I don’t think anyone knows what the church world is going to look like in the immediate future. It is not that “things have changed” and we need to adjust. It is that things won’t quit changing. Most of what I read concerning the future is what writers “hope happens” (extinction of the mega-church, collapse of evangelicalism, ect.) but I don’t buy much of it. That being said, we all know things ARE different for a gazillion reasons and that isn’t all bad. Let’s face it, things weren’t going great for most churches long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year. This is not another prognostication piece, this is what I am seeing right now in the churches with which I am familiar around the country. On Monday, I contacted a whole bunch of pastors and got general feedback from them about what they are seeing right now in their churches. Keep in mind, this is antidotal but I can tell you that what I am hearing are many of the same themes over and over:
12 Things I am Seeing
- Most churches had unexpectedly strong Easter weekends Many were back to within 75% of their 2019 live Easter attendance! Some were at 100% or better!
- Churches who opened early are reaping rewards The churches who have been open for live worship the longest, seem to have recovered the most.
- Pastors and church staff are tired What I am not seeing is the floods of clergy and staffers who are exiting ministry. What I am seeing is a lot of people hoping things soon stabilize to the point they can take a vacation for the first time in over a year.
- Churches are still all over the place concerning COVID mitigations Some require masks for entry and others do not. Some have limited seating capacity and others do not. Some have chains separation rows of seating and others do not.
- Churches are doing better than expected financially People understand in challenging times that what they don’t support will go away. Most churches report income is up and expenses are down.
- People are continuing to return to live church “Each Sunday is a family reunion as we welcome people back!”
- Lots of people have changed churches I believe this number could be in the 10-15% range. Many people considering leaving a church before the pandemic are now connected to another church and probably have been for months. On the up side, churches are reporting lots of guests searching for a new church.
- On-line audiences have stabilized Where you are concerning on-line attendance is probably going to be where you are going to stay. There is absolutely no accepted standard as to how these numbers are counted or interpreted.
- There is no way to make everyone happy Leading in 2021 is like walking in a Midwestern cow pasture; you are going to step in something.
- Churches are getting more homogeneous Since many people now view theology through a political lens and social media provides platforms to accentuate these difference, people are gravitating to churches better aligning with their partisan politics.
- Opportunities for evangelism are abundant People are dis-membered, fractured and hurting. This is an opportunity to offer hope in Christ.
- General optimism prevails Most pastors think things will get better over the past year. It is one of the upsides of a year in which things could not be much worse.
That is what I am seeing. Here are five recommendations moving forward.
- Lead boldly Think hard and pray diligently before making decisions but once they are make, don’t waiver.
- Clarify your message There is no way to be “everything to everyone,” decide who you are as a church and put it out there. We are a church who offers “Biblical Truth in a Spirit of Christ-like Love.” Another way to say it is, “We are a Bible believing, theologically orthodox Christian church but we are not in a bad mood about it.”
- Think like a new church start Forget everything but the futureand build from there. Resist the temptation to “get back.” Embrace the opportunity to “move forward.”
- Learn from churches showing effectiveness You don’t have to “re-invent the wheel” anymore today than you did in the past. There will be churches blazing a path into this new world. Keep up.
- Evangelize People are hurting and in need of hope, socialization, community and healing but they won’t find you on their own. Let them know where you are and what you have to offer but don’t forget, the main thing you have to offer is Jesus!
I am convinced that COVID-19 was indeed the “end of the world.” I believe the last remaining vestiges of the old world are now permanently sub-cultured. There is a place for the church in this new world but it must offer something bold, unapologetic, Biblically based and grace filled. Tone will matter. And if you think about it, the historical sweet spot of the church has always been as a counter-cultural movement anyway.
Our best days could well be ahead of us!
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church since 1997.