Is online church really church? New pivots for COVID-19

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Is online church really church? New pivots for COVID-19

April 21, 2020 -

The newest buzz word in church leadership is “pivot.”

In a recent Dallas Morning News article concerning the collective attempts to slow the Covid-19 virus, Dr. Philip Huang, Dallas County Health Director, said, “This is what we’re all trying to address and keep death down as much as we can.”

Keeping “death down” is a profound goal in almost any context. It is not just the work of medical and governmental workers. It has always been the work of churches, pastors and believers. Our goal is to share the eternal hope of Christ as the ultimate means of “keeping death down.” Pastors stand on the “front line” of life and death as we work with the spirit and the souls of people. We do this because death could not keep Jesus down.

Peter was redeemed from his Good Friday failures and became the powerful preacher of Pentecost just weeks following the first Easter. He declared, “But God raised him (Jesus) from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. Acts 2:24 (NIV) As scary as a worldwide pandemic is, the power and promise of the gospel is greater.

Recent news indicates that shelter in place restrictions may begin to lift in a few days to a few weeks. As we move in this direction, pastors and churches will have other pivots to make. When we are allowed to gather again it’s possible that the size of the group will be incrementally increased so that health impacts can be monitored.

If we are only allowed to gather in groups of 50, 100, or 250 plus over a series of weeks, how should we determine who gathers physically at the church and who should stay at home and continue to meet virtually? How can we create a process that is wise and compassionate and not viewed as arbitrary? Will we need to have “counters” at the door to limit attendance? Who would want the job of turning people away?

Further, we may need to think about having people sit in “pockets” in our worship centers with distance between families or small groups for a time. If so, this will have an impact on how we all experience worship. Before the Covid crisis there were some indications that believers preferred smaller, more intimate worship gatherings. Is this a time to embrace that idea?

A significant percentage of the population is required to work on Sundays. In addition to multiple services on Sunday mornings, churches could consider offering worship gatherings on different days of the week. What would this pivot require of pastors and members?

When we resume meeting together, it’s likely that a whole new set of needs will be standing in front of us. This includes those who are grieving the loss of a loved one, those who were sick and are still feeling the effects of the virus and those who cared for them, not to mention those suddenly unemployed due to layoffs or the demise of their businesses.

A season of unemployment is one of the hardest burdens I’ve ever seen people suffer through. How can we shift or pivot resources to help these folks? What needs to be canceled or deferred to deal with the immediate benevolent needs of our congregation and community?

Additionally, we are all concerned about the impacts looming in the future to our church’s and personal finances. Should our churches participate in the CARES Act? Are there funds still available or will more be made available?

More personally to pastors and their health, things have been so intense it’s likely that we all long for a break. Vacations seem like a pipe dream right now practically and financially which is probably an indicator of how badly they are needed. We need to be thinking about adaptive rhythms (pivots) that enable and equip our members and ourselves to recover as we come back ‘online’ to something more familiar and personal to us in church life. To get there we need to pray much, discuss things collaboratively with our leaders and give ourselves permission to take our time and not do everything we were trying to do before the virus hit.

Onward through the fog.

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