The Post-Covid-19 Church?

Like most of us these days, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder things. Lately I’ve been wondering, “How might the post-Covid-19 church be different from the pre-Covid-19 church?”  I predict some congregations will:

Replace live-streaming with a recorded and strategically-produced weekly service. Those who have done so during this time have been receiving positive feedback from their constituents. They have also increased their influence with pastors reporting a surprising number of “views” and “followers.” These developments have already prompted some leaders to develop and implement ministries specifically for those who join them online.

Recognize small groups as the glue that holds their people together in times of crisis—and respond accordingly. Before the pandemic, First Church had over 75% of its congregation enrolled in weekly life groups. Those groups, coupled with a weekly, recorded sermon, have proved invaluable during the pandemic to the spiritual life of the congregation. Congregational leaders are now asking, “What is the glue that holds our congregation together,” and, in response, develop their small group ministries.

Improve their social media presence and certainly include an on-line giving feature on their websites. One congregation, who embraced online giving years ago, reported that contributions to their ministry have actually increased over giving a year ago. In contrast, those congregations without this feature are reporting declining income.   

Update their database so as to have email addresses, phone numbers, and postal addresses for each person. For some time now, we have viewed postal addresses as unimportant. But, without postal addresses, churches have found it difficult to drop off food and supplies to their most vulnerable populations.

Prepare congregants for life without the weekly gathering by teaching and encouraging individuals to embrace the historic spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, meditation, solitude, and fasting. Let’s admit it. We haven’t done a good job preparing people to thrive spiritually without the corporate spiritual discipline of weekly worship. We might take a lesson from the armed forces who train their soldiers for worst case scenarios.

Recognize that officing on site is not that important. Pastors are reporting better and more frequent meetings with staff, congregational leaders, and other congregants by way of phone, email and video conferencing. They are also discovering software applications to track, manage and connect projects for team members. Add to that the ease by which congregants may reach out to pastors by way of phone, email, and texting. These developments are prompting questions like, “Why did we spend so much money on office space?” The answers to that question will surely impact the future construction of church facilities.   

Dedicate more time and energy encouraging and equipping parents to train their children in the way of the Lord. This initiative will be warmly received by parents who, while sheltering at home, discovered they didn’t have enough resources in their tool kit to serve as First Responders to the spiritual needs of their children.

Those are my thoughts. What about yours? How will your post-Covid-19 congregational life differ from its predecessor?

10 Comments

  1. Jeff Klein on April 15, 2020 at 3:59 pm

    Love this Sam. I was just talking with my pastoral partner yesterday about a church that is more scattered than gathered and what that looks like. These are some amazing insights as always.

    On a coaching call for pastors yesterday, we reflected on how much emphasis and energy Gathering has taken on for the church and how we have continued to spend hours figuring out this aspect of church. We really need to change our focus and, like you say in your post, prepare our people for a scattered church and to be self feeders and feed their own families in the absence of the professionals.

    Thanks for your post

    • Sam Hamstra on April 15, 2020 at 4:54 pm

      Thanks, Jeff.Many are referring to the pandemic as a war and describing those who died as a result as “killed.” The image of war is what go me thinking about how well we have prepared our congregants scattered on a battlefield. Before my son deployed to Afghanistan, the Army prepared him extensively. I also observed the energy expended by the church to recreate online worship experiences. Our “urgency” simply acknowledged our unspoken conviction that we failed to prepare the scattered church for life without the weekly gathering.

      • Kim Chimienti on April 23, 2020 at 10:58 am

        Sam, great article. I see the pandemic as turning the church wrong side out to expose areas where we need to grow. I believe it’s been a great blessing giving us an opportunity to shed what’s outlived usefulness and strengthen unused spiritual muscles. I think if we end up in house churches it’s not a bad thing.

        • Sam Hamstra on April 23, 2020 at 1:07 pm

          Kim, thanks for joining this conversation. I love the idea of strengthening unused spiritual muscles. I do wonder if after weeks of going without, Christians will experience a renewed appreciation for the weekly gathering.

  2. Todd Eckstein on April 15, 2020 at 7:17 pm

    Yes to nearly all of this, Sam! I pray that many of the possibilities you mention about connecting our congregations better to one another and to the ministry of the church become a reality for all of us!

    I do worry a bit about how easily we ministry professionals can get off track with the first one you listed. I have seen many churches in my area invest lots of financial resources on new video and streaming tech equipment over the past few weeks, and I worry that we may be overestimating the need for all of this in a month or two. I have been just as thrilled as any other pastor with the amount of views and engagements our church has seen online during the stay-at-home order in our state. But the real DNA of the local church is meeting together for prayer and the breaking of bread…literally…in person. While this situation has helped us all play around a bit with what an online worship presence could be, I don’t think that can ever – or should ever – replace meeting for worship in person. In fact, it cannot and should not compete either IMHO. My concern is that too many of us will have whet our appetites for online engagement, and that our in-person ministry would suffer if we invested our post-pandemic time and energy producing experiences that are primarily effective because of a societal lock-down.

    That said, this experience HAS helped me see the value of streaming our services in a way that helps those who cannot be physically present with us continue to feel close to their church family. We WILL be pursuing SOMETHING online beyond the end of this present season. I just hope and pray for all of us pastor-types, that our post-COVID message will continue to be that of the Gospel, and not – as Marshall McCluhan suggested – that our (digital communication) medium will become our message. At any rate, thanks for getting this line of thinking started in me!

    • Sam Hamstra on April 15, 2020 at 7:49 pm

      Todd, thanks much for your thoughtful response. I share your concern replacing live streaming with a strategically-produced weekly service. It takes a lot of time and money. Plus, once you go down that road, you find countless others doing the same.

  3. Rich Heemstra on April 16, 2020 at 3:55 pm

    I read this yesterday and walked away. I tossed and turned all night consumed with several thoughts I hope I can articulate both clearly and kindly here today. I grew up in the Reformed church. I have had the privilege of serving multiple terms as both an elder and a deacon and was one of a committed few who helped transition our dying congregation of about 200 into the 1,500 or so we have today. Praise God for His faithfulness!
    I like phone books, newspapers and miss cassette tapes. I grew up with the organ in church and miss singing How Great Thou Art to the organ blasting. I think flip phones are cool and the internet is a fad. Things change boys and girls…Thank God things change!
    I am a HUGE fan of corporate worship. I think it is irreplaceable. I am also a fool. We live in a “drive-thru” society. People are not growing up with “traditional” friends today. They meet people, shop, watch church and interact on line or through an app on their phone. I don’t like it, nor do I completely understand it, but that doesn’t make it any less real and it certainly doesn’t mean it is going away simply because I prefer something different.
    We are called to GO and preach the gospel, not stay and hope they come to us. We need to meet people where they are at because people need the Lord! Our presence, all be it on-line or in person may be the difference between Heaven and Hell for someone because we are the only glimpse of Jesus they may ever get. Who cares if they get it on-line, in church or in somebody’s basement? We should never dilute the gospel, but we should never stop thinking of different ways to reach people with it either.
    I guess my point is that I hope pastors and lay leaders will see this time as an opportunity for an alternate way to continue reach people who are probably scared to death to set foot in a church for fear the walls may tumble down, but have absolutely no problem clicking a link to worship and/or explore their faith.
    I killed some folks “sacred cows” along the way. I have struggled as some of my own “sacred cows” have passed away. Last time I checked though, it’s not about me…It’s about Jesus. The church is more than stained glass and a steeple. This is the way we have always done it is an absolute recipe for disaster…

    • Sam Hamstra on April 16, 2020 at 4:58 pm

      Rich, thanks for this awesome response. Love it. Reminds me of Paul who said something like “The important thing is that in every way Christ is preached.”

  4. Brian DeCook on April 30, 2020 at 1:17 pm

    I appreciate your thoughts and insights, Sam. Our church has live streamed services for quite a while. It has been interesting to watch the transition to a recorded service. Because everyone is watching online at this time, the appreciation for a recorded and produced service is keen. I wonder whether the appreciation for live streaming will return once we can gather again. Which do we appreciate more, a better recording, or being part of the service while it is happening?

    We also see great opportunities in conducting Bible studies on Zoom as a way of getting more people involved after the lockdowns expire. Many who can’t make it to a Bible study at church (for any number of reasons) have the ability to jump online for 20-40 minutes. Getting more men involved in small group studies is one of our targets.

    I have also experienced new vision for conducting international training at Peacefire through Zoom. We are attracting pastors from across the globe – don’t have the travel expense – and we can train small numbers in countries where we cannot currently gather enough to make a local conference viable.

    The Lord is always at work! Thanks for all that you do, Sam!

    • Sam Hamstra on April 30, 2020 at 1:30 pm

      Brian, thanks for sharing. Crises typically lead to forms of spiritual renewal. I am wondering if people will have a renewed appreciation for the weekly gathering, one reflected in a renewed commitment to attending each week.

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