None of us have ever experienced a year like this previous one. As we come back from the pandemic to more normality in our church services, there are a few things to keep in mind.
There have been other events which have shaped culture and our churches forever. I once had a stalker make threats against me from our television ministry. It caused our church leadership to consider changes in the way I interacted with the church on Sundays. I still wanted to be available to greet people, but I was more careful where I stood and had people aware of my surroundings. In some ways, things were never quite the same.
Certainly, that’s a mild example of what we will experience coming out of COVID-19. The point is things will not be the same, even when we take the tape off every other pew in our worship centers and get rid of the “stand 6-feet apart” signs off our walls. It is going to be awkward for a while. For example, standing close to one another may feel a bit uncomfortable.
The key is to not assume everyone is going to be on the same page of returning. They certainly have not been on the same page during the pandemic, and they will not be afterward either. We need to give people grace to return as they are comfortable.
It will be awkward whenever we return. We must live in the tension again. Here are seven thoughts I’d encourage you to consider as we return to some sense of “normal.”
1. Buildings have value.
Let’s not go back to seeing them just for our own programs. People need places to meet. In my experience, this was true prior to the pandemic. Whenever we have made our building available people, have sought us out to use it. We’ve hosted youth leadership programs and nonprofit banquets. That has been made even clearer during the pandemic when many people scrambled to find a place that will host them. You must be careful what kind of events you allow, but if they aren’t against your beliefs, I’d consider the conversation and the opportunity to get people in your building you couldn’t reach any other way.
2. Human relationships will be valued more.
You can’t virtually replace a hug or a handshake. The church has an opportunity to build genuine community better than any organization. It’s part of our original design. The more opportunities you can create for human interaction, the more you can engage people again.
3. Crisis allowed change to happen faster.
Churches had to move fast to make decisions. Overall, people were appreciative, recognizing that decisions needed to be made. Going forward, people will be people, and power struggles will remain, but I suspect we will come out of this with far less concern with structure and more concern with seeing the mission of the church succeed. Let’s take advantage of that.
4. Not every program is needed.
Most churches did without some programming during the pandemic, and, looking back, it didn’t really seem to matter in many cases. I’m not saying they weren’t good programs. At some point they may have been valuable to our churches. But they may have grown tired, and the pandemic simply exposed them as unnecessary in the greater good of achieving our church’s mission. Don’t feel you have to replace everything that disappeared during COVID. This is a great time to evaluate what your church offers.
5. Online and digital engagement will remain strong.
Churches would be foolish to completely leave this opportunity after it’s no longer a necessity. I would even contend that it is necessary. We have had to do some things during this crisis that we should have been doing all along—reaching people where they already are.
6. We should change what we measure.
To measure our effectiveness as a church, we started to place more emphasis on digital engagement. I was not in a church that necessarily measured that sort of thing prior to the pandemic. New opportunities may present themselves when we look at different variables of engagement. No doubt we will still count the offering and the Sunday attendance, but I think we won’t see those as exclusive measures.
7. Let’s celebrate what matters most.
I remember when we found out we had someone following our services from Romania and they had questions about salvation. That was a win for the week! After we opened to in-person services, a family from a state that was still closed traveled to our state simply so they could attend a church service. That fired up our team!
Of course, there were smaller wins, such as when a senior adult figured out how to stay connected to the church online after missing months of any interaction with us. The point is that during the pandemic we found ways to celebrate wins. Let’s not stop doing that. We will continue to need encouragement in the days ahead.
I’m thankful for the promises of God on behalf of His church. The gates of hell shall not prevail against her. May God keep us steadfast, immovable in the days ahead, and may we learn all we can through these challenging days. Our mission is clear and needed more than ever.