I listened to a podcast this week on how churches are thinking through post-quarantine life after the coronavirus pandemic subsides. The first question leaders seem to be asking concerns when and how to begin gathering in person on Sunday mornings. The presenter suggested we consider other questions.
- What have we learned that opens up new possibilities as we re-enter?
- What do we need to abandon as we re-enter?
- What have we learned that we need to continue as we re-enter?
- What do we want to be known for as we re-enter?
Here is how I’m translating these questions.
Rather than “go back” to the way things were, what will it look like for us to move forward? How can this experience become a helpful reset button on life, work, and ministry? What have we learned that will enable us to be a healthier church in the days ahead?
Need #1: Continued Personal Connection
One factor that will impact all of these questions is a sense of connection. Members of a local church are not isolated units but exist as a body that functions together to achieve a common goal. One of the most important elements of survival in a time of distancing has been a resolve to connect, or at least maintain as much personal connection as possible.
I’m grateful that we have online technology that has enabled us to do this more effectively than we thought possible before COVID-19. Some positive news is that, for Creekstone at least, most of our in-person gatherings that have migrated to video meetings are seeing more participation than ever before. Our attendance on Sundays is up, as well as our women’s Bible studies, Sunday prayer group, and youth discipleship.
While this type of distance connection can’t last forever, it shows me that there is a desire to connect. It reveals the need for personal, spiritual fellowship. It tells me that when we are able to meet again in person, we just may feel more connected than ever before. That would be a blessing.
Need #2: Functional Unity
Health crises, economic collapses (and toilet paper shortages) are stressful. No way around it. Whether personal anxieties, family tensions, and vocational frustrations, everything adds to the pressure. When the pressure builds enough, like a volcano, we can blow up.
Sometimes this blow up takes place in domestic abuse, which is one of the incredibly sad consequences we are seeing rise in the wake of shelter in place orders. I remind our family all the time, that while we have a spacious home surrounded by woods and creeks in which to distance ourselves, many folks are cramped in apartments or smaller quarters. While families may genuinely love each other, if you put sinful beings in the same place for long enough, bad things can happen.
The same dynamic can happen in a church. As frustration with an unwanted new normal grows, it is possible that we can lash out, finding a scapegoat to blame for all the things wrong with the world. Some of us do this with politicians or talking heads in the media. Others do it to their community leaders or church leaders.
None of us have experience navigating a pandemic that has caused a global economic shutdown and required people to avoid each other like the… well, like the plague. Leaders truly are in uncharted waters. It would do us well to give the benefit of the doubt where we can. Give some grace to those making decisions. Sometimes, we get it right. But we are going to get a lot wrong, too. It is just part of the massive learning curve we all are facing.
As a church maintains connection, it will be as imperative to cultivate, and even work for unity. Not just a theoretical connection of people but a personal affirmation of purpose leading to genuine gospel comradery. As we re-enter, in addition to personal connection, we will need a lived out, intentional, functional unity.
Need #3: Clarity of Mission
Another factor that will help us emerge healthier is if we hit the reset button by clarifying our mission as a church. Rather than get busy, I think we need to take time to process why we exist as a church. What is our mission?
To answer this, the Creekstone Elder Team has dusted off our original mission documents that were used to launch the church ten years ago. Part of our re-entry plan is to slowly and deliberately share with you the guiding principles that established a small lighthouse of grace in north Georgia. As we refocus our mission in preparation for a re-launch, I believe we will emerge catalyzed with renewed enthusiasm and momentum for ministry on the other side of the virus crisis.
It should not be surprising that after a decade, it may feel as if the mission has leaked. Mission and vision leak happens with businesses, sports franchises, educational institutions, and even churches. This is why consultants in institutional health exhort leaders to continually reinforce their organization’s mission and vision.
While we repeat our church mission quite a bit (“Creekstone exists to glorify God by helping people come alive to the wonder of the gospel”), we have not been as clear about the “how” to achieve that mission. The how of a church’s mission gives tracks along which the mission runs, keeping members focused and confident that there is a defined purpose to every ministry within the whole. We know why we do what we do and why we don’t do what we don’t do.
It is recognizing mission leak that we will count as another blessing of the shutdown, giving us as a church the opportunity for us to revisit and recast our mission and vision as originally outlined in our founding documents. It is our deep desire that, by clarifying our mission and vision, our personal connection as gospel comrades in these days of re-entry preparation will carry us forward into a new decade of fruitful, healthy growth for the glory of God and the blessing of our wider community.
Contribute Your Input
- How is your church processing re-entry?
- What are the fears?
- What opportunities do you perceive?
- What steps are you planning to take?