Don’t #ReopenChurch … #Reimagine Your Church
Phil Miglioratti • The #ReimagineFORUM
Many Pastors are afraid of what might happen when they reopen their church schedule. Members missing. New (strange?) persons who don’t fit the congregation’s homogeneous profile. Reduction in giving. A dissatisfaction with traditional patterns or a disconnecting from old programs. New expectations of leadership. Uncharted territory.
In truth, every Christian leader knows the Church can never be “reopened” because the Church is the Body of Christ, a 24/7/365 living, breathing entity. We can’t “close” down. Jesus told his disciples: “Don’t yield to fear. All you need to do is to keep on believing” (Mark 5:36). The Amplified Bible’s version: “Do not be afraid; only keep on believing [in Me and my power].”
But, even though we all experience fear, it is not to be feared. Fear can actually be beneficial as it alerts us to a problem that must not be ignored or an enemy that must be conquered. It gets our attention by screaming through body, soul, and spirit: “Do something. Now!” Our biggest mistake is trying to silence or outrun fear rather than heeding the wise words of scripture to keep focused on the Lord of life, the Chief Shepherd of the Church. As Pastor Andy Stanley would say: “Fear. Less.” I would add: “Fear wisely.”
Fear less because “…we are convinced that every detail of our lives is continually woven together to fit into God’s perfect plan of bringing good into our lives, for we are his lovers who have been called to fulfill his designed purpose.” Romans 8:28 (The Passion Translation)
Fear wisely, congregation, because “…we are convinced that every detail of our church is continually woven together to fit into God’s perfect plan of bringing good through the mission and ministry of our church, for we are his community who have been called to fulfill his designed purpose.” Romans 8:28 (my paraphrase)
Fear less. Fear wisely. Refuse a return to business as usual. Resist the temptation to merely reopen your church. Instead, reimagine how a church lives out faith, hope, and love in the shadow of a pandemic. Invite the Holy Spirit to take you (pastors, lead teams, affinity groups, congregations) on a journey of rethinking by:
- Assessing how the new normal impacts the calling and gifting of your congregation
- Blessing your constituents but also the diverse peoples in your community
- Confessing your fear and declaring your faith to move into the future
Make a fearless assessment of the new normal.
- Have we made meaningful connections with every member? Attender?
- Have we developed systems to identify practical needs of our families? Our community?
- Are we identifying the degree of difficulty each person/family has experienced?
- Have we surveyed our membership to know how to serve their:
- Practical needs?
- Emotional pains?
- Spiritual status?
- Gather (virtual, if not safe to meet in person) leadership to prayerfully discern:
- Strengths – what new capabilities have we discovered in our people?
- Weaknesses – in what ways has our ministry capacity decreased?
- Opportunities – which needs or new options are we facing?
- Resources – what undiscovered, unexpected resources have surfaced?
- Risks/Rewards – have we counted the cost of making changes? Doing nothing?
Begin to daily ask for the mind of Christ so that you (personally but also with congregational ministers) discern how to reimagine how to develop:
- Experiential worship
- Enthusiastic (“in; theos/God”) fellowship
- Equipped leadership
- Extreme discipleship
- Extravagant stewardship
- Engaging citizenship
Pursuing a Spirit-led, Scripture-fed journey may lead you to begin a new chapter of ministry. Your congregation or team may be called upon to make a radical change or to recalibrate systems or reorient programs. Focus on Jesus. Fear less. Fear wisely. Follow Jesus… to the places where Almighty God is already at work; an invitation to serve with our Savior.
The Church is meant to be a tipping point into community transformation.
Pointing-Acting-Moving towards justice-mercy-peace, love-faith-hope.
So, don't reopen your #church. #ReimagineCHURCH...
By Rob Swanson
“Our church is uniquely poised … ", stated the pastor leaving his script on the first Sunday in June - my first Sunday back.
I do not remember the end of the sentence but I thought about it later.“uniquely poised” … for what?
The church is slowly bouncing back. But bouncing back to what?
Not to “a return,” in any sense. History just does not work this way.
There is no going back. Same = repetition and repetition is slow regression.
The quarantine slogans have included: “We’ll come back better than ever.” “We’ll get through this.” “We took it all for granted.” “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
Many Christians found lots to like about their time away.
A new back door emerged. For every “eager returner” there is another having discovered a new and more fulfilling routine.
The world throws problems and challenges at us like an octopus hurling oranges. More than we can handle, if not for the grace of God. To this we now add recovering from Covid-19.
At a 2020 Discipleship Forum, gifted pastors voiced their frustration with a lack of effectiveness. The best of the best were wondering, “What are we doing wrong? … Why can we not correlate discipleship intentionality with growth? … Is there something amiss with our understanding of the gospel? …”
Most of the churches participating in a supporting study were claiming to lead 1 person per 100 members to faith each month. 10% of those churches led 2.
Both groups average no numerical growth.
50+% of churches where ½ to ¾ of the members are involved in discipleship still are not growing.
One asked, “What should we do going forward?"
Work harder? Plod along and trust God? Preach better? Pray up a revival?
Find a success story and buy their material? Scour the internet?
“Lord Jesus, come quickly.”
The church is "uniquely poised" … and “going forward.”
I would like to add, “…by re-forming the church.”
We cannot expect to get by, much less advance, with antiquated readings of the Bible or an archaic understanding of the church and her mission.
Acquiescently retaining the 20th century, highly cultural understanding of the church is the leadership of the lazy man or woman. That was then. Thank God for our heritage but we are moving on and hoping to keep Ichabod way. The culture that so well supported a post World War II "institution" is not shared by our children.
The key for the future does not rest on improving the quality of the believer but improving the functioning of their church.
The church needs to re-form toward a demonstrable expression of the Body of Christ.
Our church gatherings consist primarily of music and teaching ministries coming in the form of songs and sermons, directed from a platform to people seated in rows. Nice, but cultural, temporary and passive. The church's greater need is for interaction among body members. Relationships need time and a place to develop.
The old dogs must learn some new tricks … new ways.
Of all the relational images for church, “the body of Christ” is number one.
Where is the risen Christ to be found? In his body.
Properly led, we can be the expression of the risen Christ!
Or, the church can remain the organization that it is with people happy to be serving, receiving nurture, enjoying friends … and declining.
We want to invest time in the things that matter.
What matters more than witnessing the presence of Christ, who is alive today!? Expect Holy Spirit led participation, gift expression, and mutual up-building of all the body members - members who hear from God.
They teach, exhort and encourage in accordance with their gifting and opportunity. They pray. They love.
They need to be equipped for ministry. Pastors already know this (Ephesians 4.12). Prompting the body of Christ to function as the body of Christ should be our first priority.
This priority we have not inherited from the 20th century!
The pulpit, pew, order of worship, leadership expectations, role of music, and altar calls are historical developments becoming dated.
The steeple evidently has its origin with the Roman obelisk fascination. A better symbol for church is the table. May the 21st century major on discussion and the table is where we discuss, learn, pray for, receive prayer, become known, share ideas, and share life. Table dynamics require planning and leadership. Poorly led gatherings are one and done. The Holy Spirit’s primary aim is for the fullness of Christ to be experienced and seen and with evangelistic consequences (John 17.23,24)!
The primacy of relationships is the most basic attribute of the Trinity.
And we are now filled with that divine nature (2 Peter 1.4.) Whoa!
God has equipped his church to bring forth the fullness of Christ through body life. Ingredients include: fellowship, gift identity, gift expression, variety, equipping, loving, worship, witness, encouraging and celebrating ministry initiatives, learning, accountability, order, Scripture, musical genres, visual arts, drama, communion, correction, prayer, celebration of grace …
Good leadership results in Holy Spirit guided ministry toward an assembly uniquely “united in the same mind” (1 Corinthians 1.10). This is ongoing, not to become the set pattern for a future generation.
Where in the world today can be found regular gatherings of genuine people in relationship? The church should have this market cornered. Again, it will take time and work. And it is easy for one mistaken and misled individual to torpedo the whole enterprise, hence the need for preparation, training and leadership.
Children do not get adopted without a fine home awaiting them. The believer’s fine home is not our typical Sunday morning offering. We can do better. Perhaps our long sought re-vival / re-newal awaits table ministry (figuratively and literally).
As a visitor last summer I sensed the sermon, with its banner and graphics, had internet origin. So I searched for the title, “One Step at a Time” and on sermon central and found 220 links. The point: The role of the sermon is not what it use to be when throngs would seek out the masters. Today good preaching is everywhere, 24/7, videos, podcasts, FB, books, Amazon’s “Try a Sample”… The sermon should no longer be our centerpiece, nor is it our need. Learning is. And learning happens best when it is interactive (i.e. at the table). The pastor is free to train the congregation to be pastoral leaders.
Re-form comes in a couple of months, or a couple of years as body life practices seep into Sunday morning gatherings. All children of Adam are prone to get it wrong at first, not to mention most congregations have few “early adopters.” Established convictions are not modified easily. There are kinks to work out. So the pressure is off in getting started. People learn how to shift from personal prayer habits to the principles of praying together; how to listen – to one another and the Holy Spirit; how to bless.
Uniquely poised and moving forward …
toward a re-newal … re-vival!
First we Re-form.
Rob Swanson, Centerville, MA – former missionary and pastor, author of The Bible Reader's Companion.
"The Glory of God on Cape Cod" Google group.
“This may not be a storm that passes very quickly~we just don’t want to operate week to week anymore as we have been and then wake up six months from now look back and realize how much we missed (in making disciples) because we didn’t adjust.”
Do We Really want ChUrch to Return to Normal?
What we need is revival. Our nation is ripe for spiritual renewal. Our culture has been accelerating headlong in the other direction since the turn of the millennium. There are signs that Selfism is already breaking down. The end of that road, making yourself your own god, is Nihilism – nothingness. Suicides, substance abuse and rampant immorality has been the outcome of seeking happiness and fulfillment in the absence of God. Misplaced faith in science and government is diminishing as once-deified leaders struggle to understand the COVID-19 disease and protect citizens, revealing the limitations of the ultimate object of atheists’ worship – human intellect. Doors are flung open right now to spiritual conversations. Neighbors are scared and opportunities abound for Christians to step forward to provide prayer, compassion and answers to their difficult questions.
Yet what most churches are seeking today in this time of crisis isn’t revival, but survival. Big “C” (universal Church) interests are taking a back seat to little “c” (individual church) sustainability. Pastors worry about how to navigate a potential “new normal”. They’re stressed – many just trying to figure out how and when to reopen. Few can look past those minute details to consider the bigger picture – like why their members were more concerned with self-preservation than self-sacrifice on behalf of those who were ready to hear some Good News – but never did.
How can we return to business as usual when the Church’s growth, impact, influence and public perception has been in such rapid decline? Isn’t this the perfect time to rethink America’s building and event-centric model for conventional church? This blog has been questioning that status quo for 5 years, advocating a return to the biblical definition of church and its intended “customer”. If America’s churches had followed that advice, the response from church leaders and congregants during the pandemic and pandemonium would have been vastly different. A revival already could have been taking place right now if Christians thought of themselves as the embodiment of “church” and took it upon themselves to bring “church” to the doorsteps, iPhones and Zooms of their struggling neighbors.
However, revitalization consultants are reinforcing the status quo, providing advice within the context of “Church as We Know It” (CAWKI). They understand that few pastors are truly interested in rethinking existing models. Most are praying hard that the virus will go away as soon as possible, disregarding the possibility that the pandemic could be God’s will to wake our nation and His Church from its slumber. Even those who claim to want genuine change are highly likely to revert to their comfort zones as soon as a vaccine is discovered. Church strategists understand that we seem to have little choice in the matter. There are simply too many empty buildings and too many pastors trained by seminaries to do one job and one job only – run a conventional church. It’s too late to turn back now, right? How could we risk shifting more responsibility to members for evangelism and compassion when churches desperately need them to return to the building as quickly as possible – and to bring their friends with them? Decentralizing by equipping disciples to make more disciples at a time like this could hasten the demise of a fragile “nickel and nose” model that hinges on centralization and dependency.
Just as we shouldn’t expect a process designed for church indoctrination to produce personal transformation, strategies designed to ensure church survival shouldn’t be expected to produce revival…
Roots of Spiritual Revival
Evangelist Charles Finney, credited for much of America’s “Second Great Awakening,” said,
“If there is a decay of conscience, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the public press lacks moral discernment, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the church is degenerate and worldly, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the world loses its interest in Christianity, the pulpit is responsible for it. If Satan rules in our halls of legislation, the pulpit is responsible for it. If our politics become so corrupt that the very foundations of our government are ready to fall away, the pulpit is responsible for it.”
After visiting America in 1831, the same year of Finney’s famed Rochester Revival, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America,
“There is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America; and there can be no greater proof of its utility and of its conformity to human nature than that its influence is powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.”
God is His infinite wisdom and power can accomplish all things, but America’s history of spiritual revivals points to 7 characteristics that are clearly evident in churches whenever our nation has recommitted to following Jesus:
Those elements found in most revivals do not align with the advice found in articles and webinars today about how pastors should adapt their churches to new realities during and after the Coronavirus pandemic…
Popular Strategies for Church “Revitalization”
A deep concern about the state of the universal (capital “C”) Church would lead to changes that could bring revival, but authors and consultants are promulgating a set of (little “c”) strategies that won’t rectify the shortcomings of America’s prevailing church growth model – flaws that have become readily apparent over the past few months. Instead they primarily advocate the following 7 principles:
In other words, revitalization pitches and promises touted today are built around about getting CAWKI back up and running smoothly again. Few call for reformation to address the discipleship deficiencies brought to light by COVID-19 when the “church gathered” forcibly became the “church scattered”…
Real Church Reform Could Spark Revival
The pandemic and pandemonium in America should lead to church reform, an entirely different set of operating principles and metrics that are in sync with the 7 characteristics of revival listed earlier in this post. However, the path to a spiritual revival will require pastors do what they’re commanded (in Scripture) and not what their being taught (in seminary and articles).
Lord willing, revival will come when reform leads to a reversion to the biblical definition of “church” and its intended “customer” – to make disciples who reach the “lost” in the community and across the globe. Tactical “revitalization” won’t bring revival because it will remain centered around a building, event and pastor – a model proven ineffective before and during this pandemic and racial strife.
*Originally posted at:
#ReimagineCHURCH... From the Merrimack-Webster dictionary:
In the Greek of the New Testament, the word paroikia means "temporary residence in a foreign land" and comes from the Greek word for "stranger": paroikos. Early Christiansused this designation for their colonies because they considered heaven their real home. But temporary or not, these Christian colonies became more organized as timewent on. Thus, in Late Latin, parochia became the designation for a group of Christiansin a given area under the leadership of one pastor—what we came to call a parish in the 14th century. Both parish and its related adjective parochial were borrowed at that timedirectly from Anglo-French terms that had been derived from the Late Latin. We didn't begin to use parochial in its "narrow" sense until the mid-19th century.
It's not church we need to stay away from, it's churchianity . . .
Churchianity takes the life out of real church and
replaces liberty in Christ with laws and legalism,
justice is eclipsed by judgementalism,
role distinctionss (clergy/laity) hinder our relationships in the Spirit.
IN-PERSON CHURCH ATTENDANCE IS HERE TO STAY (BUT 5 WAYS IT’S CHANGI...
As things continue to change and the crisis we’re in drags on, you’re probably asking what’s going to happen to physical church attendance in the future. That’s a really important question.
The good news is that as long as there are people, people will gather.
The need for human connection and face to face gatherings runs deep—it’s how we were designed.
But over time, how people gather has changed from generation to generation and moment to moment.
This may be one of those moments for the church.
While in-person gatherings are here to stay, in the future church, people may gather differently.
For decades now, there has been a slow decline in in-person church attendance. Growing churches have bucked that trend and managed to find growth despite massive cultural shifts.
There are indications though that the disruption of 2020 is accelerating those trends even further (here are 3 shocking statistics about how rapidly church is changing).
Yes, physical attendance is here to stay. But, it may not follow the patterns quite the way it did even as recently as 2019.
And if the trends are changing rapidly, so should your response.
While the cement is still wet, here are four ways in-person church attendance might well morph further as we head into the future.
So, how will physical attendance change in the future? No one can see the future perfectly, and I may be wrong on some of this, but based on what I’m seeing, here are 5 ways physical church attendance will change in the next few years.
1. In-Person Doesn’t Necessarily Mean In Your Facility
So, let me say it again. The gathered church is here to stay. In the future, we may just gather differently.
For centuries, the gathering of the church has happened in a facility, and as leaders, we’ve become both accustomed to that and a bit addicted to that way of gathering.
One of the big shifts that the disruption is ushering in is that in-person doesn’t necessarily mean in your facility.
It could be far bigger than that.
While that sounds threatening, it isn’t nearly as threatening as it seems.
With some of the shift home for work, school, shopping, dining, entertainment and fitness is temporary, a proportion of it will likely be permanent in the post-COVID era. The same is perhaps true with church.
With 71% of Boomers desiring primarily a physical church experience and only 41% of Gen Z desiring a primarily physical experience of church, some kind of change seems inevitable.
Younger generations are deeply social, and forward thinking churches might look to capitalize on facilitating home gatherings, community gatherings and other micro-gatherings that pull people together for in-person experiences.
When church leaders realize that this isn’t a threat, but possibly an advance of the mission, the mission could move forward at greater scale and speed than in a model where everyone had to gather in one central facility.
There will always be people who want to gather in a central facility. And in the future church, there will also be some who want to gather elsewhere.
Before you think ‘house church,’ realize that this model could provide a lot more growth than most North American house church models ever did. Many home-based churches to date are a retreat from the organized church. This could become an advance.
In the same way workplaces are embracing permanent distributed teams, a distributed church that’s centrally connected to joint leadership and mission could be a massive step forward for most churches.
2. In Person Attendance In The Building Will Be A Percentage Of Your Real Church
If you think about it, for years now, the people in the building on any given Sunday have been a minority of those who call your church home.
If you have an attendance of 150, you probably have 300 or more people who are actively engaged in your mission. They just don’t show up all at once.
What if in the future, most of the people engaging with your mission won’t be in the building and not just be ‘away?’ What if instead, most of the people engaged with your mission will watching online, watching on demand, attending micro-gatherings or engaged in other ways?
I completely empathize with the frustrations of empty seats and not having ‘everyone’ together, but if you can begin to expand your definition of ‘together,’ you can realize a much deeper sense of mission.
Or even imagine packing out your auditorium. Awesome. But what if there are still far more people engaged who aren’t in the room?
That leads to a much expanded mission.
If you expand your definition of gathering, it’s much easier to genuinely expand your mission.
3. You’ll Use The Building To Reach People Online, Not Use Online To Get People In The Building
For centuries, church facilities have existed to assemble people.
And in a pre-digital world, that made a lot of sense. In a digital world, facilities will still play a role, but perhaps they’ll play a different role.
In the future church, the way church leaders think about buildings and online might flip.
Today, most pastors use church online to get people into the building. In the future, most pastors will use the building to reach people online.
If you look at the way many churches use their online ministry, it’s designed to either get people in the room (join us Sunday at 9) or to show people what’s happening in the room (here’s our livestream).
Those won’t go away, but perhaps the building will no longer be the main event. Equipping people to follow Jesus (wherever they are) might become the main event.
Then, the building becomes a means to an end, not the end in itself.
No matter how large your church is, the world you’re called to reach is larger.
So, use the building to reach people online, rather than online to fill the building.
4. In-Person Church Attendance Will Probably Become More In-Frequent Church Attendance
For decades now, even committed Christians have been attending church less often (here are 10 pre-pandemic reasons why).
With the rise of online ministry and millions of people exploring that for the first time, that trend is likely to continue.
I understand how disappointing it can be to have a ‘committed’ follower show up once a month.
When I started ministry, if I ran into someone I hadn’t seen at church in six month at the supermarket, it was pretty much a guarantee they had left our church. More recently, when I run into someone at the grocery store that hasn’t attended church in a few months, they likely haven’t left. They love our church…they just haven’t attended. Having grown up in the church, I still don’t fully understand that mindset, but it’s a real thing.
My guess is that with digital options abounding in the future, frequency might drop further.
And as hard as that is for church leaders, it’s important to remember that culture never asks permission to change. It just changes.
So maybe think about it in a fresh paradigm. In addition to the other points in this post, ask yourself why ‘attendance’ is still a litmus test for devotion.
Is it a little like saying in sports that only people in the stadium are true fans? Or, only people who buy an iPhone from the Apple store in-person are real customers?
You and I know that’s not true.
I have argued before that decreasing attendance rarely signals increasing devotion. While that has been true in the past, I wonder if it’s always true (or still true) in the new culture that’s emerging, particularly if people gather in person outside of the facility and use online options to deepen their faith, not weaken their faith.
I’ve also argued that attending church no longer makes sense, but engaging the mission does.
We’re all figuring this out in real time. And yes, it’s confusing.
But if you see the future, you can seize it. If you miss it, you’ll miss it.
5. Digital Church Will Be More Of A Front Door And A Side Door Than A Back Door
The great resistance to digital church in the last decade for many leaders is the fear that people would walk out the back door and never come back.
And in many cases, that happened. Consumers left and never engaged meaningfully again.
What that means is the fear around digital church moving forward is largely a false one.
In fact, many leaders will realize that digital church will serve as much more a front door and side door than a back door. A front door to new people, and side door for existing people who want to engage more deeply or stay connected when they’re away.
Everyone who’s wanted to leave is gone. That ship has sailed.
Which means, those who are left will use your online presence almost exclusively as a way to engage, not to disengage. A way to stay connected, not to disconnect.
It also means many people will discover your church for the first time through your online presence and want to engage physically with you, whether that’s in your facility, in a micro-gathering, in group or all of the above.
The back door days of digital ministry are pretty much behind us.
The front door and side door days are just beginning.
If you see your physical presence and online presence as working hand in hand, your mission can move forward in more ways than you imagined.