What do you do when nothing seems the same?
I could hear in my colleagues’ voice that he was worried. He had just sat through a tough board meeting where half of his board resigned over his handling of COVID-19. I listened as he walked me through the political and social divide that had overtaken his small rural church. He wondered out loud if he should resign. What my friend is facing is what many pastors have met during this uncertain time. Many churches have lost 30–50% of their pre-COVID-19 attendees. So what does a pastor do when nothing seems the same? I shared with my colleague three ways of dealing with change in the age of COVID-19.
1. Surrender Your Idea of What Church Should Look Like.
The church you had before COVID-19 is not the same church that you will have in the future. A cultural shift has taken place outside the church walls and has now reverberated within her borders. Churches who had a personality or program-driven church must face the reality that personalities and programs will not be enough to attract people to attend the church weekly. With many in the community limiting contact outside of their families unless they have to, the open door and will come church has died. Online services and small group engagements will become more critical in the future. The development of microchurches, where small gatherings of believers spread out over a geographic area, will become the norm. The main campus will become a meeting place for other ministries, nonprofits, and as a host of community services. The church will be transitioning from a once a week meeting place to a compassionate ministry center where people are in the building throughout the week.
2. Know God Is Still Leading Even if No One Is Following.
Pastors are learning that they cannot control how their members act or react to the changes taking place in society, but pastors do have control in how they respond to how they feel. For far too long, members had their idea of what church should look like, and for many, it was a non-biblical view. COVID-19 has forced members to grapple with the new reality that the church has been changed for good. Facing coverings, sanitization stations, limiting meeting gatherings, political fault lines, and culture wars have overtaken the norm and become the new norm within the church’s walls.
Pastors will have to trust God as they lead through these new minefields of disenchantment. Instead of being discouraged that members are dissolving their ability to help and leaving, he should focus on what he can control. The pastor can preach biblically based sermons that draw attendees to repentance, prayer, and service. He can lead by example, small group gatherings that focus on others rather than the church’s needs, and he can point to the Savior through serving in a Christlike way.
3. Be True to Who God Has Called You to Be.
God has called each pastor for a season such as this. It is not by accident that God has divinely appointed the one in charge of the local church to be the pastor. In this season, the pastor has an opportunity to preach, teach, and serve with conviction, knowing God has called him to serve in the local church, for such a time as this, and it is a gift to remember the calling God has placed on the pastor’s life. As COVID-19 has challenged the cultural norms like never before, the pastor can be encouraged to know he is on the cutting edge of a new awakening. The awakening is not only spiritual, but physical as the church is shifting from being Sunday morning led to serving daily in the community.
As the church adapts to the new reality, that pastor must realize that there will be push back from those holding firmly to tradition. The push back is not against the pastor but because the member’s will is holding tightly to something that should have been God’s. Pastors support members who are struggling but permit them to leave if they keep threatening to do so because they keep obeying God. Remember, a member should not control how you lead the church, as God has called you to be his shepherd to the local flock.
As I closed out my conversation with my colleague, I encouraged him to trust God, be kind, and keep serving. While the church is shifting into a new season of her life, and there is bound to be more push back from the members, know pastor, you are valued, you are called, and you are ready for what is to come.