Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:16-19)
Will things ever be like they once were? Will we ever have church again like we did before? After being out for so long, will people even want to come back to church?”
I have had this discussion with several pastors over the last couple of weeks. As churches prepare to reopen and consider all the implications of reopening, pastors have said they are concerned about what might lie ahead. Will things ever be the same?
I don’t know that they will. I’m not even convinced that they should. I love the local church. I have given most of my life to working in and for local church bodies. My conviction is that God has only one plan to reach the world . . . and that is through his local church.
But could it be that God is opening our eyes to doing things differently? Has the lockdown forced us to look at how we do ministry in a new way? Behold, God could be doing a new thing . . . again!
There are five things that I believe will and should change when we begin to gather again:
1. God’s work will not be confined to an address.
I have heard this truth taught all my life: “The building is not the church. The church is the people who have committed to this fellowship of believers.” But truthfully, many churches have confined and limited their ministry to an address by choice. Most of their programming and finances are focused inward.
Their ministry exists primarily for the convenience and comfort of those who attend their services in their building.
We now see that churches can carry on their ministry without buildings. Am I contending that churches should not meet in their buildings anymore? Not at all. I am saying that how we carry on our ministries should not be building focused.
2. Some people will choose to continue to worship from home.
It will be a great day when we are able to occupy our church buildings again and enjoy corporate worship. I’m looking forward to it! But what about those who make the decision not to come back? What about the people who like your FaceTime broadcasts each week? If people decide that they would rather worship from home through live broadcasts instead of coming to the church building, how will we respond to them?
I believe that there will be some (or many) who will choose to continue worshiping from home. We need to be ready to meet this reality head on. Shutting down your FaceTime worship service outreach will be a mistake. Discontinuing Zoom classroom settings in an attempt to drive people to the church building could result in people not being discipled. Because of restrictions, meeting in smaller groups could be the standard way that we “do church” from now on.
The challenge of the local church will be learning how to offer all these services in a better way then how to incorporate people who prefer “church from home” into the life of their church family.
Many pastors have said that they have had more people to preach to over the past eight weeks by way of FaceTime than they ever had during weekly face-to-face worship. Times are not going to change. Times have changed.
3. Online giving will continue to accelerate.
Most people in America now pay most of their bills online. Approximately 8.2 billion bills—or 56% of all bills—are paid online via a biller, bank or third-party website. Bills paid by check declined 20% between 2010 and 2016, according to ACI Worldwide. And nonprofitssources.com reports that churches using online tithing increase overall donations by 32%. During the time churches were forced to close their doors, online giving became a necessity. Churches who do not or will not make online a normal way to give will suffer.
4. Ministry creativity will become even more valuable.
It has been amazing to watch churches adjust and respond to their new reality. Drive-in services, Zoom Sunday school, Zoom youth group meetings, daily video updates and devotionals, weekly video hymn sing-alongs and many other creative ways to reach people and minister have been inspiring.
God’s church must continue to respond by being creative in approaches and the communication of his gospel. People respond to creativity. We are just wired that way. Pastors and leaders who embrace creativity will continue having success in reaching people. We serve a creative God whose universe declares his creativity.
5. Jesus will be enough.
To say Jesus is enough and to live that way are two different things, aren’t they? Be unique in your ministry approach! Do everything you can do to reach people with programming and great technology. All of this should be used for God’s glory. But one of the things this shutdown experience has taught me has been that in the end, Jesus will have to be enough. We may not be able to do all the “cool” things as a church that we have been doing.
Instead of employing all the bells and whistles it might need to be Christ and Christ alone to meet our needs. And honestly, that’s the way it should have been all along.