Just because we have left 2020 behind does not mean that we are in ‘clear water.’ There will be aspects of distancing and infection protocols that will probably remain with us for some time. However there will be some areas of church life that will: a) be changed forever, and b) that will need focused attention. The time that we are in means that it is difficult to know with certainty, but the conversations I have had with colleagues point to these areas of church life:
1 Covid has doubtless marred the hale sense of ‘us’ or Christian community that lies at the heart of a healthy church. While we don’t know exactly what 2021 will bring, we do know that there is some repair work to be done, some rebuilding of community. We will do that as we: celebrate the wins over the last year, triage and delegate care for those who are struggling (especially m
entally/emotionally), communicate regularly and joyfully through social media, help people to focus on the future/purpose, connect personally, and have fun together. It will be critical that this is done well, otherwise dissatisfaction and conflict may emerge as a means of seeking to bridge the distance from others that people are experiencing.
2 Pastors who have been self-reliant (and done a marvelous job through Covid!) will increasingly turn to mentoring and pastoral supervision. There will be a new recognition from the complex experiences of 2021 of the need for support, processing and equipping for life and ministry. Pastoral burnout will sadly increase, as pastors of smaller churches who have worked hard to
build online connection, care for their church, and maybe had holiday plans interrupted by the latest outbreaks of Covid, feel depleted.
3 Churches that haven't been able to adapt to the new milieu will close or merge (and they will be asking for consultancy help with this). This will include churches where the vast majority of people are elderly and not able to make the transition to online services &/or not able to give online. It will also include churches that haven't been active in their local community, and therefore do not have offline relationships of sufficient depth to transition them to online. Many of these churches have struggled with their viability for years, and this crisis is merely bringing that to a head.
4 Churches will be increasingly asking the question of how they engage effectively and build relationship with those connecting online. Designing funnels and call to actions is both a familiar and alien process for churches. Familiar in that it is something that is regularly done offline in churches. Alien in that for many churches Covid has exposed their lack of social media presence and use of email. And in terms of effective pathways for local mission, Covid has underscored the fact that there are many people who do not want to go to a physical church service as a first step. So the question for churches to answer is, "What would be a good next step?" A on
e-off marriage or parenting workshop? A social activity? We experimented with building community for those from outside the church – neighbours and friends – just over a
simple meal. The opportunity to build relationships first can break down the barriers to hearing the gospel when the time is right.
5 Churches may struggle with the work of ministry falling on fewer people, as former volunteers have become less engaged over recent months (many with good reasons such as health vulnerabilities). The temptation for pastors to call for more effort and more giving will be largely counter-productive - this is not the right moment. Rather, considering what is essential, what ministries may be paused, and what can be let go will be critical. Otherwise, the pressure of Covid may result in much volunteer burnout in churches.
Do you agree/disagree? What do you think we will see in the next 12 months?
© 2021 Ian Duncum. All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.
Rev Dr Ian Duncum is an author (The Impact of Church Consultancy is available here https://www.ianduncum.com.au/shop), and a consultant with 20 years experience of working with non-profit enterprises and churches across a number of denominations. This has included denominational leadership in church health and development, and research positions. Ian also trains church consultants, facilitates training for ministers and leaders, and provides coaching, mentoring and supervision for pastors and other leaders. He can be contacted through www.ianduncum.com.au or email@example.com