The coronavirus is challenging many of the ways we do life in America. Some businesses are discovering that employees can work from home, families are adjusting to actually spending more time together, and church members are realizing that a weekly formal program may not be as necessary to their personal spiritual growth as they once thought.
I am guessing that a lot of us are really missing weekly fellowship with like-minded believers in Christ. I am also guessing that a lot of us, who are regular local church parishioners, are being challenged to re-think how we have traditionally done church.
Brad Brisco, the National Director of Church Planting at the SBC’s North American Mission Board, made this observation in a social media post: “Ultimately I think the virus has revealed just how completely dependent we are on a gathered, centralized ecclesiology. We have to think more deeply about what is next. We will have to move beyond a “come and see,” or worse, a “come and consume” posture. The challenges will be great, but the potential is greater.”
After we pull through this coronavirus crises and churches go back to congregational activites as usual, I am guessing that some in the body of Christ will have just enough of a taste of an informal approach to church that a change of attitude toward simpler formats of doing church may not seem so out of order.
In the 1990’s I served as pastor of several conventional churches and I planted two of those that are still serving their communities, and I did that with a great deal of my ministerial colleagues as cheerleaders affirming that work.
However, in 2006 when I was working as a hospital chaplain and volunteering at our area Baptist Association, and I began discussing my plans to plant another church but this time one of a nonconventional simpler form of church, my ministerial colleagues were very critical.
I recall one instance in a meeting where a pastor friend started a conversation with the minister standing between us on why nontraditional churches are bad for established congregations, and said it loudly enough that I knew his words were really meant for my ears.
The traditional format and way we have been doing church has proven to effectively evangelize the American landscape, but I think the American landscape has changed and it is going to require a new paradigm in methodology.
I think and hope that the post-coronavirus church in America will make room for more informal models of church gatherings. We may be going back to the future, and the future may likely be closer to the primitive ways of the early church and their gatherings.
Call it whatever you want, but I am referring to a nontraditional, nonconventional, simpler, smaller, informal, and more primitive way of meeting as a local church body. The early church faced a great deal of suppression from its society and maybe that will be the case for us, too.
Simpler methods of doing church like house church, micro-church, or even a blended model like CrossHope Chapel, have proven very effective at reaching those who are burned-out, dropped-out, or just no longer engaged in our current congregational systems that are centered more around formal buildings and budgets.
I realize that ministers are not the biggest fans of simpler and smaller forms of church ministry because being able to receive a paycheck requires an organization capable of generating revenue, which typically is not an outgrowth of informal church gatherings.
I have always felt that the work of advancing God’s Kingdom could benefit from various church models and methods if they could somehow network together. People go through seasons that a one-size fits all approach doesn’t always reach.
The biggest obstacle faced by simpler church gatherings, that I have found, has been the preconceived idea that a smaller simpler church format can’t be a real church because it’s absent of the traditional structures of departmental ministries, Sunday Schools, and the focal point of a centralized sermon lecture.
Perhaps these weeks of quarantine and shelter in place will change some attitudes among Christians who otherwise look down on nontraditional forms of church ministry.
My fear has been that our American church system has established an impediment to the primitive church methods seen in the early church in the same way that old world Catholicism tore down the priesthood of all believes by establishing a divide between clergy and laity practices.
Will there be a change within the church toward accepting simpler methods of doing church after this coronavirus is past? I can only hope.
Only time will tell how the coronavirus crises will impact the church, but I do agree with what Brad Brisco said in the above quote, “We will have to move beyond a “come and see,” or worse, a “come and consume” posture. The challenges will be great, but the potential is greater.”