5 Ways Churches Should Be Different Post-Pandemic

Everyone is speculating about how life will be different after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed. It’s the same for those of us in church leadership. Articles are being published daily about how churches will be changed as a result of this experience. The idea of getting “back to normal” is no doubt a misnomer, and we agree things will never be exactly the same. Here are five areas of church life I believe every church should pay special attention to once things are “back to normal.”

1. Online worship is here to stay

Many churches that didn’t previously stream their worship services are now doing so weekly. Most of these had to make a quick decision about how to do it. Even our church, which has been steaming our services for years, had to learn which approach is most effective and efficient to provide on a weekly basis. Regardless of the approach, I expect the new normal is that most churches will retain their streaming experience even when we’re able to gather again for in-person worship.

I think a key decision churches will need to make about online worship is the choice between simply capturing the gathered experience (once it resumes) or continuing to provide an experience tailored to the online audience (worship leaders and pastors delivering directly to the camera). While participants who are already part of the church may expect to be able to join the gathered experience “in real time,” the pre-produced approach we’re now perfecting may need to continue to be offered as well so that the experience is more personal to the viewer. This approach may be more effective at reaching a new, unreached audience.

2. The church is not a building

There’s nothing like being forced to stay at home to help us realize that the church is not a building. We’ve been saying that for decades, but somehow, we usually behave like it is. I think many of us have been surprised as how effectively we’ve been able to carry out the mission of the church in an online environment. As the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention.” While online tools are not new, no doubt a much larger segment of the population is now using those tools and discovering that they work.

I’m not suggesting that online engagement is ever a replacement for gathered worship, discipleship, and missions. But we have discovered that online connections can be made effectively despite the restrictions we assumed they carried. I read about one church that said their engagement has actually increased during this season, and most of us have seen far more viewers of our online worship than we typically had in person.

3. New sets of priorities

As we’ve been living in this “new normal” for several weeks, we’ve learned the value of digital engagement. Many churches have previously given only a nod to their online presence and digital strategy, devoting limited resources to them. Churches will need to reconsider their investment in the tools, infrastructures, and staff to make their digital presence a higher priority. This could include initiating or upgrading video systems to capture worship, creating discipleship and training resources to be delivered online, and revising ministry staff hiring plans to include communications and media personnel.

At the very least, candidates for ministry leadership should be asked about their own experience and competencies for engaging people in an online world. The responsibility for creating an online-focused culture can’t be carried by the communications professionals alone. All the ministry staff should be invested and contribute to digital strategies in all areas of ministry.

4. A fresh look at mission

Even before the pandemic, most churches with any sophistication were taking great care to define their unique mission and to make sure that their “brand identity” reinforces that mission. Given the attention that’s been placed on the need for intentionality in a church’s mission, vision, and values for the past twenty-five years, more churches than ever are doing an effective job at aligning their cultures and their reputations with their mission.

But the pandemic has created an opportunity to re-examine that mission through the lens of a new normal. Does your mission and the strategies to achieve it support a “scattered” church? As people re-think gathering in large groups, do you have a home-based small-group strategy? Are your people encouraged and trained to engage in gospel conversations with their neighbors rather than just inviting them to church? Is your next gen ministry prepared to consider how parents become the primary disciplers of their children in the home? And, what stories are you telling about how people are being reached in this unprecedented season?

We were already working hard to engage a culture that is less and less interested in church. How we rethink the mission of the church in light of post-pandemic societal norms will be essential to the future success of our mission.

5. The way we love others

Just as importantly, how has your church served the community during the pandemic? Have you been intentional about looking for places fill a need? Has your missions team been the first in line to partner with local ministries and non-profits that help those in need? Have you taken advantage of opportunities to serve in ways that demonstrate your love for people? How a church responds to a crisis is remembered by the community and can make the difference in their willingness to listen to what you have to say. When we meet physical needs of people, we earn the right to share the gospel.

Sure, things will get back to some normalcy. But normalcy is not the same as how we once defined “normal.” Let’s allow this crisis to challenge us to fresh ways of being the church, not just doing church.

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