The other day, ECG Partner Scott Musselman shot me a note about something I’d written that referenced the post-pandemic church. He said that his church wasn’t post-pandemic yet! And of course he’s completely correct – the Great Pandemic of 2020 hasn’t given up its ghost and doesn’t seem like it will any time soon.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been reading a lot of blogs and articles on the predictions of what a post-pandemic church is going to look like. Some seem to think they’ve got it all figured out. Others are more wary and suggest that it might be this way or that, but only time will tell. And there are a few who simply seem to shrug and say, “Let’s wait and see.”
Years ago, Bill Easum wrote in his earth shaking book Dancing with Dinosaurs that we would one day see a holographic church sometime in the future. I’m not sure he’s far off, though I suspect we’ll see the virtual reality church becoming more mainstream before that. In fact, the VR Church is here today (think I’m talking smack? Check out VRChurch.org). Of course, there have been virtual reality churches at SecondLife.com for years now, so VR Church – with or without an Oculus headset – is a real deal. So, is that the future?
However, to be honest, any thoughts I might have on what the post-pandemic church might look like would be wild guesses. Predicting the future might be fun, but let’s be real … no one really knows.
I can pretty much guarantee that some things are going to be exactly the same as they are now.
And were then.
And will always be.
When the church launched in AD 33 or so, they met in homes and in common places like the Temple (until AD 70!) or down by the river side (Acts 16:13). In AD 313, the first church building was constructed and we started worshipping in “sacred” spaces. Pre March-2020, most churches in the US were married to their buildings and online worship was either a fad, a luxury, or not a real thing. But by June of that year, most US churches had at least some sort of online presence. A form of virtual church began.
But can I point something out?
None of that is “church.”
Worship? yes. Church? no.
And so long as we conflate worship with church, there is no way to comfortably predict what the church will “look like” in 2022 or 2025 or any other time in the future.
But at least two things are not going to change:
Effective Evangelism and Discipleship Strategies –and–
Effective Church Growth Strategies
The TOOLS will change, but the strategies for both are exactly the same today as they were 2000ish years ago and will be exactly the same 2000ish years from now (maranatha though … please!).
Post-Pandemic Evangelism and Discipleship Strategies
Effective evangelism depends on two things: (1) A disciple of Jesus Christ who has a faith story they can articulate; and (2) The willingness to build a relationship with a non-believer coupled with the courage to share their faith story at a kairos moment. In a nutshell, that’s the most effective strategy for evangelism today, tomorrow, and that strategy goes all the way back at least to the Jerusalem First Christian Church.
Likewise, effective discipleship depends on two things: (1) A disciple of Jesus Christ willing to mentor and encourage someone else in the faith; and (2) Someone who’s willing to be mentored by a disciple of Jesus Christ. The cool thing is that neither has to be very far down the faith pathway … they just have to be willing to walk The Way with each other.
The How to do those things depend on the culture, the technology, and the circumstances. Those are tactics and tools that change with the context. But the strategies? They’re stable.
Post-Pandemic Church Growth Strategies
Every week my inbox fills up with a slew of New & Improved or Original How to Grow Your Church blogs, podcasts, webinars, and seminars. I’m sure they’re all filled with good ideas on some level. But early this week I got an email written by someone struggling to be real about the pandemic and about the post pandemic church. In essence, he suggested that the church today just needed to remain a faithful remnant, to take a break, to engage what’s good for group cohesiveness, and to wait all this out to see what happens.
For some churches, probably many churches, that’s simply poor advice. If you’re in a church where decline isn’t just the word of the day, but the word of the decade, then waiting this storm out only means you’ll have fewer resources to tap into when this is all over. That said, does anyone have any idea when this is going to be “all over”? Do you really have time to sit on your hands, to circle the wagons, to keep spending down your inheritance?
When it comes to growing a church, there are many, many tools, but there have only ever been four core strategies: (1) Invite; (2) Connect; (3) Disciple; and (4) Send.
Which is to say, if you’re determined to grow your church, you can do it now. It’s simple – not easy – but very, very simple.
(1) You’ve got to be with unchurched people, build a meaningful relationship with them, and invite them to something. Sure, you could invite them to worship, but you’re probably better off inviting them to lunch or coffee where you have conversations that can lead to spiritual conversations that can lead to an invitation to discipleship … think Jesus’ invitation to “Follow me.”
(2)You’ve got to connect with unchurched people and when they accept an invitation, you have to help them connect with the larger church. Maybe that’s through worship, but it could just as easily be an online or in-person fellowship where your fellow church mates can begin to build their relationships with your new “friend,” and now their new friend. Of course, the goal is to help them make a life-connection with Jesus, but don’t get in a hurry. Slow, intentional, and steady wins that race (key word there: intentional … discipleship doesn’t happen serendipitously).
(3) You’ve got to disciple unchurched and newly churched and (too often) passive church members into the way of life we often call Christianity. Your job, my job, the church’s job is to make disciples – more of them and better of them by mentoring, teaching, and training. This is that command to Baptize them and Teach them to Obey thing, with an emphasis on teaching them to put their faith into practice by a lot more than just “going to church.”
(4) You’ve get to keep them from getting so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good. Don’t let them become church-junkies. Instead, as quickly as you can, shoo them out the door, kick them out of the nest, so they can return from whence they came and share their new-found faith with their unchurched friends. The last thing you need is another committee member and, if your church is plateaued or declining, the first thing you need is a great evangelist and discipler. Send them out and get them working in the Luke 10:2b fields that are ripe unto harvest.
Those are the same four strategies Jesus used. They’re the same ones effective churches have been using for centuries (millennia, actually). And they’re the same ones that will work in a post-pandemic world. And best of all, they’ll work today.
The Post Pandemic Church will probably look differently than it did in March 2020 … just like that church looked a lot different than the church a hundred years ago. But the strategies to grow those churches, the strategies to make disciples, and the strategies to take the gospel to the world starting with your neighbor are exactly the same as they’ve ever been. So, let’s not get caught up in the panic of New and Improved or Hunker Down and Wait. Instead, let’s get busy doing what we know will work.
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