This has been an unusual time for churches. There have been a lot of things to figure out, and there have been a lot of lessons learned. There have even been some surprising discoveries and some very good stories. All of this is good.
I know that there are those who are looking forward to the day when we can “get back to normal,” but I would like to suggest that this is our chance as churches to set in motion a new normal. There are a few things I would like us to consider before we open our doors again.
Before I share that list with you, I would like to let you know why I even came up with the list in the first place. I have heard a number of people talk about how they are discovering people who are interested in spiritual things during this pandemic including neighbours who want to talk, visitors to websites and virtual services, and things like that. Here’s the thing: I would hate for us all to assume that all we have to do is reopen the doors to the church (when allowed), keep doing what we have always done, and somehow those folks will show up and stay. I don’t think that will happen.
I say that because it hasn’t worked that way in the past. After 9/11, there was a rise in spiritual interest and spiritual conversations. People really wanted to pray, and to be fair, for a couple of weeks, folks did show up to church, but in most cases the churches seemed to feel that it was enough to just be there, have the doors open, and keep doing what we have always done. People didn’t stick around for that, so as we look towards reopening our doors (at some point in the future), here are some things I think we as churches would do well to think through.
Our Online Presence
Most of us have figured out how to get Sunday morning online, but here is the thing: many of us have become aware that other people besides “just us” are watching. I don’t think we can assume those folks will automatically join us when we open our doors, and I wonder if they represent a new unreached people group for us. I believe that many of our churches will need to think through and figure out a way to stay online even when we are back to face to face. This should include figuring out ways to do more than simply post content. Questions could include, “How do we engage with folks who are joining us and make sure there are next steps to take?” and “What do we do if this works? If we actually find new people who need to be discipled?” I suspect many churches will need to have these conversations.
I think a number of us did a pretty good job of checking in and seeing how everyone was doing and that meant something to a whole lot of people. I know of one person who was quite pleased to receive a phone call from a care committee, however, what that person said next needs to be paid attention to. “It was great to get a phone call, but it was the first contact of that type in my seven years of being at the church.” Ouch. So while we may be doing a good job (maybe better than we have ever done) I don’t think we can let that slip back once things “return to normal”.
One of the things that keeps popping up on my radar is that our churches are filled with lonely people. Folks just wishing they had somebody to talk to or somebody who would check in on them. Folks who shouldn’t have to say (real quotes I have heard) “This is the first time anyone has ever invited me for coffee,” or “We have been here over ten years and we feel like nobody wants to take the time to know us.” In many ways, we have scratched an itch during this pandemic, and as churches we need to figure out ways to keep scratching. It’s part of living out the one anothers of Scripture. So the question we will need to work through goes something like, “How can we keep this care for others going?”
Connecting with the Community
There have been a lot of good stories about churches and people lovingly serving and meeting needs in their neighbourhoods and communities. That’s awesome. We need to keep that going. We have to ask questions like, “How do we keep serving?” or “What’s the next step?” or “How do we build on what the church or members have already started?” And of course, “Are we ready if people respond and want to know more about the God whose love we are sharing?” Here’s the thing, some of us don’t have those stories. We didn’t get that far. We worried about us. I think it is a time for us to ask questions too. “How come we didn’t?” type questions, and then, “So what can we do?” This matters and we need to work on good answers.
I don’t think we can just go back to the way things were. I think this time has given us an opportunity to try some new things and maybe reach some new people, and I don’t mean that to sound scary. It can and should be exciting. I will be praying that our churches have these and other important conversations, and if I, the National Leadership Team, or the coaches can help, just let us know.
Director of Leadership Development and Church Health
Free Methodist Church in Canada