Generally I like change. I tend to embrace new experiences, new challenges, and new opportunities. I like to go to new places and meet new people. I enjoy the process of finding and casting vision, of taking what may have become ritual and remaking it into what can be meaningful, and of repurposing the unused into something useful.
What I have come to realize over the past seven weeks is that I like change when I am in control or have some input into the change. But change that is completely out of my control is not enjoyable at all. Change that has no concern for my opinion or input is not anything I want to be part of (though I have no choice in this matter). So, like most of the rest of the world, this has been a personal challenge to say the least.
As we begin to move out of the strict stay at home mode into a modified stay distant and ultimately into a new reality of normal life, there are some changes that are going to happen and we do have some say in how we will respond and change with it. Moving into the next 2-4 months as the church, as ministers in the church, as lay leaders and members of the church, we need to prepare as best we can, anticipating what may lay ahead.
- Some people will be hesitant to return to worship. For the past two months we have heard everyday how there are many people who have COVID-19 and don’t even know it. Many are carrying the virus with them and infecting people everywhere they go, and they are doing so unwittingly. Expect that this constant messaging will deter some from gathering in any size group, no matter how large or small your church is. Gentleness, encouragement, patience, and understanding will all be key. Making efforts to keep your building clean, door knobs and pew backs where people grab with their hands to pull themselves up, will help assuage some fears. Making your efforts clearly known and regularly practiced will help.
- Some people are going to show up for the first time in a long time. They come once or twice a month normally, but now they are there the first 2-3 Sundays in a row. What are you going to do to encourage them toward the value of consistently gathering as the church? What can you tell them, what experience can you give them, that will draw them into more faithful participation with the body?
- Some people are going to want to go back to the way it was before you did social media and online services. While they understood the necessity of them for the short term, they don’t see the value of them now that the church can meet together again. How can you effectively communicate the value of continuing social media outreach?
- Some people might stay home just because they like doing worship at home, in their pj’s, where they don’t have to invest in the lives of others or deal with other people. How do you balance investing in online worship with the need to gather the people of God together for worship?
I’m not here to say I have all the answers, or even ANY, of the answers to these questions. The answer for your church won’t be the same as for the church down the street or in the next town. I do think we need to work through these and many other issues. And church members need to work through these issues because it always takes more than pastors and staff to encourage the gathering of the saints. It takes more than church leadership to reach out to our neighbors. It takes all of us to bring people to church, to take the gospel to the highways and byways. Finding new ways to do it has been one of the blessings of the pandemic.
I think it is vital that the church not waste the lessons we have learned but that we effectively incorporate those lessons as we change over the next few months of ministry in search of the new normal. Change is definitely coming. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Make it meaningful. At least this time we have some influence on what happens.