Will You Innovate or React?

I don’t know too many people who aren’t tired of the disruption of COVID-19. As a number of our states begin to pull back stay-at-home directives, churches are asking when we can re-open and gather together in worship. I, too, long for that time, but I’m confident that gathering again won’t be like it was before.

Yes, the church should be asking when we can re-open.
Yes, we should be asking how to do so safely.
But there’s more.

As I listen to conversations on this topic, I’m struck that we need to consider additional issues. I say this for the following reasons:

  • The reality is that most of our members in their 70’s and older will not be returning to worship in large group gatherings very quickly – potentially for many months.
  • We have engaged thousands of people by providing for a virtual worship service that most of us were not ready to produce before COVID-19. Many reacted to the situation out of necessity – hastily, without thoughtful planning or helpful equipment.
  • Eventually, our society will again get busy, disrupting the kind of time available on Sunday mornings during the stay-at-home directives to digest our virtual worship.

As you ponder how your congregation will re-open, spend at least as much time creating your strategy for:

  • Reaching members who cannot return to face-to-face worship,
  • Continuing to reach the community that is hungry for the gospel in ways in which they will find it, and
  • Providing digital content that your members and friends can engage outside of our time in the building together.

Don’t just react. Innovate.

Because of what we have experienced in our communities and our faith communities during this pandemic, now is the time to innovate. Some things we did as part of our faith lives together will not—and should not—resume simply because “we always do it that way”. We are a church that believes in death and resurrection. We have opportunity for new life in ministry. If given the opportunity, I believe new and needed ministries will rise in the place of what needs to be ended.

As you consider the future ministry of your congregation post-pandemic, I encourage you to engage in an intentional strategic planning process where you discern your identity and vision, and then you discern how to live into that identity. When GSB leads this process, it takes about four months to complete. Allowing too much more time and, rather than ministry, planning becomes your mission.

For the church, some radical ideas can come out of this pandemic experience:

  • What if smaller churches restructured to call an authorized minister with gifts to care for and reach the community, then share sermons digitally from a synodical-shared ordained minister?
  • What if church judicatories (synods and districts) provided digital worship resources for small and medium churches where the local church can have the option to drop in the sermon from the local pastor to have a virtual worship service to share with its members and community?
  • What if larger churches, through the judicatory, would provide shareable content with smaller churches to create a digital library of online classes, podcasts, discussion starters, and more?

Whatever innovative steps we take, we will better engage the next phase of life in this country if we take time to discern what God is calling us to do and innovate for the sake of the Gospel. Broadly, the church has done well in how we reacted to this crisis. God is calling us to something new. Let’s look for what that is and discern it before we miss a great opportunity.