There is a lot of conversation right now in podcasts and blogs about the future of the church in America.
Did the pandemic speed up the slow decline of the Church? Will we be post-Christian in a decade?
What about your church? Will you recover?
Will you move forward stronger and more resilient? Or, will you be closing your doors in a few years?
These are challenging questions that are keeping many of us up at night.
What can we do?
I believe we have a tremendous opportunity to come through this pandemic stronger and more resilient than ever.
I believe it for my church, and I believe it for yours.
But there are some pitfalls we need to avoid.
Otherwise, the road to relevance, resilience, and growth will be much harder than it needs to be.
And, let’s be real. Not every church is going to come through this pandemic.
I would like to suggest three pitfalls to avoid in this season.
The 2019 Time Machine
I believe nostalgia will be a momentum killer this season.
And, this will be a tough challenge to avoid.
I can’t tell you how many times throughout this pandemic I’ve heard, “I just want things back to the way they were.”
While I feel it too, we have to recognize the world has changed.
Culture has shifted, and we would be wise to come to terms with the fact that church programs and practices will never be exactly the same.
So, here’s my advice: avoid the 2019 time machine mentality.
There will be people in your church, some of them who are in leadership and possess influence, who will want and expect things to go back to exactly how they were before COVID-19.
We have to provide clear leadership. Lead with vision.
For your church to grow stronger in 2021, you can’t go back to 2019.
You have to lead into 2021.
I wonder what this might mean for your church?
Is there something from 2019 that needs to go away? Is there something specific to your community that needs to be pursued in 2021?
Don’t fall into the 2019 time machine mentality.
Us and Them
This feels like the most divisive time in my life.
We have lost the art of civil discourse.
We are living in the age of “I’m right, and you’re an idiot.”
Don’t believe me? Take a look at Facebook.
It reminds me of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. Check out this excerpt from chapter 1:
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[a] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas[b]”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?
The situation in Corinth must have been so frustrating to Paul.
Corinth was a major hub in the Roman world.
If a thriving Jesus community could take root in Corinth, the influence would be massive.
But, the believers couldn’t get along. They were divided.
It was us and them.
Similarly, our churches are divided.
The mentality of us versus them is killing our effectiveness as churches, just like it did in 1st century Corinth.
As leaders, we must lean into this and call our congregations to civility, empathy, and curiosity.
We have a HUGE opportunity right now as Jesus followers.
Our culture cannot get along.
If we can get along and love each other well in the midst of our differences of opinion, we will demonstrate the power of the Gospel. In the words of Jesus from John 17:
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
My challenge to you is this:
- Do not contribute to divisiveness.
- Don’t reinforce the us vs them mentality.
- Fight for unity in your congregation and community.
If we can live at peace with each other, if we can demonstrate unity, our churches will be cities on a hill—a shining light of hope in our culture.
I know this is not true for all churches, and it may not be true for your church, but statistically, most churches in America are solid financially.
For many, financial giving remained remarkably stable, and spending decreased considerably this past year.
So, many of our churches, while confused about how many people are attending, know exactly how much money we have in the bank and it’s often not a small amount.
Now, because the pandemic season was confusing and scary for churches and leaders, many of us are stuck in a preservation mindset.
Could I suggest that this mindset is a pitfall to avoid in this season?
It will keep your church from moving forward and engaging in meaningful kingdom work.
As I read the New Testament, the vision of the Church is very much offensive.
- “Go into all the world…”,
- “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth…”
- And, then there is Paul, a man on a mission in every sense of the word, pouring himself out to launch Jesus communities in practically every major city in the Roman world.
For those of us whose churches are in a solid financial position, we may need to shift our thinking from preservation to opportunity.
In other words, what if God entrusted those resources to your church so you might creatively expand, grow, and reach more people with the Gospel?
Of course, we need to lead with responsibility and discernment but I believe that a preservation mindset isn’t what we need right now.
Let’s remember the mission we have been entrusted with and think creatively about how our resources might be used to further the kingdom.
As we continue to walk through this challenging season, how else is God challenging you and your church?
Let’s discuss in the comments below.