In this COVID-19 season a lot of churches, if not all churches have been exposed. We did not prepare and they weren’t prepared for this season nearly as well as we thought. We prepared them to support, connect, keep our churches going - and sometimes growing - with the tools we had learned and our experience leading a church. We all knew how to do church, worship and maintain the many programs that maintain the church. But, we haven’t been good at preparing them for the crisis the church is going through now.
 
There’s conflict around when where, and how we open. There’s tension between going back to the way it was, and what it is to be directed by our mission and ministry that God has called the church to do. 
 
Most of our churches weren’t ready to even talk about, much less deal with the level of racism that has been made more visible in the last few weeks. Heck, if we have infighting over wearing a mask vs. not wearing a mask, how can we deal with 400 years of racism in America?
 
In many of our churches (and almost every denomination and fellowship), the church family has been looking for a center to hang on to, but the center seems to have been hard to find. Too many have found their center on social media, newscasts and the internet rather than Christ.
 
It’s like God gave us a test and the grade. I hope we are being graded on a curve.
 
Let’s do it better next time. This is our chance, because a new church is going to be born whether we like it or not.  It will take some time, but I am convinced church leaders have learned a great deal and God’s grace will readily give us a second chance as pastors and senior leaders. This may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for senior leaders to build a new church culture in existing and long-term congregations.  
 
I know we are learning and doing considerable research on this season and what’s next. I thrive on that kind of thing, but most of the research is not able to pinpoint what the church is going to look like. We know there will be many more online opportunities to connect and are rapidly trying to figure out what those will be, but not much else. Survival some days is success.
 
My opinion (instinct, experience and observations) is that when COVID-19 ends, which I guess will take a vaccination, is that at the best, two-thirds of the church that entered COVID-19 season will return to the pews. I am thinking that at least a third of our people will have disappeared; got used to not connecting with church, have gone to another church, or decided church is not as necessary as they thought. A significant number will feel their church let them down, wasn’t there for them or did not prepare them for this life and death season. What do we do?

  • We must teach our people to pray.
  • Build a spiritual core that is solid, and Christ focused, not just beliefs, but a relationship with the incarnate God.
  • Don’t promote politics but talk about politics from the pulpit.
  • We need to create more spiritual conversations in groups and not just opinion conversations.
  • Embed the Bible in everything. Our people don’t really know the Bible very well and base behaviors elsewhere.
  • Clarify the vison, not just for the church, but for everyone in the church. What is a Christian? How do I follow Jesus?
  • We can’t make disciples till we define what a disciple is.
  • The wide road doesn’t work, this journey is a narrow road. When people try to walk a wide path, they get lost.
  • There must be an obvious center to tie to in a crisis, a go to place, church and even mission.
  • Bullet point your own contextual learnings (here).
 
Please forgive me if this note seems too invasive or confrontational. I have learned if I look at reality with honesty and vulnerability, it helps me move with God far better than the comfort and denial that is more instinctual for me. If we are to move beyond this season to a healthy, stronger, and more effective church we have to look closely at ourselves; where we have failed, do the spiritual work ourselves, and see where God might take us into a new future if we are willing to follow. 
 
Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director
Center for Evangelism, Mission & Church Growth