After COVID everything will change, because everything already has changed. With COVId-19 rocking the world, many rural congregations are getting creative like never before, and some are realizing that their reach is bigger than they realized. That’s what happens when church leaves the building. As much as we long to be together in community and have a sense of normalcy, COVI-19 has provided great opportunities for us all to reflect and re-assess our priorities in ministry.
The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have lasting impact not only on our culture but on the Church. Did you know that according to Barna Research, one in three Christians has stopped attending church since COVID? Many of the changes that we are putting in place now may impact the way we view ministry in the future, and many churches may emerge healthier than before the crisis. A crisis is an ideal time to focus on the things that really matter, consider our true priorities, and avoid common temptations in rural ministry.
We all experience stress during these times, but should also embrace hope.
The point here is to not radically rethink our mission (for this has always been to make disciples who make more disciples), but to rethink our ways of engaging in the mission, and even how we measure success. We can even consider a theology of change for our rural context. What if, for instance, we began to measure success based on the number of people we mobilized weekly on mission instead of the number of Sunday attendees or even the amount of money in our coffers? How about envisioning moving from lecture and classroom based discipleship to one-on-one relational discipleship? Can you imagine if we detoxed from the “come-to-us” events, hit the pause button on an attractional ministry strategy, and began to intentionally think in more localized and incarnational ways regarding being church and spreading the Gospel?
And what if after COVID, when all this is over, we don’t look back?
I want to encourage you all to take heart. God’s Spirit has always led God’s people to creativity at key moments in history, and the moment we are in will possibly define existence for generations.
In certain ways pastors and staff members are busier than ever making pivots in strategy during this time. If you are a lay person, I encourage you to spend time in prayer – for your leaders and to consider how our church might function differently after the COVID-19 pandemic passes.
Under the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, God’s people lived in exile and were separated from their place of worship, their traditions, and in many cases their own families and communities of origin. Many struggled to maintain devotion to God, to perform meaningful worship, and to live out of their convictions instead of the prevailing culture.
Today is our “exile-moment.” God does not reside in a building made of brick and mortar. We struggle to find connection and meaning with uprooted lives and routines. We are surrounded by idolatry – from people worrying more about themselves than the lives of the most vulnerable, to the embrace of hoarding increasingly scarce resources.
This is a moment for small town churches to shine, and for our faith to shape our own living. Loving God and Loving Neighbor has always been radical. When the COVID-19 shutdown is over, I long for the day when many things return to normal, but I also hope as a church that there are ways that we don’t look back – leaning into the creativity, teamwork, renewed purpose, and shared mission that the current situation has spurred us towards.