Major things that will affect the future of how we do church
These are unprecedented times. People are learning new things about themselves—new ways to work—new, home-friendly hobbies. Even as I write this, I’m sitting with my kids as they play with slime at the kitchen table—not my usual work environment.
Like most people out there, my home life is now my only life. And because of that, my job has gone through a major revamp. But this isn’t that new for my line of work. My industry has actually been under reconstruction for decades. It didn’t start with the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s certainly being brought to a head because of it.
I work at a church—one of the nearly 45,000 churches in the U.S. What we do is timeless. But how we do it is not. How we approach church in the U.S. right now is not how we will approach it in the future. It’s changing every day, and the COVID-19 pandemic is only bringing to the surface what many of us have seen coming for decades now.
This does not mean that the church as we have known it is bad nor is it irrelevant. The church began with Jesus and it is not going away. It’s the greatest movement in history, and it’s something to be proud of. But it needs periodic refocusing—periodic restrategizing. COVID-19 is forcing the church to do just that. It is serving to remind us of some major things that will affect the future of how we do church.
1. Technology Is Not Optional.
I have heard many church leaders talk about social media with a bit of disdain—saying it is not real—that it is not as important as being at church. That it’s only surface-deep and real ministry can’t happen through it. But suddenly, all of that is changing.
The week COVID-19 officially kept congregations home, I received many messages from churches trying to livestream from scratch. They were scrambling to climb a steep technology curve in one week (or in some cases, one day). Many churches that had no social media manager or anyone on staff savvy with new technology were suddenly in the dark and unable to communicate.
The internet is the greatest revolution in communication since the advent of the printing press. This is the greatest shift in communications in the last 500 years. But unlike the invention of the printing press, many churches have been slow to use technology. The world around us has changed vastly, but many churches function as if it has not.
Jesus told us in the Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations.” But in this pandemic season, we can’t jump on a plane and physically go to the nations. So what do we do?
Right now, according to Google, Facebook has over 2.5 billion accounts. Instagram has nearly 1 billion accounts worldwide. TikTok is the up-and-comer with nearly 500 million active users. The nations are now in our pockets, and we can go to them any time we want. We can’t keep expecting people to come to a church building. We need to bring the church to the people. We need to “go” to them. And the people are on social media.
Leaders like Chad Veach and Mike Todd are leading more people on social platforms than they could possibly fit in a church building. TikTok features teenage preachers with millions of followers. That’s right. Millions! These are leaders you may never read about. Leaders who are bringing real ministry to real people, in massive numbers. They have caught the vision of taking the gospel to where the people are.
And now COVID-19 has been making it more obvious to church leaders that social media is an important communication tool. Yes, it has some real negative consequences, but it also has real benefits. It can cause lasting life change in people. And in this season, there is no option but to use it.
2. Ministry Is Not Just Reserved for Professional Pastors.
For a long time now, we have separated parents and children in our church services. We have created quiet environments for grown-ups to learn from one preacher while our kids are in the other room. This is not true of every church, but most function this way.
Now that has changed. Parents are not just tasked with getting their kids to church, now they are tasked with bringing the church home to their noisy, attention-deficient little congregations. They are tasked with leading and teaching their children spiritually. They are now the pastors in their own home.
The same shift is happening to people without children. Friends, neighbors and coworkers need Jesus and they need real hope right now. Everyday Christians have now become pastors to their spheres of influence.
I can’t help but see this as a major step in the right direction. Ministry is not reserved for the professional pastor. It’s something for all of us. Our job as church leaders is to equip people for ministry, not require them to come to us for ministry the rest of their lives. The church is not built on the educated few—it’s built on the teachings and leadership of Jesus. This means it’s going to get messy. It’s going to involve loud children. It’s going to involve imperfect people.
As church leaders, it is not our job to control the church. It’s our job to equip the people in the church to do ministry themselves.
3. We Need to Assess Local Impact.
Many of us have heard the challenge that, if our local church disappeared, would our neighborhood miss us? COVID-19 is really challenging that question all the more. Without Sunday services and Bible studies, what are we offering people? Are we missed?
This is the season to assess the practical impact of our local churches. Many churches are doing amazing things to meet the needs of the neighborhood around them. But many are not. We need to assess this now.
Are we equipping our congregations to minister practically to their neighbors? If not, how can we change that in this season? How can we keep doing it afterward? If our local church is not missed in the community right now, then let’s make sure it takes a more-central role in practically impacting our neighbors in the future.
Overall, COVID-19 is teaching us all a lot right now. I’m sure many more lessons are being learned across the country. And in the church, we need to look at what lessons are coming our way so that we can be poised to make a powerful impact on the culture around us.