COVID-19: What now for this place called church?

Maybe deep inside of us, we knew the world in its pre-COVID-19 condition needed to be turned upside down. 

No matter where we might cast our eyes or our attention, challenges were present. Quite simply, the world was a mess. 

But, I don’t think I initially thought that COVID-19 would cause such a disastrous intrusion and disruption.

Doesn’t matter what my definition of normal was before COVID-19, normal is gone.

The key to the future is what will we learn from the havoc  created by COVID-19? 

But, maybe the real question is— are we willing to learn from this experience?

It appears that no individuals or longstanding public institutions were spared immunity from COVID-19. Having worked in schools for 31 years, and now working for a church, I know both have been impacted.

But, even before this pandemic, many churches found themselves in difficult situations. Declining attendance, resistance to change, aging facilities, and shrinking financial support were already on the minds of church leaders at every level.

Now, those matters and others will be at stake for church leaders in figuring out how to move forward from COVID-19. Sadly, some churches might not be able to move forward and reopen because of the financial impact of the virus.

We are a long way from the explosion of growth that churches experienced in the 50s into the 60s. 

From where our Methodist church is located in western Henrico County, there are at least ten other houses of worship within easy driving distance. Interestingly, out of that ten, there is denominational duplication from the Baptists, Episcopalians, and Methodist.

I wonder what church planners and planters were thinking during that boom? Perhaps, the mentality was— “if we build it, they will come.”

And that surely was the case for many years. During those years of growth, churches often expanded their facilities’ footprint and at the same time developed rainy day funds. 

Often, the sustainers of building projects and rainy day funds were members from the Greatest Generation. That financial mindset isn’t as prevalent in congregations today. 

Over the last several weeks, I have heard comments from people related to COVID-19 like—“God’s got this” “This is part of God’s plan” “God is at work here” “God is getting our attention.”

It seems to me that God is always attempting to get our attention. When we are in crisis, we appear to immediately return to him—praying, seeking the good in ourselves for others, and searching for his wisdom and guidance to move us forward. 

However, when a crisis has passed, the question I ask of myself is this—will God still have my attention?

For a long, long, long time God has been aware of how we are living on earth. I would imagine some days he is pleased, and other days he might think— what in the world have these people done now?

But as churches look to their futures, thinking is exactly what will be needed to help congregations move forward.

Pastors and their staffs will have lots to think about as they work toward reopening. That thinking and work should also include members of the congregation as a part of the team who will be figuring out how to do this. 

Figuring this out will not be easy. Churches have a wide range of demographic needs in their congregations. How do you meet the needs of your senior citizens and infants, and everyone in between?

For sure, communication will be critical. Helping members to understand the rationale in how the reopening will work can’t be taken for granted.

And in my mind, there is one piece that can’t be overlooked. 

Churches in this fragile time cannot afford to alienate their congregations. That is why it is so important to figure out the reopening well before the return to church.

In our world, I am often reminded how much “fear” impacts our actions. The Bible is full of references using the word —fear. Clearly, in the days ahead of us, fear will continue to be around. COVID-19 has proven it shouldn’t be taken lightly. So, how do we deal with this lingering presence of fear?

I think for churches to move forward pastors, their staffs, and congregational leaders will need to do lots of practical thinking. 

Additionally, implementing a reopening plan will require very thoughtful communication grounded in safety for all, but at a reasonable pace. 

But, there is another critical piece for churches to consider. That is the capacity to change— we have an opportunity to rethink those normal Sunday morning routines.  I hope we will not be content to continue to follow our very predictable church patterns as we figure out how to move forward.

Figuring out how to reopen and  move forward will have some anxious moments.

 In those moments of uncertainty and worry, holding on to these words from Philippians 4:6-7 might help:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Reopening churches will require lots of prayer and hearts capable of understanding the challenges of this task.

Author’s note: This piece was started on May 4, 2020. The content of this baloney is solely on me as an observer of life.

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