Three Significant Considerations for Every Church in the Midst of and Post-COVID-19
By Trevor DeVage
As every aspect of our daily lives is being reconsidered and refashioned by the pandemic, churches are rethinking their futures, too.
Or at least they should be. But I’m afraid some are anticipating the days ahead only with a vision of the years behind. And I’m convinced this just won’t work.
My thinking on this was influenced by the recent mentoring retreat I attended with Cal Jernigan, lead pastor with Central Christian Church in Arizona. I get together several times a year with Cal and five other preachers to talk about our lives and ministries. This month the talk naturally included discussions of COVID-19’s impact on the work of the local church. Cal encouraged us to think of our ministries in terms of Pre-COVID, COVID, and Post-COVID. And he helped us realize that Post-COVID ministry will look altogether different than the Pre version.
We have no control of what the situation will be one month or six months or one year from now. Admittedly, that’s exhausting. One reason so many are so tired is the exhaustion of uncertainty. As I write this, for example, we’re waiting to hear what Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine will announce in his press conference later this week. Many of our plans for the next six weeks will potentially need to change because of whatever shutdown/slowdown he may order. We’re tired just thinking about it.
Cal shared a conversation thread that ran through a pastors retreat he had just attended. Several were talking seriously about taking early retirement because they’re worn out from trying to cope with a world where church leadership is different than anything we’ve known. I’m guessing many readers of this are likewise tired. We hope to be energized by the challenge to create something new, because here’s a fact: Local congregations and church leaders who survive will not do so by trying to re-create the structures and programming of 2019. We don’t know what the Post-COVID world will look like, but we can be sure of this: The Pre-COVID World is gone forever.We don’t know what the Post-COVID world will look like, but we can be sure of this: The Pre-COVID World is gone forever. Click To Tweet
Starting a New Church
That fact explains the title of this article. Instead of seeing our local congregations as established churches, with programming and staffing and buildings whose purpose and function have been decided, let’s reconsider everything. Let’s view our ministry in 2021 the way we would approach a new church plant in our community. As Cal puts it, “We now have 100 percent of who we have.” Those who have stuck with the church through this difficult time will be the ones to meet the needs and lift up the name of Jesus in the future. We can’t recoup what the church was. We must grow our congregations into what they can become.We can’t recoup what the church was. We must grow our congregations into what they can become. Click To Tweet
I liken it to the effects of a tornado. I knew Joplin, Missouri, well before that day in May 2011 when a tornado demolished half of the town. I had visited there often and could easily get from the Christ In Youth offices to local church buildings to the campus of Ozark Christian College. When I went back two days after the tornado, I couldn’t find my way around. Landmark neighborhoods were gone. The high school was leveled. Streets were blocked or destroyed.
Return to Joplin today and you’ll find a pleasant place, but it’s different. Families and businesses meet in buildings that are new. Roads have been moved. The town did rebuild, but it did not re-create. Joplin became what it needed to be, whether that was or was not the same as what it had been.
Cal said, “We need to stop being upset about ground [that we’ve] lost and understand we have the opportunity to dream new dreams and take new land.” Instead of seeing this time as defeat, Cal believes it reflects new opportunities to serve the present reality.
Pursuing Post-COVID Possibilities
The leaders where I serve are grappling with questions like these: “What’s really important? Who do we want to reach? What must we do to reach them?” We’re not talking about “We’re coming back.” We’re asking, “What’s next?” Every church—at least every church that will survive through the coming decade—is now a church plant. What was has died. We need to mourn it and move on. The possibilities ahead are many for those who will lift their eyes to see them.Every church—at least every church that will survive through the coming decade—is now a church plant. Click To Tweet
Trevor DeVage serves as lead pastor with Christ’s Church in Mason, Ohio. This essay is adapted from a blog post at www.TrevorDeVage.com; we are sharing it here with his permission.
That mourning part, that’s the hard part. Covid-19 happened within a year of transition from our old senior minister (my father in law) to a new one. The transition was done well and was going strong. But then Covid-19 hit. The church is now looking incredibly different, more so than I had anticipated, because of it. It was a church of over 4,000. The empty pews and classrooms that I’m so used to seeing bursting with people over the last 20 years is heartbreaking. But you are right. The people that are showing up are the ones that have determined to rebuild the church into something new and different. They are asking the right questions. The younger staff have stepped up and have done well. But inside, I’m grieving. And that’s ok as long as we don’t stay that way and force the past to reemerge. Thanks for the article.