Today, when a pastor gets up on Monday morning, it is the culmination of a very different kind of weekend. Many of our churches are still worshipping only online. Some began to worshipping in person but then had to back up to online with the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, other churches are meeting in the parking lot and most of our churches, if they are in person, are social distancing and wearing masks (if not they should be). We are probably all holding our breath when we are not praying for answers, if not a miracle, to end COVID-19.
So how do we do church?
Most have already learned how to expand online opportunities and are doing it better and better. Our Center for Evangelism, Mission & Church Growth has given out 125 of the $1,000 MicroGrants to help churches resource more effective digital outreach. Speaking for all the cabinet we are consistently impressed with what our churches are doing to be faithful to the congregations and communities we all serve.
But I remember when I was leading a church, the demands even in a non-Covid-19 season were overwhelming. I could easily get distracted from the main purpose of the church. Unless I was reminded, I could find myself solving problems and maintaining the life of the church and forget why I was a pastor and why God birthed the church.
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing then in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Matthew 28:19-20 (The Great Commission)
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and will all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, Love Your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. Matthew 22:37-40 (The Great Commandment)
There is little doubt that churches decline when they lose their focus on this Biblical mission, and pastors just might begin a personal decline when they lose track of these commands that birthed the church in the first place.
When the CTC developed the WIG, our Wildly Important Goal, it really wasn’t that wild, it was a simple focus and refocus on “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”. It was clear that our churches were effective at mission and outreach and few churches, even our smallest, were not reaching out in this very Wesleyan way. But at evangelism we were not so effective. Simple metrics told us this – worship attendance and professions of faith had declined significantly over the previous 10 years. We had around 100 churches that did not have one profession of faith in the previous year.
This was heartbreaking.
Since the WIG was adopted in 2016, our worship attendance has increased, and we have a little more momentum in professions of faith. However, it continues to be obvious that we don’t do well in evangelism. This means there must be some neglect of the great commission and the great commandment.
After 30 years of consulting with churches of every denomination, Thom Rainer recently wrote a book describing the tools that revive dying and declining churches. In his book, Anatomy of a Revived Church, he discovered that it was not complicated to answer the question of why there is decline and how to revive a church. He wrote, “But church leaders and members who embrace the reality of the Great Commission and Great Commandment for their lives will be part of Churches that don’t just survive but instead thrive and grow”.
As COVID-19 continues and we prepare for what our church and churches will look like and the new church that will be born, are we aiming our vision, programs and worship groups directly at making disciples, The Great Commission, disciples who love God and others, The Great Commandment in clear, focused, and dynamic ways? Will a stronger, more effective, more centered, rapidly growing church follow this season is the questions leaders will answer.
If we need to refocus, adapt, change, stop and begin again, then this is a season where we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to do so in long-term and traditional churches. Taking an inventory should be non-negotiable as we re-center churches around the very biblical idea we call the Wildly Important Goal, making disciples of Jesus Christ.
Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director
Center for Evangelism, Mission & Church Growth