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It appears that just as the Spanish flu in 1918 had three significant waves of the virus and then subsided, we are on the same trajectory for COVID-19. We of course had the initial virus, then Delta, and then Omicron. While I am certainly not a virologist, even the TSA seems poised to lift the federal mask mandate in the middle of April. Sociologists are struggling with what to call this new phase of life in our society. At this point, I just leave the prefix blank as no name seems to capture the new reality.
Whatever we want to call it, it appears that there are many things that are not going back to their pre-pandemic state. One of these things appears to be church attendance. If by Easter people have not returned to in-person worship at your church, I’ll just say it…they aren’t coming back. This can obviously be discouraging! I have heard many pastors and churches follow up with their covenant partners about coming back and many have indicated that they just got out of the habit and it is not something they are adding back into their lives. The pandemic was, as Carey Nieuwhof put it early on, “a disruption, not just an interruption” to church life.
As heartbreaking as that reality is, I do think there are some opportunities to be embraced as we move into the reality of (blank)-pandemic life.
Look forward, not backward – Many churches will reflect on the “glory” days of when their churches were a certain size of worship attendance. Because of slow decline, it is easy for churches to keep looking backward and recapturing the past. The pandemic now allows us to start fresh and look forward rather than comparing to the past. Your worship attendance may be at 70% of what it was before the pandemic. Instead of trying to get back to pre-pandemic numbers, it is time to start fresh and define the current reality. Rather than turning back and trying to recapture the past, move forward from this point. God has new opportunities in store for you and your congregation!
Learn from the pandemic and adapt – I said in my talk at the national gathering that many pastors and leaders experienced significant shock at the realization of the lack of discipleship from their covenant partners and leaders during the pandemic and everything that was impacted by it. Again, while this is sad, is it not also the graciousness of God to expose this lack of discipleship so we can change course? What else did the pandemic teach you? Take the time to gather what you’ve learned to make appropriate, and even radical, shifts forward.
Change the metrics – During another point I made in my national gathering talk, I mentioned how we have been trying to help people see beyond the traditional metrics of finances and attendance. Those are still important, but often they are lagging indicators and don’t indicate the most important aspects of church health. Perhaps more accurate metrics look at the number of people in discipleship relationships or those who have personal plans for discipleship. Maybe we look at the relationships our people have with non-Christians and the way those relationships are being leveraged for the sake of the gospel.
If you are a pastor and want to engage in more of these types of questions and conversations, then I encourage you to be a part of our hybrid Pastor Learning Community starting in the fall. You can read more information about it here. Whether you are a head of staff, an assistant, or an associate, these are great opportunities to learn and be coached, bringing transformation that is appropriate to life into our (blank)-COVID world.
As we head into Holy Week, we remember the path of Jesus where the crowds went from cheering “Hosanna!” to shouts of “Crucify him!”. When all hope seemed lost and darkness covered the earth, we remember the resurrected power of Jesus that changed all of our lives and started a revolution that has transformed the lives of billions. May He do it again in and through us who call upon His name!