How will God use the Covid-19 lockdown to change our church?

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29 Apr, 2020

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Introduction

Across society people are repeatedly saying things like:

  • ‘Life will never be the same again after the Coronavirus pandemic.’
  • ‘If things just return to how they used to be after this we will have missed an opportunity.’
  • ‘We must learn the lessons from recent events.’

There are two postures churches can take at this time. The first is to say, ‘It will be so good when everything gets back to normal and we can go back to doing what we have always done.’ The second is to say, ‘God is surely teaching us something through this. This crisis is an opportunity to see things in a new way and to allow God to transform some of our practices.’

The aim of this resource is to help a church leadership team, or possibly a whole congregation, to be attentive to what God’s Spirit is teaching us about being church at this time. But it is more than just that. The aim is then to identify specific changes, innovations, cessations or additions to our way of being church that God is leading us towards and to grow in the courage to act on these.

This resource does not assume there is a correct answer. It is not trying to push churches in any specific direction, except insofar as the lordship of Christ, the authority of scripture, the primacy of love and the urgency of mission are taken for granted.

Here are two approaches. The first is primarily analytical and turns the spotlight on different aspects of church. The second takes a broader, more open-ended and imaginative direction. Choose the approach which you think will work best for you as a leadership team and see what the Lord shows you through it. It might take a while to work through this, especially in an online conversation, so you may wish to spread the content over two or three 45-60 minute sessions.

An Analytical Approach

Think carefully about your current experience of these dimensions of being church during lockdown. Consider what you are discovering and what you are learning from this about the future shape of your church.

A. Worship Gatherings

  1. During lockdown we have been dispersed and relying on digital means to gather for worship.
    1. What are we achieving through digital worship gatherings?
    2. What has surprised us about these digital gatherings?
    3. What important things has digital gathering not been able to provide?
    4. How long are our digital gatherings and how has this time been weighted between different components of worship?
    5. Have people who are not Christians, or not church attenders, participated in our digital gatherings? If so, how did they find out about us? What response or feedback did we get from these people?
  2. In the light of all this, as we look towards life after lockdown:
    1. What have we begun during this time that we will continue doing?
    2. What have we recognised we can stop doing or give less time and energy to?
    3. What core things will we revert to as before because they are essential?

B. Connecting and Caring for One Another

  1. Restrictions on face to face contact have changed the relational experience of church.
    1. Would you say connecting and caring for one another has increased or diminished during lockdown?
    2. What have we discovered about connecting and caring as a church?
    3. What are some examples of excellent pastoral care during this time?
    4. Who has participated in connecting and caring?
    5. Who has been missed out or left behind in connecting and caring?
  2. In the light of all this, as we look towards life after lockdown:
    1. What discoveries are too good to leave behind?
    2. How could connecting and caring be different?

C. Evangelism

  1. Lockdown has both closed and opened opportunities for being witnesses to Jesus.
    1. How have we testified to the good news of Jesus in these lockdown conditions?
    2. What unexpected opportunities for evangelism have arisen?
    3. How have we used the increased engagement with social media for evangelism?
    4. In what respects have we been bold in evangelism?
  2. In the light of all this, as we look towards life after lockdown:
    1. What discoveries are too good to leave behind?
    2. How might we see our approach to evangelism changing?
    3. What resources will this take, e.g. teaching, finance, structural support?

D. Community Involvement

  1. Lockdown has led many churches to support and work with other community groups and individuals in new ways.
    1. How are we working with others in the local community during lockdown?
    2. What are the privileges and challenges of doing this?
    3. What are we learning from these partnerships and relationships?
  2. In the light of all this, as we look towards life after lockdown:
    1. Are there any relationships or partnerships we want to continue and build on?
    2. How can we be co-workers with other people of goodwill in our communities?
    3. How will we develop our service and influence in these communities?

E. Leadership, Administration and Finance

  1. Lockdown has affected the task of leaders, the way we connect and the way we communicate with the whole congregation. It is also having a significant effect on finances in many churches.
    1. What are we learning about leadership as we guide the church through this unexpected disruption?
    2. What are the benefits and challenges of holding our meetings digitally?
    3. How has communication with the whole congregation increased or improved?
    4. What financial challenges are we facing?
  2. In the light of all this, as we look towards life after lockdown:
    1. What will be different about the way we lead?
    2. How will our experience of digital meetings affect our practice?
    3. What gains in communication can we not afford to lose?
    4. What steps will we take towards financial recovery?
    5. What will we do to be better prepared financially if another lockdown occurs?

F. Hearing A Word From God

  1. During the lockdown, what passages from scripture, biblical themes, or words from God have we discerned as especially timely or significant for our church?
    1. Why did they speak loudly to us?
    2. What is God saying to us through these about the church after lockdown?
  2. As we have reflected on church life with all the above questions, what words or themes from scripture have come to mind?
    1. Do any of these words or themes connect with our earlier conversation?
    2. Do any of these challenge ideas we have proposed in our conversation?

G. Summarising Our Discoveries

  1. What are the most moderate changes we could make?
  2. What are the most radical changes we could make?
  3. What are the right things for our church to do?

 

An Imaginative Approach

The journey can be pursued as one big group, but if there are more than seven or eight people, it will be helpful to break into small groups for some of the conversations, then share your main responses with the whole group.

A. Attuning to Creative Thinking

God has made us with an amazing capacity to make connections, sometimes between unlikely things. Some of our most creative thinking occurs when we are relaxed enough to think freely. We are rarely creative when we are under pressure; hence, many great ideas come in the bath or shower, or when we are out for a walk or just day-dreaming.

To help attune to creative thinking and kick-start connective thinking, try this exercise. Ask the group to think of all the connections they can between the church, Covid-19 and ice cubes. All ideas are welcome; there are no wrong answers. Ask someone to list the connections. Then repeat the exercise a couple of times, next making links between the church, Covid-19 and football, and then with electricity. (If you are a group of 9 or more, it will work better to do this in three small groups.)

Afterwards, ask the group: what were the most unexpected answers you heard?

B. Recognising Our Experience

  1. Imagine it is 2035 and a young person who was born in 2020 asks you, ‘How did our church change during the Covid-19 crisis?’ what would you include in your answer? (Don’t go on to tell them what happened after the crisis, just what happened during it.)
  2. The young person asks you some follow up questions; what would you say to these?
    1. What surprised you most about the way the church responded to the crisis?
    2. What are you most proud of when you think about the way the church responded?
    3. Of the changes you had to make during the crisis, which were people most enthusiastic about
    4. Was there anything you found the church could do without?
  3. Is there anything else about the church during the time of the Covid-19 crisis you would want to tell this young person?

C. Drawing on Scripture

In the light of what has arisen in the conversation so far, what passages of scripture come to mind? Take 5 minutes of quiet as a group. Think of the contributions made by others that have stuck in your mind. Invite God to bring to mind something from scripture that connects with this – perhaps to shed further light on it, to affirm it or to challenge it. Note down personally all the ideas that come to mind. Then ask God’s Spirit to help you see which one of these it is important to share with the group.

After 5 minutes reflection alone, each person shares on scripture passage with the group, saying something about how this connects with the conversation.

When everyone has contributed, consider together if there were any standout passages or overlapping themes that you need to be especially aware of as you look to the future. Is there any word or insight that has been shared during this time that strikes you as significant?

D. Dreaming of Innovation

  1. What has God been teaching you about the church and its mission during this crisis?
  2. What do you not want to lose from this time? How can you nurture that?
  3. What have you been glad to get away from? Do you need to return to that?

Imagine the church as a car. List behind it what you have discovered you want to leave behind. List in front of it what you have realised God wants you to aim for in the future.

E. Daring To Act

What is the most modest adjustment you could make as a church as a result of what you have learned through the Covid-19 crisis?

What are the most radical things you could decide to do as a church as a result of what you have learned through the Covid-19 crisis?

What will you do as a result of what you have learned through the Covid-19 crisis?

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