For several months the Cabinet, Bishop Lowry, and myself met with two groups of clergy; one group are pastors from some of our largest churches, the other group a more diverse and representative group.  I am continuing to offer some of the learnings from those meetings about this COVID-19 season and the season that will follow.  In this process we are working from a context where the Praxis Group is forecasting that every organization and every church is now a New Church Start.
 
Learnings:
There seems to have been a consensus that the church was not prepared for the COVID-19 season.  Many churches were not prepared to go digital, while other churches were not prepared because they had not made disciples of Jesus Christ as well as they had thought. (our center has currently given out 135 grants to help churches in the transition to online worship).   We are seeing this now with some conflict in churches over opening or not, how to open or not, wearing masks or not, whose candidate should win or lose,  conflict over a much needed conversation about racism, and the continued fall out of General Conference.
Many people were connected to churches in lots of ways, but we did not do as good a job preparing people spiritually, connecting them to the church in healthy ways, helping them see personal discipleship as important, (meaning many depended upon a weekly or monthly worship experience as their only discipleship tool and had nor learned or practiced personal spiritual disciplines). This was a consistent theme in the meetings with our clergy groups.
We must be more effective at making solid disciples while churches are online. We must be more effective at making disciples in the church that is reborn now and after COVID-19.  
  • What is a disciple?
  • How does the church make disciples?
  • How do we elevate making disciples in the small group environment?
  • How do we measure discipleship more effectively?
  • What needs to change in the church, begin in the church, stop in the church that aligns more fully with the goal to make disciples? 
  • Can we develop discipleship plans and strategy with stages that help people continue to grow throughout their lives? (the good old sanctification process that is so Methodist)
  • Can we create a culture of growth that is connected directly to a culture of growing disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world (the CTC’s Wildly Important Goal)?

A Sunday morning only worship experience is not enough.

Again, and again, each time both of our peer groups met, discipleship was part of the conversation. If anything, the COVID-19 season has brought to light the necessity of doing a better job at this task.  The spiritual core of a church doesn’t come from having great worship only, it comes from growing disciples of Jesus Christ.  The Church reborn after the COVID-19 season will have at its core Matthew 28:19.

Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director
Center for Evangelism, Mission & Church Growth