7 Ways COVID-19 Will Transform the Church

7 Ways COVID-19 Will Transform the Church

It’s starting to dawn on those of us in church leadership that large group gatherings, the weekly Sunday gatherings that most churches have relied upon as the mainstay of their existence for centuries, may not happen again until a vaccine for COVID-19 is found. That may be 18 months or more away. Simply waiting out this pandemic doesn’t look like a good option. Local churches that put everything into a holding pattern may have a hard time re-emerging by the time a vaccine is found. But churches that lean into this difficult time in the life of the world, by going on-line and extending church beyond Sunday gatherings, will discover new ways of being church and come out on the other side of this pandemic transformed. None of us has a crystal ball, but here are seven ways that COVID-19 may transform the church.

1. We reach new people

It is much easier to connect with people now than it was pre-pandemic. People are isolating at home, dealing with fear, anxiety and boredom. Many are open to connecting with the community of the church, to praying and singing with others and to hearing a message of peace, hope and joy. What’s more, church no longer has to compete with all the other options and the busy-ness of many people’s lives. On-line church is super easy to access for those that have the technology. Just click. You can give church a try without even getting out of your pajamas.

2. Members who move away will stay

One pleasant surprise of going on-line has been seeing the many people who had moved away reconnect with our church community. Alumni from around the world have participated in our livestreams and joined our Zoom meetings. That trend will continue. Just as the invention of suburbs and automobiles allowed people who moved out of the neighbourhood to continue driving back to their old neighbourhood church, on-line church will keep members connected even when they change cities.

3. Communications re-emerges as the central task of the church

This one shouldn’t surprise us. The church has always existed to proclaim good news. But now that we can no longer do that in person, we need to take advantage of all the communications technologies that are available to us. Any reluctance or inertia that may have existed in the church is now over and done with. We need to embrace digital communications technologies, ramp up our communications (including the good old telephone), and make sure our communications is interactive and participatory. The mission of the church depends on it.

4. Preaching matters

Moving church on-line has only accentuated the importance of preaching. Stripped of sacramental worship (in many churches) and in-person community, people who participate in livestreams and on-line gatherings focus more on the sermon. They want to hear a message that is relevant, pastoral and engaging. The preaching that resonates in this time of pandemic will emerge at the crossroads where the stories of our lives intersect with the stories of our faith. Barth’s dictum about having a newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other still holds true – except that nowadays you only need one hand because both are on your smartphone.

5. Music should encourage singing

The great challenge of on-line worship is to make it interactive and participatory so that we can build relationships through communal worship even when we can’t gather in person. Music is one of the best ways to encourage participation. We want people singing along at home, maybe even dancing. This means that we need music that encourages singing and moves people. Music leaders who are singers and not just instrumentalists have an advantage here, as does music which is melodic and doesn’t depend on choral performance.

6. Spiritual Care will be distributed

Before the pandemic, spiritual and pastoral care often focused on visiting those who were sick or unable to leave their homes. Now, none of us can leave our homes. Which means that spiritual care can no longer be done primarily by the pastor. The provision of spiritual care must become distributed throughout the church community, with every member seeing themself as a spiritual care provider. And this care must be both organic and intentional: organic in that people care for each other as needs and circumstances arise without having to be told to do so; but intentional in that there must be a conscious effort to make sure that no one is left uncared for.

7. We’re all innovators now

Whether we like it or not, we’re all innovators now. We have never been through times like these before so everything we do will be an experiment. Embrace it! Try stuff, start things, stop things, change the way we do and be church. Figure out what works in these times and what doesn’t. Most importantly, let’s figure out what innovations will guide us into a better place as church beyond this pandemic.

These seven ways that COVID-19 may change the church are just a start. The pandemic will transform us in more ways than imagined here. Let me know what you think, and what you are seeing in your church.

ReImagine: Preaching in the Present Tense now available from Wood Lake Publishing

Mark's books are available at amazon.ca and amazon.com

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