I recently finished a book by Fareed Zakaria who is host of CNN's top international affairs show, GPS and one of the most prescient thinkers in our day. The book is entitled Ten Lessons For a Post-Pandemic World. I highly recommend the book which analyzes how our current pandemic is changing our world in ways that will be lasting and consequential. In many cases, it has greatly accelerated changes already underway in our world and in other cases radically shifted our center of gravity altogether.
Ministries of all sorts, and especially the church need to evaluate how the post-pandemic world will differ from what was. Here are ten ways I believe that the world will be different for the church and will divide the thriving from the merely surviving.
One: The pandemic has accelerated the number of those who will no longer attend church on any kind of regular basis. Many individuals have concluded in the age of Covid that they no longer need to attend church regularly. They have been without it for a period of time and have concluded that it is just fine. This is certainly true for those who attended church for cultural reasons rather than reasons of deep faith. Thus, the hiatus from church is going to separate those who truly follow Jesus and those whose faith was shallow to start with. Do not expect that your attendance will be what it was pre-Covid. It likely will not be.
Two: This means that we will need to change our measures of success - which is a very good thing. Way too much emphasis has been placed in recent years on the size of one's church. That scorecard has nothing inherently to do with whether a church is living out the mandate that Jesus gave the church.
Fortunately, Covid will force us to change our measure of success as fewer choose to attend church. We will have to look more closely at what success means for the church. Things like disciplemaking, community involvement, evangelism, generosity, racial reconciliation, justice and the living out of our faith in tangible ways will take on new relevance for those ministries that will grow in the future.
Three: Healthy ministries will place far more emphasis on the real engagement of their congregation in ministry rather than being passive observers. This is not only the mandate of the church (Ephesians 2:8-10, 4:10-13) but it is the heart's desire of those who love Jesus. Our faith is not designed to be head knowledge but heart knowledge where we live out that which we believe. And it is in the living out of our faith that we grow an even deeper faith. Growing ministries will be those who focus on empowering and releasing their people in real, meaningful ministry rather than fostering onlookers.
Four: Churches that thrive will be those that address the real issues of their communities and their world. As noted above, Covid has sped up the growing irrelevance of the church to many people. That does not mean of course that the church itself is irrelevant but many local congregations are increasingly seen that way.
The gospel should touch everything. It should transform individuals, communities and institutions through the power of the Holy Spirit but that means that the church must address issues that dehumanize and steal life with the life giving and transforming power of God. God cares about the poor and marginalized - those without a voice. He cares about racial reconciliation and justice - read the prophets! He cares about helping the needy and the hungry and lifting people out of generational poverty. If we are to pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" we must be agents of Jesus to see that bits of heaven come to our communities in tangible ways.
Engaged churches that bring the life and help and transformation of the Gospel in real ways to their communities will attract those who want their lives to count and will show the community what the heart of Jesus actually looks like. That in turn draws people to Jesus.
Five: Humble leaders who build the church of Jesus rather than their own kingdoms will be a mark of healthy churches. Celebrity driven churches are antithetical to the Kingdom of God. Humility was the mark of Jesus while pride, ego and the building of personal kingdoms rather than God's kingdom has been a curse on the church. Already before Covid we saw the collapse of several large ministries led by prideful leaders and I suspect that there will be trend away from celebrity based ministries toward a more humble and authentic leadership.
Ironically, God is the model of humility while Satan is the model of pride. Proud, controlling and self important leaders in the church, who are building their own kingdoms rather than God's Kingdom will increasingly be seen for what they are.
Six: Generosity will become the norm in growing churches. The church in general has been selfish when it comes to giving. We have asked people to give generously to the church but congregations have used that money for themselves rather than being equally generous to needs outside their congregation. We have not practiced what we preached.
Few practices get the attention of our communities than congregations that are generous to needs within their communities. In fact, if God blesses those of his people who are generous with others, why would this not apply to congregations who are generous to others. Radical generosity can bring radical blessing. There is power when churches help other churches. There is power when congregations invest in their communities to meet real needs in the name of Jesus. There is tremendous power to transform our own lives when we see God meeting real needs through our generosity. There is power when we invest in ministries that bring the Gospel to those who have never heard.
Seven: Risk taking must become normal. Churches can be the most cautious organizations on the face of the earth. And look where it has got us. Why would we not risk everything for the cause of Christ? Living cautiously doe not excite anyone to better and higher aspirations. If you believe something you act on it. If you worship the God of God's and Lord of Lord's you take risks for Him. Like the parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl, the man who found a treasure in the field, sold all he had to buy that field.
Congregations that risk for the sake of Jesus train people to do the same. They demonstrate what a life of faith actually looks like. You cannot preach faith when your congregation does not practice faith. Faith means that we take risks for a Gospel that wants to touch everything around us.
Eight: Churches must become welcoming to anyone and everyone. That means those who don't look like us, don't act like us, and even have lifestyles that are not like our own. If Jesus came to minister to the sick and the broken and the needy and the marginalized, so must we. He welcomed all into his presence to the consternation of the Pharisees and even at times of His own disciples. Those congregations who will thrive in the future will do the same. They will be places that welcome anyone and everyone as Jesus did. They will also be places where the love and acceptance shown can lead to personal and spiritual transformation as the Holy Spirit does its work - in all of us.
Nine: God's power will be increasingly evident in those congregations who embrace their calling in a new way. Throughout the ministry of Paul we read that the Gospel came with truth and power. That power is hard to find in many churches today because we have both put the Holy Spirit in a little box and because our ministry is not about what God alone can do but about what we can do without His help. Churches that embrace the kind of commitments we have been talking about will also see His power change their ministries. He wants to show up in power and will do so when we embrace His way and His mission.
Ten: The pace of change has accelerated with Covid. Change in the church to meet the needs of a new day will be faster rather than slower in pace. We don't have the time today to play to the lowest common denominator in the church when it comes to changing to meet the needs of a new day. We need to show love to those who are cautious but move boldly for the sake of Jesus and the mission He has given us.
There is not time today for incremental change. We need to make the changes that are necessary to become the church He has called us to be. Of course, change takes wisdom and timing but it also takes courage and boldness. Cautious churches will languish while bold leadership will increasingly be the norm in healthy churches.
For too long the church has subordinated its mission to the willingness of a few to agree. We have been held hostage by those who like the old way. In the meantime, people are not being reached. It is time to lovingly but firmly put the mission of the church first, regardless of those who object.
Post Covid the church will not look the same. Many congregations will languish and move into a quiet decline. Those who will boldly reexamine their purpose, mission and priorities in light of Gods Word and our changing world will flourish. They may in many cases be smaller congregations but they will also be far more effective and impactful.