The COVID-19 crises is changing the ways we do life in America, and it is yet to be seen how much of those normal ways of doing life will return.
I suspect a good deal of what was normal a few months ago will come back, but I also suspect a lot will not. I also suspect that it won’t return to feeling the same. I am not convinced that on the other side of this crises we’ll be dancing in the streets with ticker tape parades as we did after World War II.
I think a lot of businesses and organizations that will not be able to rebound, and mostly because of financial hardship thrust upon them by the ravishing of the virus or the forced shutdown — we will have to wait and see which will be the case.
It is very likely that there will be local church congregations that will never return to normal after this either. In fact, I think that the American church on a whole will be changed by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
How, you ask? Well, let me think a little out loud here…
- I think some small church congregations may actually close their doors after COVID-19. I say this because I have seen small church pastors express this concern on social media. However, I think these would mostly be small churches still trying to adjust a big church model on their small church congregations. These pastors are generally still pleading for people to serve their church in various departments that they can’t function anyway.
- I also think the longer this shutdown goes the more likely larger church congregations may actually close. However, I think these would mostly be churches who have got themselves into deep debt. There was a time, about 10 years ago, that a record number of churches were in the process of going through bankruptcy. The city of Memphis, Tennessee had 9 churches in bankruptcy. There are 2 large churches in our Gulf Coast area that I know are struggling with multi-millions of borrowed debt, staying one step ahead of bankruptcy. It is possible that we may see larger churches close their doors, too.
- I think some church members are enjoying just being disciples of Christ and not working for the local church, during this time of COVID-19 and that may mean that more in the pews of traditional churches may be open to one day leaving the institutional church for a house church or simpler church. It has always seemed to me that the American church has been built around persuading its members to service to the needs of the church organization, relying on the institution as the witness in the community rather than the individual members. I suspect that some church members will rethink their witness come around to a more biblical approach of being the church rather than just doing for the church.
- I expect that there will be some church members who will not show back up at their previous churches because they were going through the motions and not going after the Lord. But, I think there will be some church members who will not show back up because they are discovering during this COVID-19 crises that a simpler way of fellowship and discipleship is more beneficial and intimate to them than a mundane sit, watch, go home, and come back next week experience. My hunch would be that these Christians have already been considering simpler expressions of church like house church, as a way to growing in grace.
- I realize that I am bias toward simple church expressions, but it doesn’t mean I don’t believe in the traditional brick and mortar church organization, I do. If you have been following any of my posts in the Simpler Church category of my personal blog you know that I am an advocate of different expressions of congregations and including that variety into the Kingdom work without outright disregard for non-traditional church approaches. Having said that, I think this COVID-19 crises is a benefit to the whole Bride of Christ because everyone who is lost and not following Christ is having to ask themselves why this unprecedented national shutdown feels like an end-time scenario?
- I think this COVID-19 pandemic has given opportunities to believers in Christ to witness to non-believers. Back in the 1990’s a sociologist professor, Rodney Stark, now at Baylor, wrote “The Rise of Christianity” in which he laid out the case that the Roman Empire’s pandemic of 2nd and 3rd centuries advanced the spread of the Christian faith because pagans were converted by believers who lived their faith. Christians remained charitable and their communities intact while pagans were overtaken in fear and disarray. I think the opportunities presented to us in COVID-19 are able to benefit the churches big enough and financially stable enough to provide charity and show the love of God to those around us during this crises.
- I know that I am not alone in missing weekly fellowship with like-minded believers in Christ, and I now know that I am not alone at thinking we need to rethink how we do church, too. Brad Brisco, the National Director of Church Planting at the Southern Baptist Convention’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.” If nothing comes of any of my thinking out loud points above, perhaps this will, that many church pastors will at least be forced to rethink how we American Christians do church.
If you have any questions, please ask me. Sometimes I write things a certain way to make a specific point clear in the readers mind, and sometimes that raises the “what if” and “but what about” questions. This is a touchy topic, but it is never my attention to be negatively critical of other churches or traditions. I write with my own church pastorate in mind, knowing they know my heart, but if you are reading this article from outside our CrossHope Chapel fellowship, please don’t hesitate to ask me for clarification if needed.