I’ve been listening to lots of podcasts. Most are from the USA. And most carry some quite extreme, negative predictions about the future of the church post COVID-19.
- Will some congregations collapse? Possibly.
- Will church be solely online? Probably not.
- Might this be an opportunity for Australian followers of Jesus to reflect on what is truly important in our mission and witness of the Gospel, and to find new ways in which to engage with our community? Absolutely.
Last Thursday, I was fortunate to join 800 people in the social sector as we heard Sophie Renton and Mark McCrindle (from McCrindle Research) share their Australian research on the impact of COVID19 on the community. I shared a summary of their findings at a Pastors and Leaders Chat meeting the following day. This summary was recorded (including discussions and observations from a number of our pastors) and you can find the link to that conversation here.
I’m sharing the following to encourage reflection on the third question listed above… is this an opportunity for us a church to reflect on new ways to engage our community with the Gospel?
First. COVID19 is neither a divine punishment nor a human conspiracy, but rather a reflection that the broken and decaying world itself is desperately yearning for redemption (Romans 8:22-23). As people of the resurrection, who have ourselves died and risen again through our baptism, we know that God redeems and transforms the worst of the worst and the greatest of tragedies. This is the heart of the Gospel!
What has COVID19 taught us?
McCrindle highlights that people have enjoyed:
- spending more time with family and household members
- a slower pace of life
- spending time doing the things they enjoy doing
- spending more time praying or engaging in other spiritual pursuits.
But the research also identified some heightened levels of anxiety across all age groups. Of note, is that while the older generations more greatly felt the loss of their usual social connection, the younger generations also experienced losses which impacted their mental and spiritual health.
So, what does this mean for the future direction of the church?
Keep the main thing the main thing! Know our core mission.
It is very easy for us to assume that once we can worship together again, that everything will return to ‘normal’. It won’t! We make meaning by reflecting on our own stories and those of others. Each of us is emerging from isolation with different take-aways. That means that we need to be kind to ourselves and kind to each other, accepting that things will be different – as we each try to make sense of our experiences.
However, this also leads to the strength of the Christian church: We are a community which knows the pain of sin and brokenness, but also knows the peace that passes all human understanding. Indeed, through the cross, our story is powerfully connected with God’s story! Each of us knows people whom we hope will encounter God’s peace, and we pray that these circumstances may provide a catalyst for questions and conversations.
So what will be the future of the church?
I do not know. But I do know that now is the time to reflect on those things that we have learned to appreciate in ‘lock-down’ and discover how to best strengthen them. But at the same time, instead of simply busying ourselves again, maybe God is redeeming this situation by helping us to learn to give some things up – for the sake of the Gospel.
Some questions for congregational leaders:
Are there things that we, as a church, can do to help proclaim the hope of Jesus into this space of heightened anxiety?
What new connections have been formed, and how can we grow those connections?
If there was one thing that you have learned that you think would have the greatest impact on the sharing of the Gospel to worried people, what would that be? What can be done to help enable that action to take place? What support do you need?
What is truly important in your congregation’s mission and witness of the Gospel? What new ways might you engage with your community?