Last week I began a series of lessons gained from two meetings of clergy peers; one was a group of large group pastors from around the conference and another a more representative and diverse group. This is the second set of learnings from that series.

It may sound simple, but on discovery, I think is very important.

We, of course, have recognized how important online worship, Bible studies, devotionals, and other methods of communications have been and have become.  Some of our largest churches were doing very little online and now have very effective digital opportunities that include worship. Some of our smallest churches were already online and have increased their presence as well as improved almost weekly.

Everyone has been evolving, adapting, and getting better at online worship and often daily outreaches in the digital world.

Wherever we were as a church before COVID-19, online worship and outreach has been elevated and is here to stay as a critical way to stay connected to our church family and even more, reaching new people we were not already reaching (most churches are experiencing far more guests and new people joining them online than they ever did in person). One of the tasks here is how do we connect these new people more fully to the church and help them become disciples of Jesus Christ now and in the future.

But a second piece is this.  It may sound like a given, but we understand even more how important gathering in worship and small groups is for people’s discipleship journey, for their understanding of themselves as part of the church, and for an ongoing connection with Jesus. When the Bible say’s “Where two or three gather together in my name, there am I with them”.  Matthew 18:20 is more than a saying it is a reality of what the Church is supposed to be.

There is no substitute for in person connections for the Church.  If we thought people were just coming, sitting, watching worship, and going home, (and might as well have been connecting online) we were wrong.  Even for the quiet people, the new people, the introverts, the back row people, far more was going on when they got in their cars, walked through the front door, shook the hands of a greeter and usher, maybe said a few words to those around them, and then began their participatory experience in worship (whether they sang out loud or not).  There is something intrinsic and personal about being present in worship and small groups with others that is essential to being the church.  We thought this, and now we know this more than ever.  The building matters, the altar matters, the greeting time matters, the eye contact matters, and the way the Holy Spirit works in community matters.  It’s different.

When the new church begins fully after COVID-19, cultivating in person worship opportunities, small groups, community mission opportunities, etc. we'll be even more important as more and more people have grown to understand the essential nature of gathering for their own wellbeing.  The value and importance of coming together in worship, prayer, and Bible study that impacts their own spiritual life, the spiritual health of their family, and the process of becoming stronger disciples.  The challenge now is how we elevate and grow in person gatherings after COVID-19 in partnership with what we have learned from digital opportunities.  The challenge is how do we apply these learnings to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  

Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director

Center for Evangelism, Mission & Church Growth