Church looks and feels very different right now.

For the past six to seven weeks, as a proactive expression of love for our people and our communities, most of our churches have been gathering online for worship, Bible study, and committee meetings rather than assembling in person.  

Pastors are learning to preach to cameras. Staff members and volunteers are learning new technology skills. Churches have been quickly setting up or upgrading their online giving platforms. Small groups and individuals have been responding to ministry needs with creative ministry actions.
Certainly, churches were not the only ones affected by the “shelter in place” orders. Restaurants scrambled to revise their delivery system to take out or curb side only. Banks limited access to their lobbies to “appointments only,” channeling most transactions to the drive thru window.

However, churches stereotypically are perceived as the most resistant to change.

As I have collaborated with other pastors and church leaders in recent weeks, it seems we are all learning a few things about ourselves that may be helpful in shaping the next chapter of ministry:

  • Online is the next best thing to being there.  While online services are not likely to replace in-person gatherings, we are realizing that livestream worship is a good option for those who, for one reason or the other, cannot attend services on campus. We are also discovering that for some of our members, the increase in online options is a blessing. After the current health guidelines are lifted, online options should be perceived, not as a replacement, but as an enhancement to a church’s ministries.
  • Each of us has a priestly responsibility.  The priesthood of the believer is multifaceted. Our priestly privilege includes having direct access to God, being accountable to God, and having an assignment from God. We have the privilege of “priesting” one another as we encourage each other, care for neighbors, build up the body of Christ, and share the teachings of Jesus through our words and our actions.
  • Every home is a satellite campus of the local church. Although we have known this for ages, we have become more adept at organizing our life at home as an outpost of faith formation, a house of worship, a chapel for prayer, and a launch point for ministry action.
  • A campus is a valuable resource of the church, but it’s not a church.  A brick and mortar campus can be an important tool for a congregation, but it is just one of many tools in a congregation’s toolbox. A campus should always be perceived as a resource for the nurturing of our faith, not a source of our faith.
  • We need the human touch and social engagement of spiritual community.  During these days of social and physical distancing, we have experienced withdrawal pangs from missing the handshake at the door, the passing of the peace, the hug from our favorite elder saint, and blending our voices in song while in the same room with others from our family of faith. While we are grateful for online connections, we will emerge from this crisis with a greater appreciation for the privilege of in-person meetings.
  • Our members are more resourceful and creative than we realized. Many members have jumped into action to sew masks for healthcare workers and first responders. Others have been proxy shoppers, delivering groceries and pharmaceuticals to those most at risk.  A few members have written songs or poems to encourage or entertain others, and then posted, published, or performed their artistry on social media platforms.  In the future, we can enlist their skills to advance the ministry and the liturgy of the church.
  • We can function in a healthy way with fewer meetings.  Some committees are continuing to meet by video or conference call. Some are sharing monthly or quarterly reports via email.  And others have postponed monthly meetings until after the “shelter in place” guidelines are lifted. All in all, committees are meeting as necessary, but less frequently than before the crisis. I expect that some monthly committee meetings may easily transition to quarterly meetings as we emerge from this pandemic.

Every major world event, including war, terrorist attack, health pandemic or ground-breaking discovery, has altered or revised the normative patterns and protocols of life on this planet. It is yet to be seen what the new norms will look like after COVID-19. 

For many reasons, both spiritual and economic, it is doubtful that churches will have the option of returning to a pre-virus status quo. However, churches that build on the lessons learned during the pandemic, may have the best opportunity to thrive and not just survive.

Barry Howard
Dr. Barry Howard retired in 2017 after spending 39 years in pastoral ministry. He served the last 12 years as the Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church Pensacola. He completed his coach training at the Pastoral Institute in Columbus, Georgia and he has a natural talent for fostering healthy practices among clergy and congregations. He is a coach for CHC.