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The Church Lockdown is Lifting: What Have We Learned?

What pastors and church leaders have learned during Covid–19

Whether partially or completely, churches and religious groups are starting to meet again across the country. More staff members are coming back to the office, and outside our safety precautions, things may be getting back to normal soon. However, before we leave the worse part of the pandemic behind, it’s worth reflecting a little on some points that may well become continuing conversations in the future. Here’s four key areas I’d like to see discussed more in the coming year:

1) The implications for future evangelism. Think about just how much the media has been integral to surviving the lockdown. Just 10-20 years ago, we couldn’t have built a global movement in 2-3 months – it would have been impossible. In fact, 100 years ago it would have taken that long to send a letter and get a response – especially to another country. But within 2 weeks this year, thousands of churches in America were streaming their services on the Internet, and now, we need to consider how that could change evangelism. I’ve always said that we need to stop thinking about “missions” just in geographic terms and start thinking in digital terms. At this moment there are 7.8 billion people on the Earth and an 85% literacy rate. That means nearly 6.5 billion literate humans are connected via online networks, where many people have access to all the knowledge in the world to collaborate with each other.  What does that mean for reaching the world with the gospel? This is the moment to re-think world missions.

2) Church isn’t “building-centric” anymore.  Over the last few decades, I can’t tell you the number of missions projects, media outreaches, and evangelism projects that have been put on hold because instead, churches wanted a bigger building. Building projects have become an obsession at many churches. My parent’s generation were builders and that’s where so many major Christian building projects began. But as the generations changed, we kept building – even when it was obvious a new generation wasn’t interested in paying for it.

But during the virus we discovered that people don’t need to assemble in a building to worship God. Naturally, we want to get back, and a worshipping community being together is an important thing – but it may be time to put our buildings in perspective. The Early Church didn’t need big buildings to change their world, and we don’t either.  Build, but balance our building programs with more effective outreaches to today’s culture.

3)  Online church is here to stay. While I believe most people will happily return to church buildings, I think a significant number will reduce those physical visits to 1-2 times a month and do the rest online. As one pastor told me, “I’ve spent months telling people how great online worship is, so now, how in the world will I get them back in the building?” Frankly, theology aside, there are a lot of people who will continue to stay at home. 

But rather than worry about that, let’s connect with them as powerfully as we possibly can. Moving back into your building isn’t the time to let up on your online service. Keep creating great online experiences, keep connecting via social media, and keep that momentum going.

4) It’s time to re-think everything. At the start of 2020, who knew we could operate without a church staff in their offices? Who knew people would still financially support the church while worshipping from home? Who knew that people would actually connect online for worship rather than sleep in? Who knew “community” could happen at this level online?  A few months ago, these – and other questions – were all unanswered. We weren’t even sure if the Church could survive.

But survive it has and in many cases with renewed mission and passion. Which means that now is the time to re-think everything you do. What else do we not know? What else could digital media change? What could be cut back and what could be expanded? When it comes to pure ministry, do we really need everything we’ve been doing for the last number of years?

People have experienced one of the most dramatic changes in our lifetime. We’ve endured a great challenge and are overcoming it. To go back to the way we’ve always done it, would be the greatest travesty of our time.

This is the moment for the global Church to be reborn.

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8 Comments

  1. Phil I agree with everything you’ve written here. My observation and personal experience is that live streaming worship services and online life group meetings have worked well for those who are already well connected in their church, but the two negatives that I’ve observed are 1) those on the fringes were even less frequent and less engaged, and 2) its very difficult for someone who is not already in an online community to get involved. Online gatherings are more socially awkward for new comers – it’s hard to read body language and facial expressions, its harder to deal with interruptions and people talking over each other. I’d be curious to know if other people have the same observations or if they’ve found ways to overcome these barriers.

    1. Great points Paul and I agree. I think we have to be very intentional about sharing live stream links and inviting people to the events. And you’re right about facial expressions as well. That’s a good question to start thinking about as digital media gains more and more in this culture.

  2. Phil, I think many churches have learned these lessons but there are still far too many who haven’t. They’re still focused on THE BUILDING and how important the building is. It’s heartbreaking to see the decisions churches are making based on their desire to have butts in the seats rather than butts on the streets connecting with people.

  3. Phil, I love this article and agree with you, especially the questions you asked at the end. I also appreciate what Paul and Joe had to say. My concern is that we are replacing the “same old, same old” with the “same old, same old” just in a new package. That’s definitely not all bad, but I just feel like there is so much more we can do. I pastor a small church and work with a missions organization, mostly in a teaching and training capacity. Due to Covid we are having to totally redo programs to include digital media which has opened our eyes to even more possibilities abroad and here in the USA. I just don’t want to find myself, as I do now, always playing catch up. I really appreciate your articles and find them very informative, but I would like to hear any ideas you have for getting ahead of the curve, even possibly technical, software, hardware suggestions. I know there are a lot of different size churches with vastly different budgets so that could be very hard but any advice would be appreciated. Thanks so much for your articles and your insight.

    1. I’ll work on “getting ahead of the curve” Greg. It’s a good question. I don’t normally write on the tech aspects, because that’s not my focus, but you’ve made a good point. One thing I’m finding is that small churches like yours are doing some of the most innovative things out there during the lockdown!

  4. Another great one Phil. I like the rethink everything point. I find myself as I look to buy books thinking, “Was this written pre or post COVID? I don’t know about you but I have spent considerable hours going through old content with that in mind. Everything on my planning sheet for upcoming work has been rethought. Your posts have been very helpful in stretching my thinking. While we may all want to turn the dial back to Feb. there is no going back. Keep writing!

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