8 Ways the Pandemic has Affected Churches
Churches drastically had to change their ministry when the pandemic hit. Now they are slowly emerging out of lockdown, what effects has it had?
Last week I took part in a forum of church leaders from across the Scottish evangelical spectrum. There were eight big take-aways and common themes that emerged from the feedback given - and from other conversations that I’ve had elsewhere - as we discussed the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on churches.
1. The mission remains the same
One way the pandemic has had no effect is on the mission of the church. Circumstances may change but the call to make disciples is constant.
The job of the church is to proclaim Christ (in season and out of season) and regardless of whether COVID-19 and lockdown apparently helps or hinders us, that work must be our priority.
2. New and exciting opportunities
Over the past few months, new doors have opened for churches and Christians to serve and connect with their communities.
People have come to faith through volunteering in church-run social care activities. There is some evidence of a new openness to the gospel with people joining online courses to ask the big questions about life. Local agencies and politicians have appreciated the work and prayers of churches for them and Scottish communities.
3. Real anxieties
There are genuine fears for smaller fellowships dependent on facilities that they no longer have access to (for example school buildings they hire). How long can their viability continue?
The big spike in online viewing has waned – one leader spoke of watching his church website visitor numbers slowly fall week by week.
The fringe of those more loosely connected to church feels increasingly frayed as their visibility and participation seems to diminish.
4. The value of organic church
It seems that the people who had strong connections with others in the church when the lockdown began are generally the ones who have endured it best.
Going forward, churches need to see afresh the importance of fostering organic (rather than just structural) and real-life relationships among members and attendees.
5. A refined church emerging
One church leader spoke of the paradox of his church income being up whilst attendee numbers were down. In other words, the committed core people were stepping-up even as others were fading out the picture.
The Gardener’s work of removing the dead branches while pruning back the healthy ones (John 15:1-2) suddenly feels very immediate.
6. Small is the new big
The absence of, and restrictions upon, large gatherings for the foreseeable future is forcing a re-calibration of ministry. Where there has perhaps been an over-reliance on larger events, churches will need to (re)invest in small group and 1-to-1 ministry in order to sustain connections, training and discipleship.
One effect of this new reliance on smaller local groups could be the emergence of many embryonic church plants.
7. Online church
No-one is thinking that online church is going away anytime soon. Churches that start to gather again physically will do so with an ongoing online option – both to serve those unable to attend in person and to retain the new evangelistic opportunities this technology allows.
Likewise, pastors will continue to utilise (where appropriate) the convenience of Zoom and other video call platforms for 1-to-1s (for example, my desk to yours for a lunchtime Bible chat), leadership meetings, and even some pastoral work.
8. A wake-up call
Many churches will survive 2020 by ‘the skin of their teeth’. The question is, would they have survived if COVID-19 had been as devastating as first feared or if the severe restrictions had gone on? If not, what radical steps might they take now to avoid closure ‘next time’?
They may need to consider new partnerships, investing in future leadership, and reconnecting with their communities.
There are, of course, no easy options or fixes but not to do anything and just hope that something will turn up is not the lesson to take from 2020.