COVID-19 has wrecked havoc on events, meetings, celebrations, and religious services all over the world.
It was just announced today that Australians can no longer gather indoors when there are more than 100 people in attendance. In America, that number is 10.
Churches are amongst the many institutions completely blindsided by these restrictions.
The number one question on the minds of many pastors, priests, vicars, and the like is this:
“How do we keep doing church if we can’t gather?”
The majority are moving to online services, my own amazing church too. For many of us, our messaging is effectively this, “Don’t worry, nothing’s changing in how we do church. We are just moving online.”
But what if COVID-19 is actually giving the Church the most incredible gift of our generation? What if things should change, and now is our opportunity!?
Now hear me on this, before you read on — I’m not saying the virus itself is a gift, but what I am saying is that maybe just maybe, God can work some good out of this! (Romans 8:28)
We have a great opportunity in front of us. It’s the opportunity to reimagine what church could be…
The opportunity to get back to basics. To meet in homes, to get out into our neighbourhoods and communities, to go more viral than COVID-19 ever could go.
Here are three gifts that I believe COVID-19 has given the Church.
1. The Opportunity to BE the Church.
Being forced out of our buildings and services means that we are being forced into our homes and neighbourhoods. This is an incredible gift, if we can embrace it as such.
What if this month became your church’s local missions month? Can’t gather inside? What if we all went on prayer walks outside, and ask people we meet how we can pray for them and bless them? (From a distance, of course!)
What if this month instead of hoping people will somehow find our church services, we went to the people, leaving notes in their letterboxes, letting them know how they could join us for an online service, but much more than that, also offering practical help where they need it.
What if, instead of going to music practice, men’s group, women’s group, toddler group, seniors group, craft group and all the other groups we can’t go to anymore, we invited some neighbours over for a meal and found out what they love doing and did that with them, whilst planting the seeds of the Gospel?
What if, instead of simply consuming sermons at this time, we lived out the sermons that are already in us? What if we went out into the world and live our faith out?
Already I know of many many stories of Christians who have seized this opportunity to be the church rather than simply attend it, from making up hampers for neighbours, to giving store workers hand-written thank-you cards with boxes of chocolates, and praying with anxious shoppers.
2. The Opportunity to Innovate.
Regardless of how much we like to pretend that the current mainstream Western attractional church model is effective in reaching the world, sadly, often it is quite frankly is not.
That isn’t my opinion: that is the findings of multiple researchers all around the globe. The reality is that the modern attractional church models, where people come to a service on a Sunday, are seeing a rapid decline and have been doing so for years (See Pew, McCrindle, and Barna studies for a start).
All Christianity trends in nations still doing church this way are heading down.
I have often said that continuing to do church this way — with the knowledge that it is actually resulting in fewer Christians across our nations — is like continuing to model cruise liners on the Titanic, when we know how that story ends.
The reality is that churches are GROWING where there is less emphasis on gathering, and more emphasis on making disciples who make disciples. (Kind of like what Jesus modelled in the Bible!)
Iran, China, and Indonesia are just three nations that serve as incredible examples of this. These countries have some of the fastest-growing churches in the world. But I’m not talking about churches the way we know them in the West, with steeples and bells, smoke machines or projectors; I’m talking about movements that often you can’t find on a map — you find them in peoples’ homes and out on the streets. (Check out this amazing documentary on the church in Iran.)
What if at the end of this pandemic we actually CHOSE to keep our buildings closed? I’m not saying we should, but what if we did, because we had found a more effective way to do church during this season? What if when we reopened our building they were completely repurposed to reflect a new (or maybe old — think Jesus and His disciples) revelation?
I want you to completely reimagine church in this season.
Get on your face before God. Lay your model, logo and ego on the altar and ask King Jesus, how do YOU want to build YOUR church moving forward?
3. The opportunity to PRAY like never before.
So often we are so busy doing, that we don’t stop to simply pray.
What if in this season of less meetings, less set-up and pack down, less driving and less activity, we spent more time in prayer?
At this stage there is no cure for COVID-19. But prayer can achieve the miraculous!
Think about it, you have an opportunity in this season to be Mary instead of Martha (Luke 10: 38-42). In this season where you aren’t serving as much, you have an opportunity to simply sit with your first love, Jesus!
If that isn’t a gift, I don’t know what a gift is!
Come on church, let’s embrace this opportunity.
In the words of Australia’s Prime Minister, “This is a once in a 100-years event.” The opportunity will come and the opportunity will go. We can either get better as a result of this pandemic and the changes it has thrust upon us, or we can keep sailing as we have been…
“Not even God could sink this ship!”
Or could He? My guess is if we keep sailing towards that iceberg, He won’t need to.
It might be time to change course.
See you on the streets,
PS: I’d love to hear how you are embracing this opportunity in your community. How are you being the church where you live, work and play? Comment below.
PPS: Just to be super clear: I’m all for the equipping of the saints for ministry and for gathering. I LOVE THE LOCAL CHURCH! In fact, I’ve been leading in local churches for most of my Christian life. The point of this blog isn’t to say “don’t gather” or “don’t get equipped”, it was to help you to ask, “how can I embrace this opportunity, rather than simply have it pass me by?” Love you, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts. If you need help transitioning your church in this season, please reach out. I’d love to help you move from where you are to where you could be.