There have been at least three world events that have left an indelible impact on my life and after which the world I live in has never been the same. The first was the assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy, November 22, 1963. As a 13 year-old at the time, I was sure the world was going to disintegrate into World War III. The second was the infamous ‘9/11’ assault on the twin towers in New York City. From that day on, the time necessary to check in and board an airplane, and even the ‘what’ and ‘how much’ a person can take on board have all been adjusted. And the third, of course, is the current global situation we find ourselves living in right now with the coronavirus pandemic. In all three instances for a season at least, elements of everyday life as we knew it were, for all intents and purposes sidelined. We live in a ‘new normal.’ In fact with the necessary imposed restrictions of social distancing etc., we are discovering that for most of us, life carries on even in the absence of activities previously considered important, if not essential to ‘normal life.’ The exceptions of course include those who have lost jobs and/or loved ones.
There are elements of this new normal that many of us are quite enjoying while other fallout effects cannot end soon enough. As my wife said to me recently, it’s as though someone has pushed the reboot button. But here we are!
How have we as the church responded during such times of major pivot? Is it even possible to consider congregations and parishes flourishing during such times? The world has had to learn to adjust to a different rhythm of life and often that adjustment comes at significant, even devastating cost.
We as the church should not expect to be excused from having to adjust to the new normal. What that means is that various approaches to ministry that historically have fostered flourishing parishes and congregations may no longer carry the same currency. It also means that there are some searching questions that we are being forced to consider, questions that get to some of the fundamental ecclesial issues such as what does it really mean to be the church both at the universal and local level? Are there elements without which the church ceases to be the church? Can the church truly be the church in the absence of corporate gatherings for prayer, worship, fellowship and teaching?
There are numerous churches for whom one of the key contributing factors to their flourishing has been their worship ministries including music and the arts. Their robust and uplifting corporate worship gatherings have been profoundly influential in keeping people there. Some have been built largely on strong pulpit/teaching ministries. For others, small group ministries or home groups have been a key aspect of their flourishing. What impact will current social distancing restrictions and radical limitations on the size of gatherings have on such congregations even for the short term?
It could be said that the circumstances in which we live today have forced many of us to take inventory of the things we have so easily taken for granted and assumed to be a guaranteed right or freedom including being together with other people to fellowship, worship and be taught. The reality is, such privileges cannot be guaranteed by any government of charter; they come to us as a gift of God’s grace, first and foremost. And when, by His grace, God allows such privileges to be curtailed, we are still called to be the church, and Christ is still building his church in such a way that renders the gates of hell powerless (Matthew 16:18).
Because of that, and in light of the conviction that God is always doing something, there is a part of me that remains hopeful even where we find ourselves. Could this not be a time of pruning similar to what Jesus referred to in John 15:2 “. . . and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” I wonder if God, like a good vinedresser is not pruning us from busyness or self-imposed over commitment even to ‘church activities’ and allowing (forcing) us to be the church at home or with our neighbours more than we have been. Maybe what COVID19 is allowing us to see is that a flourishing parish or congregation really begins at home.
What We're Reading
Shifting Stats Shaking The Church: 40 Canadian Churches Respond
We learned early in our research that flourishing congregations innovate and adapt well to change. Rarely have churches confronted such an opportunity to cultivate these dynamics of organizational life than during and after COVID-19. We recommend Shifting Stats Shaking the Church because it is based entirely on short “good news” vignettes of Canadian churches who think and behave creatively to changing circumstances around them. Of notable interest are several stories of churches who successfully incorporate technology into their ministry. Extremely practical and hopeful, this is the perfect read during this season of church ministry across Canada.
Global Leadership Summit
Next Event Series: Leading Through Crisis with Craig Groeschel. Watch Here
EDGE-y COVID-19 Resources
We are not alone – we’re going to get through this together. Visit EDGE’s COVID-19 Resource page to find resources for helping ministries, ministers, and everyone staying connected in different ways through these uncertain times
Taylor & Francis COVID-19 Resources
Find other relevant COVID-19 research articles, book chapters and information that can be freely accessed here.