Church After Covid-19: Three Hard Realities the Church Must Face
Back in March, many of us pressed pause on “regular” church, assuming we would be back in a few weeks. Four months later most churches are trying to sputter back to some form of in-person ministry, and we’ve all realized the impact of this crisis will not be measured in weeks or even months, but years. Consider three realities the church must face as we prepare for what’s next.
1. We can’t go back.
“I just can’t wait until we get back to normal!” We’ve all said it, but as the Covid-19 crisis moves into its fourth month with no real end in sight, we have to accept that church as we knew it has changed significantly.
Does that mean we can’t engage in the type of ministries we had pre-covid? No. It just means we will have to rebuild them rather than simply restart them. The leaders, volunteers, participants, and systems for each ministry will need to be reengaged, reenergized, rebuilt, and in many cases, replaced. That will not happen quickly, which leads me to the second reality we must face.
2. This is going to be a two-year process.
When this first started, I challenged our staff to put together a disciple-making strategy that would work through August without in-person ministries. I remember saying, “We know this isn’t going to last that long, but we need to be overprepared.” We thought we were overpreparing when in fact, we were woefully underestimating the length and impact of the pandemic.
Now, we are taking a two-year approach. What does it look like to reengage our faith family in discipleship and missions over the course of two years? Before we ask that difficult question, however, we need to ask two more. First, what does it mean to make disciples? And second, how will we know when we are making disciples? That leads me to the third reality we must face.
3. The metrics have changed.
During Covid, our online engagement has skyrocketed. Our giving has increased. When we opened registration for socially distanced services, the seats started filling up quickly. Those are great signs of connection and engagement, but what do they really mean when it comes to discipleship?
In what seems to be the distant past, we measured the quality of our environments, which were designed to make disciples, and we measured the number of people engaged in those environments. Those measurements just aren’t working for us in the current moment, and as we embark on a two-year rebuilding process, they seem inadequate. So what do we measure to gauge effectiveness? I’m not sure yet, but 1) it won’t be what we were measuring four months ago and 2) it must be more individually focused. Discipleship can’t be measured in groups.
Do You See the Opportunity?
This is not a doom and gloom article. While these new realities are difficult to face, they are also incredible opportunities, and I don’t mean that in the “let’s all look for the silver lining” kind of way. This is a once in a generation opportunity, and we can't afford to miss it.
Don’t Go Back, Go Forward
We desperately want to go back to the way things were—that’s the choice most of us would make—but that’s not an option—it is not a choice that any of us can make. We cannot go back; we can only go forward. The truth is, however, we don’t need to go back. Many of us were stuck in ministry ruts that were no longer effective. Now, we have the opportunity to go forward without the demands and even constraints of existing ministry structures.
Embrace a Two-Year Rebuilding Strategy
Building new, more effective structures is going to take time. That’s why this is such a great opportunity! If it’s going to take two years to rebuild, why not rebuild better, more effective structures? One of the reasons church planting produces growth is that leaders have the opportunity to build ministries from scratch using current best practices over a one to two year period. That takes programmatic bandwidth and a clean slate—two things established churches aren’t known for. Most of us never have that kind of opportunity in established churches, but Covid-19 has changed all of that.
Create a New Scorecard
What really matters in disciple-making? For the past few decades, the church has been in an uncomfortable relationship with numbers. We know that nickels and noses don’t add up to disciple-making, but trying to reimagine what we should be measuring has been like walking the wrong way up a crowded escalator. Even when you know it’s the right way to go, the pressure from those around you makes it almost impossible.
What other hard realities must the church face? What other unique opportunities have we been given in this season? I hope pastors and church leaders everywhere are asking these questions, and I trust the next season of church life in North America will be filled with God’s goodness and grace.