A Blank Slate?

Yesterday afternoon (4/17/20), I listened to a webinar from Thom Rainer (Previous CEO of Lifeway and his son (Vice-President of Church Answers).   It was interesting and helped provide some thoughts.  What was funny to me was the bantering between the two.  All in good demonstration of some of the points, but it confirmed some of my thoughts about Rainer’s biases and just overall approach.  But, that is not the purpose of this post.  I want to examine the eight turning points of the post-COVID-19 state Churches.

These are predictions based on the data they have gathered (none statistically validated).  Provided for you is their rational and my opinion.  Two points to be aware of, 1) they never actually talked as to why this made churches a blank slate or what to do after COVID-19, 2) things I share from my opinion apply to almost each of the points because of the complexity of the situation and each Church have its own culture.

1.  Closed-end small groups will become permanently digital.

  • Rationale: Open-end groups meet weekly all the time, like Sunday School.  Closed-end groups meet for only a few weeks, maybe a quarter, like a membership class.  Since people realize that many activities and studies can be done online, people will continue to build on this new habit of mass consumption online and on their time.
  • My thoughts: I do understand the premise on this one.  But, I also think it is dependent on the church culture already inherent in each congregation.  The fact is so many groups are creating an online presence is not because they wanted too in the first place.  Their change has been reactive and not proactive.  When they get the chance to turn back, they will, but I believe it will become an issue in the long that many will need to address.  I will also point out, this requires a church to be successful with technology during the crisis and after.  And, that is a whole other blog post.

2.  The senior adult ministry will be changed dramatically.

  • Rationale: Seniors (considering 75 and above) will be one of the last groups to return to regular worship service routine after quarantines are lifted.  Again, new habits rule the day.  Many will have gain familiarity with worship at home.  Whatever avenue that might be (online, tv, correspondence).  Giving will change for them as well.
  • My Thoughts:  I do believe this will be a significant area of change once things settle down.   Having family who have expressed this sentiment of worry when gatherings resume, real care needs to provided here.  No one wants to be seen as callous and disconnected from the reality of the transitions here for those whose health may be compromised easily.

3.  Elements of social distancing will be permanent for churches.

  • Rationale: People will be less touchy with those in public (greeting times, handshakes, hugging).  It also means that if there are still bans of 50 or below during the early phases, some larger congregation may have to add service options to fit everyone in their sanctuary at a six-foot distance.
  • My Thoughts:  We already provide hand sanitizer stations in our facilities.  Every cold and flu season, we made special pleas for people to wash their hands and sanitize.  At the beginning of the COVID-19 policies being given out, we suspended the fellowship time of shaking hands.  Needless to say, I really do expect elements of less physical touching to be a significant part of church gatherings coming back.   As far as the distancing during worship, it will be dependent also on the size of the facility used.

4.  Community outreach will move to the community.

  • Rationale: Many churches operate their social justice initiatives from out of their facilities (food pantries, clothing giveaways, etc.).  Others still focus on the unbelieving community coming to them when they have needs spiritually.  With the buildings being closed, it has shifted many congregations to actually working in the community.
  • My Thoughts: This is an essential aspect for many churches moving forward.  For many years community outreach has been foundational for evangelism.  Most churches simply go around like a fisherman on a boat, hoping some fish would eventually jump in as they motor along.  But, if churches want to be known for life transformation, then they will need to be in the community transforming lives.   Still, I see a lot of churches trying to return to previous ways because its easy to look active online, and given a chance, many will look for a reprieve from serving, sadly.

5.  The in-person gathered Church will be much more important.

  • Rationale:  For several years, church attendance has declined for many congregations.  Two decades ago, regular attendance was three out of a four Sunday month.  In the last decade, you were regular if it was one or two Sundays.  Returning to a higher worship attendance for many will increase after the gathering bans are lifted.  For those able to gather, the in-person gatherings will be sweeter.
  • My Thoughts:  While it may take time to get to previous worship averages in many congregations (many probably won’t), I do agree that many will become more habitually in faithfully attending worship services.  I will also say the first couple of weeks will be incredibly emotional for many congregations as a  whole.

6.  Cash giving will fade quickly.

  • Rationale:  Cash giving was already declining in favor of scheduled giving (either through their bank to the Church) or digital giving systems in the Church.  However, the prediction is COVID-19 will accelerate this trend.
  • My Thoughts:  Cash is on its way out, even if it takes another decade.  My wife and I already carry very little cash on us.  We have done this since very early in our marriage after my wife’s purse was stolen once.  However, items like globalism and increases in technology (which goes hand in hand with globalism) are making it an actual reality.

7.  More church buildings and sites will be available.

  • Rationale:  This prediction is the saddest.  Because many churches do not have online giving or scheduled giving through their bank, or perhaps were already struggling, the pandemic situation has made it exponentially higher.  Whether they were renting a space or owned a facility, many church buildings and sites will close and be put up for sale.  They estimated that before the COVID-19, there were about 4,000 to 5,000 churches that closed every year in America.  However, it will most likely be significantly higher this year and the next.
  • My Thoughts:  I agree this will be a reality.  Unless something changes in a lot of congregations, denominations, and networks paradigm of how many facilities or the size they need, these closures will continue to increase.  Thankfully, the true Church has never closed, and the assembly doesn’t require a dedicated building.

8.  Budgets will never be the same.

  • Rationale:  Churches will downsize staff if they have it and cut many programs because this time away has caused many to realize they don’t need everything they were paying for already.  The finances of the Church will be reevaluated, and new priorities will be funded.
  • My Thoughts:  I do think many programs will be cut, and some staffing for larger congregation may also be downsized.  Smaller churches will probably see more of the budget changes because of already smaller budgets.  This goes again with Churches needing to digitize their giving to expand options of how they receive.
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