We are living in an unprecedented time. Is that not the understatement of the decade or perhaps century? We have all been thrust into virtual church world – some willingly and some not so willingly. Yet, here we are and we are managing this crisis the best we can. We have made it through the steep technology learning curve. We made it through offering virtual Easter services.
My house will be known as a house of prayer for all peoples, says the Lord God, who gathers Israel’s outcasts. I will gather still others to those I have already gathered. Isaiah 56:8 CEB
Now what? Unfortunately, some have framed this season of virtual church as a stop gap to get us through until our building can re-open. Can we challenge that a bit? Friends, we are experiencing a disruption – a holy disruption. We will not go “back to normal.” That “normal” no longer exists. We will never be the same again either as a society or as a church. This time of crisis calls us into a time of adaptability. In these times we have a natural tendency to double down on what we already know and what we already do. If we remain in our comfort zone, we miss the opportunity to truly adapt to the new times, culture, and reality. We hunker down and do what we are comfortable doing (and perhaps was not working anyway). We miss the opportunity to adapt sometimes because we are resistant to the change or perhaps even in denial about the current reality. In the church, we sometimes even resist cultural shifts because we confuse the habits, methods, and practices of the church as sacred. Many things we do in the church are not based on Christian essentials and theology, but instead are based on historical practices framed as sacred by those practicing it.
Half of churches are growing in worship attendance during this epidemic. We not only have our regulars showing up, but we are also seeing huge numbers of new people showing up. Some people who were gathering in the building who were once resistant to virtual worship have come to like virtual ministry. They can worship in their PJ’s while eating their pancakes. Others may not be comfortable returning to larger gatherings of people for a while, a long time, or perhaps ever. We may not be able to gather in larger groups for a while even when social distancing practices are loosened. We are headed into a new normal. And that new normal may not emerge for quite some time as it is still evolving.
For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Corinthians 3:9 NIV
Many churches have unknowingly and unintentionally birthed a second site or perhaps a multi-site ministry. There are churches of all sizes who are experiencing (Barna reported 51%) growth in virtual worship attendance over recent in-person worship. Virtual ministry offers seekers an opportunity to pop in and experience worship in a much safer and more comfortable way. A person can lurk in the background anonymously without ever being seen. Virtual church offers more schedule flexibility due to no drive time as well as the option to view recordings on demand. And, the real bonus is they do not risk sitting in someone else’s pew!
This has created unprecedented opportunities to reach new people. But, if we see virtual ministry as a way of just “getting us through until we go back to our buildings,” we will miss this great opportunity that is before us during this time of deep crisis. When we are able to once again gather in our buildings, we cannot abandon the people we have gathered and met virtually. We just cannot leave this fragile, newborn baby at the curb as we move back into our buildings. We must think both onsite and online – not either/or. Some people (new and existing) may not ever enter the building again, but could still be a vital part of your church ministry IF we don’t shut the doors to the new virtual congregation when we return to the building. We must challenge ourselves to think of this shift online to virtual ministry rather than virtual worship. Ministry requires us to think more comprehensively about our offerings than simply worship.
I had the pleasure of joining some colleagues for a video chat sponsored by Path 1 about this holy disruption we find ourselves in as society and the church. This video offers some thoughts about how we offer the best experiences possible now and what do consider coming up. There is both a video and a Conversation Guide. We discussed how we think there could be some similarities and thus some lessons we could use from church plants for existing churches in this particular season. Use these resources to facilitate conversations with your leadership team, staff, and ministry teams to help process the opportunities and strategize how to seize the Kingdom opportunities before us. Find those resources here: https://tinyurl.com/y9uv8a9s
A DEEPER DIVE WITH RE
If you are looking for a deeper dive into this material, would like to be in a cohort of churches who are having these conversations, and/or would like to begin to explore next steps, I will be launching a series called “RE.” RE will walk us through RElating in this virtual world with both new and existing people. RE will also address REcommitting ourselves to the mission and the community we are called to reach. And finally, RE will help leaders and staff consider how this is a wonderful opportunity for RElaunching the church.
- Series of six, one-hour webinars with multiple church teams
- Each church team would consist of approximately 6-12 people including pastor
- RE will explore three major shifts relating to a new way of being the church in this new day and develop a strategy to address the shifts contextually
- RElating to existing and new people in a new way
- REcommitting to the mission field
- RElaunching the church into the community
- Two coaching sessions with each individual church team for support, equipping and accountability
- Your RE Leaders will respected authors and coaches, Phil Maynard and Kay Kotan
RElate Virtual Worship, Hospitality and Engagement
REcommit Virtual Discipleship, Service and Generosity
RElaunch Mission, Vision, Mission Field, and Relaunch Strategy