed church members who can longer give to the decreased wealth of retired parishioners whose nest egg has declined due to market loss, offerings will be down.
The well documented “loss of faith” already prevalent in our country could well be amplified by the “Where is a loving God in a pandemic?” The early deaths of attenders who contracted and ultimately passed due to the virus will also contribute to the decline. Outside another Great Awakening the sheer numbers of Americans in church will be down.
And whether church members who have moved online, checking out the slickest worship and the best preachers, will return to the local “mom and pop” operation once the “all clear” is given should at least generate a question in the minds of pastors who have just starting facebooking live, the church might be down.
But, it is not the end of the church, or America, at least not yet, so how will the church get stronger? What opportunities will the church discover in the days to come to Advance the Gospel? While looking for positives in the midst of such devastation is in no way to down play the hurt and pain and loss. This is not an article designed to simply look on the bright side, but rather knowing that we serve a God who makes beauty from ashes. Who takes a cross and turns it into an empty tomb, who out of the slaughter of infants brings resurrection, it will be an honest attempt to look for opportunities.
So, yes death, disease and economic depression present opportunities for the church. And while we will not know what it will look like, I am already seeing encouraging signs in the church. Here are a few that I believe are the right path for the church to continue.
Creativity – many in the church have awaken, to meeting needs. I have seen church embrace technology like never before. Everyone is streaming services in whatever quality they can. Churches are having drive-in Sunday services. Pastors are creating daily video devotions, children’s ministers are reading bedtime stories and a thousand other attempts are continuing to provide spiritual connection. Creativity is good.
Contact – more churches have instituted weekly phone calls to church members, rather than just relying on seeing people on Sunday. Deacons are more active in supporting families as well. Staff, without all the event planning, have more time talking to people, or driving by and chatting in the driveways of people. More contact is good.
Communication – churches are texting, emailing, doing video greetings more than ever all in an effort to communicate to their congregants. Whether it is a full studio production, or just the pastor with his phone capturing a few thoughts, this type of one way communication is important. But so too are the ways that people can reach out for prayer or counseling. Whether a button on the website or phone number to call for “tele-counseling” or virtual marriage counseling new ways are being explored. More communication is good.
Consensus – with stay at home orders, more churches are having more meetings online. Whether zoom or webx or slack or good old face time, committees are meeting. Staff meetings have gone online with close ups of faces from basements, kitchens and even from the back porch.
This opens up a whole new possibility of saving time and money as it just seems more is getting done in a shorter time. While this presents some relationship building challenges, for those already engaged with each other, this could be a new normal. I even know of two churches who have called pastors via electronic voting in view of a call with higher numbers in the affirmative than in the past. Consensus is good.
Cash – if churches were not pushing electronic giving before they are now. Our own organization has help over 20 churches go online with giving in just two weeks. Generosity by Lifeway has added about 1500 churches in the last two weeks. While this technology has been available, it is new to many. Anecdotally the churches I have contacted who already had a robust online giving strategy have not yet seen a major drop in giving, those churches who only played around with it have. Without meeting physically, the financial needs of ministry can be met. Online giving is good.
Clarity – Nothing brings clarity than crisis. The inability to meet as a church has forced the church to consider once again what is the most important. Which songs we sing, whether jeans or slacks are acceptable at church, and the color of carpet debates seem to fade away in moments like these. When survival is at stake, the nonessential falls to the background. Clarity is good.
We still do not know how and when the crisis will end. While I suspect we will survive and recover from this crisis, the more important question will be whether we integrate our learning from this event for the future. With such aggressive moves by the Federal government (restricting gatherings, shuttering businesses, tracking movement via phones, printing money, passing out money) the repercussion of the next crisis may be even more overreaching. We may not have time to respond. So maybe this is our wake up call.
But the church has always been able to adapt and continue to Advance the Gospel and all of these signs lead me to have some hope for the church, and hope is very good.