Students of human nature may assume that life will go back to the “old normal” after Covid-19 passes and a vaccine is present. I fear that to a degree. The past is easy to fall back to, and not all of it is good! Anemic evangelism, an inward focus, and a lack of leadership development are to be avoided. There are many opportunities for change that should be pursued. Here are 5.
1. A Challenge to Children’s, Family, and Youth Ministry.
Children’s ministry — given its hands on, people intensive nature — will be among the last ministries to begin again. Most churches are not even forecasting a date when it will begin again. When it does, a more family-friendly, parent-intensive form should emerge. Parents involved in the classroom not only helps with social distancing, it is helpful in discipleship. Rather than asking, “What did you learn in kid’s church?” they will know and be able to integrate that learning into daily life in their family. Related is the issue of youth ministry. If schools are delayed in opening, so will youth groups be delayed. What are new ways prayer and small groups can be done for youth?
2. Capitalizing on Technology
A church’s use of technology was immediately exposed when they could no longer gather for worship. Questions to be addressed included live-streaming, live chat rooms, and screen-sharing. Scores of church members have now been in a Zoom Conference! Churches that already had a strong online presence were at an advantage. Now it is incumbent on all churches to maintain a more active presence. For example, I am not aware of any church that has begun gathering again that is not also still meeting for live-stream worship. Churches now have often learned to use a “green screen” with good virtual backdrops rather than filming in an empty sanctuary. Also, break-out rooms for discussion of the service have begun for many, and we would be wise to make them part of the new normal in worship.
3. A Changing “Front Door” and Missional Focus
The website has for a long time been the initial way people learn about a church. Now, however, it may be the way most experience their first worship service. In this way, capitalizing on technology spills over into outreach. If the old front door was the service itself, the new front door is attending that service virtually before attending in person. In terms of mission, during the Covid-19 crisis, loving your neighbor literally came to be your neighbor. Being sheltered at home left people more aware of those living physically near them. “What about the elderly couple across the street? Do they need toilet paper or groceries?” This maybe one of the long-term benefits of the Covid-19 crisis. Who have you gotten to know? How will you maintain being in mission with them in the future? Focusing outward in mission can be an enduring legacy of the new normal. Reaching out to help schools is always one of the best opportunities. Special needs like masks, cleaning surfaces, and signage come to mind as even new ways to serve the local schools.
4. A Challenge to Fiscal and Physical Structure
According to Ed Stetzer, churches have seen a drop in finances of 15-20% on average. And obviously, the church building has sat largely empty. The new normal may be more relational and less programmatic, with smaller budgets. During the transition time after Covid-19, buildings can serve as distribution centers for food for hungry people, for job fairs, and counseling groups. For example, with many people having experienced loss, a ministry life Grief Share could be timely.
5. A Challenge to Small Groups
My youngest daughter told me her perspective on worship preparation has changed. With ministry groups and small groups meeting less, people are reflecting on their use of time. She wants to prepare less, with a greater focus on authenticity and less on perfection. Again, a shift from programmatic to relational will be the new normal. Ministry groups should take their discipling and prayer focus with one another to a new level. A new normal provides a great opportunity to grow both broader and deeper. This will require equipping people to discern the new needs and opportunities. Pastor, what is your plan to coach your people for a new normal?