3 Church-Leader Challenges as We Merge onto the Virtual Highway
By Gary L. Johnson
Earlier this year, COVID-19 drove news reports. Every day, every media outlet reported on some aspect of the coronavirus and its impact on our lives. One news story caught my attention. It reported how teenagers had completed driver’s education training, but because of social distancing, their required road tests were waived.
That story brought back memories of my driving test. After pulling out of the parking lot and into traffic, the examiner had me drive through busy streets and residential areas. I even had to parallel park. But for me, the most unnerving (and exciting) moment occurred when I was told to pull onto the expressway. I remember glancing in the rearview mirror to see whom I left behind as I sped off.
Teenagers weren’t the only ones who learned to drive during the COVID-19 pandemic. As elders, many of us were forced to merge onto the digital highway. It was unsettling to lead ministry in strange new ways for which we had little preparation.
We learned to drive virtual worship services, hold leadership meetings and life groups, and pursue all types of ministry on a cyber platform. At times, it seemed as if we were going 100 mph (even though we were in technology’s slow-speed lane).
After being forced onto this virtual highway, I need to ask a question. Are we still looking in the rearview mirror at where we’ve been and how things used to be, or are we looking forward and trying to navigate this new road well?
I contend that if we want to drive the church forward, we must look forward, and we must think forward.
Through all of this, God has continued to be our faithful provider. We were created in God’s image. We can think and reason. We have been given “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).
Are we taking time to sit and think? America’s greatest inventor, Thomas Edison, used to sit and fish for hours. There was a standing rule that people not disturb him when he was fishing. On some days, Edison did not even bait his hook. He simply wanted to sit and think! My question is this: To what degree are we using our minds that God has so richly provided?
The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated our need to think, and God has promised to provide wisdom if we will only ask (James 1:5). I see three unique challenges for which we should seek God’s wisdom.
A New Perspective
COVID-19 has forced us to develop new ways of thinking. Like it or not, we have merged onto the expressway of virtual church. Some churches already were there—and they might be in the high-speed lane—but for many of us it was an all-new experience. This phenomenon has made us realize that every church should be early adopters.
Remember, the sons of Issachar who, by using their minds, “understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). God gives us minds to do the same. We must understand our culture and know how to respond about what next step to take. As COVID-19 raged, did you see obstacles or opportunities? Our answer to that question says much about our perspective.
Thinking about, and asking, the question, “What’s next?” is a discipline of leadership. Elders must develop this as a regular practice. It makes for effective leadership. Thinking forward moves the church forward. If we fail to do so, we’re simply revving the engine without putting the church into gear . . . we’re simply making a bunch of ministry noise to capture people’s attention. Thinking what’s next helps us develop and implement a strategic plan for the church. God provides us with minds to embrace this perspective.
A New Platform
The coronavirus shut down traffic on our physical, neighborhood streets and forced most everyone onto the digital highway—that is, the digital platform. Now, with the old streets reopened or reopening, we must decide what to do. I strongly suggest we adopt the “both-and” approach and do ministry as both a gathered church and a virtual church.
We now live in a technological world. We even have wearable technology that syncs with our various devices. We must fully adopt and adapt to the digital platform to more effectively and expansively preach and teach the Word, disciple others, conduct meetings, plan events, receive donations, and more. Church is not relegated to Sunday only. Our digital platform opens wide the door of the church 24/7. God provides us with his wisdom to leverage this platform.
A New Place
The traditional church gathering and the cyber church gathering—also called the remote church—are both here to stay. COVID-19 compelled us to open new worship venues around the world. Every church can now have at least one satellite campus—a remote campus.
Retail stores with a strong internet presence move people from clicks to bricks; from their websites into their store sites. We can do the same. What will it take for us to move people from just viewing to actually visiting the church? Will we invest in our remote campus by hiring staff and buying necessary equipment? People from all five living generations are online. We must meet them there with the good news.
God is faithful, and he provided all we needed, and more, throughout the crisis. Moving forward, we need just to continue to respond in faith by thinking, adapting, and acting.
e2’s book What’s Next? How Thinking Forward Moves the Church Forward is available in both print and digital form. Learn more at e2elders.org.
Dr. Gary Johnson served 30 years with Indian Creek Christian Church (The Creek) in Indianapolis, retiring last year. He is a cofounder of e2: effective elders, which he now serves as executive director.