What if they don't come back to church?
COVID-19 has completely changed our church experience forever. But what will happen when the powers that be allow us to return to our gilded Christian castles? Will our church experience return to the pre-COVID state? I don't think so. But that could be a good thing.
For months churches have worked hard to bring the church experience into people's homes via Facebook Live and other online avenues. At first, it was exciting going to church in your PJs, but as the weeks (and months) have labored on, interest has waned, and people are more likely to sleep in than switch on the broadcast. This unique predicament has revealed some uniquely troubling problems for the modern church. Before you get too concerned, there is good news also.
The format is outdated.
The following statements might be hard for some of you to hear, but you must open your mind to the truths the church faces today. The days of pulpits, pews & bulletins are ancient history. But not just that. The huge churches with satellite campuses, gourmet coffee, and professional musical production are equally out of touch with reality.
These models are not producing deeply devoted disciples, but politically influenced zealots and biblically illiterate feelers. Paul would call them "little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit." (Ephesians 4:14)
The time has come to put away outdated traditions and return to a more ancient form of church that takes us deep and prepares us for the hardships and persecution that is to come.
One of the strangest things I saw during the quarantine was pastors preaching online from the pulpit of their empty buildings. Why? What compelled them to do that?
Does that pulpit hold some mystical power? Does the empty building bring some kind of comfort to the people watching at home? I think we all know the answer to those questions. Emphatically, No.
Tradition has taken us to an embarrassing place in church history. But it has also revealed our misplaced and unhelpful spiritual crutches. I applaud the shepherds, who opened up their laptops and taught live from their homes or offices. That is real life and more relatable and comforting to most church members (in my opinion). It also reveals our deep desire for genuine spiritual interactions devoid of tradition and pretense.
The structure isn't financially sustainable.
I read a statistic last week that said 1/3 of pastors in the US would resign before this pandemic is over. COVID-19 has revealed another glaring truth about our current church models.
They are only financially sustainable during times of prosperity. When giving goes down because of unemployment, struggling businesses, and a downturn in the global economy, we are in trouble.
How will we pay for our staff? Where will we get the money to prop up the building that has been empty for four months? Is it right to compel church members to pay the church's bills when they struggle to feed their own families?
We all know intellectually that the church is not a building, but our financial investments betray the fact that we put more faith in our real estate than we should. Without our buildings, will the church survive?
The church of the New Testament is sustainable in times of prosperity and hardship. It depends on horizontal relationships, sharing our resources, and letting our perseverance bear witness to our faith in God.
It is time for us to consider a more sustainable model because our future could look more like suffering than prosperity, I don't know about you, but I want to be ready for that.
Historically, the church has shone brightest during the darkest times in history.
The people are content.
The truth is that some church members will never return, now that they know they don't "need to." Over the last few months, they realized that physical attendance was not necessary to maintain religious respectability. Therefore they could watch an hour of teaching from the comfort of home and not feel pressured to dress up, act perfect, and participate in programs that steal precious time.
It is no surprise to most of us that our churches are filled with "cultural Christians" who are churchgoers but not fully devoted to Christ's eternal cause. The American church is plagued with one of the most confusing dilemmas. It is full of lost people who think they are saved.
It's hard to know who is who when everyone is well trained to speak the language and play the part. But this paradigm shift may help us to separate the wheat from the tares. It is the perfect opportunity for us to focus on gospel clarity and help people understand what it means to be Christians without the confusing cultural masks that everyone uses so well.
A Quiet Revolution
It's time for the church to adapt to the current environment because even after the Coronavirus is in our rearview mirror, things will never go back to the way they were before.
The good news: There is a model in the Bible that demonstrates a church structured in a way that thrived in times of suffering, hardship, and even persecution. There is, in fact, an abundance of Biblical material devoted to this very topic.
The church's purest form is an intimate family of brothers and sisters supporting and encouraging each other through their daily expression of the Gospel in their midst.
There were no programs or buildings, only Godly people devoted to serving God and each other.
Christians today are starved for this more unadorned and intimate expression of their faith. They are tired of all the empty platitudes and cliche answers. They want to be a part of something real and life-giving.
Watch carefully. The churches that try to force people back into the old format will likely die or stagnate in the coming years, but those that innovate and meet the people where they are will thrive in this uncertain environment.
We must carefully consider our future and the path that we choose to walk. If you are interested in the ancient ways of the early church, here are a few helpful adaptations that could help you begin the journey.
Meet people where they are. Gather in homes, parks, and other public places. Meet in areas that "life happens" rather than sterilized religious buildings.
Avoid politicizing the hurt and pain in the world around us. Look at things through a spiritual lens rather than a polarizing political perspective.
Gods word (study scripture together, discuss it, challenge each other to live it),
Music (sing songs that express your current situation, write songs, you don't have to be a professional, just make a joyful noise),
Testimony (regularly take time to share what God is doing in your life and what he is teaching you)
Fervent prayer (pray for those who are hurting, pray for the lost, pray that He would help you see the world through his eyes.)
Encourage house churches to reach out to their community. Let these little intimate church gatherings minister within their neighborhoods, counseling, witnessing, teaching, and praying with those who are open to it.
Change your perspective on the clergy. Acknowledge that we all have the same seal of the Holy Spirit and are commanded to minister to one another. Recognize wise leaders who are living by example and willing to mentor others into a mature faith. Empower them to lead.
This pandemic could very well be the catalyst that brings the church into one of its most dynamic and healthy periods in history. Don't get discouraged if people don't return to the church building. Be ready to evolve and take an essential and redemptive message to the places where God opens the doors.
Don't mourn the passing of the old way, but rejoice that God is doing something new.
If you would like to read more of my writing, check out my recently published book on Amazon.
Letters to an Apprentice invites you on a journey--occasionally uncomfortable and revealing--as one young apprentice develops and matures through the influence of one mentor after another. These lessons are shared through a series of letters that use real-life scenarios to prompt innovative ideas that inspire you to become a better mentor or apprentice. Letters to an Apprentice is filled with practical examples and steps to help you:
- find your mentor and make the best of that relationship.
- find your apprentice and pass on what you have learned.
- Create a culture of mentorship in your family, church, ministry, or team.