“46 Day after day they met in the temple [area] continuing with one mind, and breaking bread in various private homes. They were eating their meals together with joy and generous hearts.” -Acts 2:46
The way we “do church” dramatically changed forever when 2020 ushered in a global pandemic. Churches around the world were forced to shut down in-person services and move into all virtual spaces. Social media platforms became the primary means for pastors to remain connected with our flocks.
In a recent discussion with one of my ministry sons, Bishop Jerome Taylor, senior pastor of the NU Destiny Christian Church (Indianapolis), we contemplated this newest pastoral leadership reality. Shaping the discussion was a sobering statistic: “After shutting down in-person gatherings for even a few months, 30-50% of our congregations disappeared” (Carey Nieuwhof).
In the Book of Acts we are reminded of how Christians gathered. Churches in biblical times were typically small in number and gathered in the temple (church) and homes (virtual) of their respective Christian communities. This reminder led to Bishop Taylor and I discussing a few strategies that I’d like to share.
First, we must maintain the hybrid model (in-person and virtual) approach to serving our parishioners. When the pandemic began trending toward an endemic, many pastors thought we could end virtual options as a means of drawing people back to the pews. In my observation this strategy is an unsuccessful strategy. People have become accustomed to accessing church from home, the grocery store, the golf course, their children’s Sunday sports leagues or wherever they might be on a Sunday morning.
It also doesn’t help that as I pen these words, the average price of gas is well over $5 per gallon. This adds an economic consideration into a family’s decision as to whether they drive to a church facility versus participating in church online.
Additionally, some people are still fearful of gathering in public spaces. The hybrid model allows pastors and churches to reach our members wherever they are. It also opens a major door of opportunity because social media can reach people all around the globe.
Secondly, as Bishop Taylor noted, we must keep the people engaged whether they attend in-person or choose a virtual option. This can happen via small group Bible studies, prayer calls (or Zoom), social media platforms, and, most importantly, evangelistic and outreach-based ministries.
Nieuwhof provides further insights that affirms Taylor’s premise. He admonishes us to: “Start thinking beyond the building. It’s wonderful to gather people together. But if the church is going to realize its full mission, buildings will have to stop being the epicenter of ministry (or only center of ministry in some cases). In the future, growing churches will focus less on gathering and much more on sending and connecting.”
Finally, we would be wise to accept that 2020 will forever be a demarcation line, not just for the church, but for humanity as a whole. The good news is that God’s providence, promises and provision are always ahead of humanity. The pandemic may have surprised us, but it did not surprise God.
Rethinking church should not be seen as a burden. Rather, it is an amazing opportunity to walk with our God, whose son gave his life for the sins of humanity and departed back to glory leaving us with the Holy Spirit, our comforter, who leads us into all truth, including how we boldly and courageously continue rethinking church.
Dr. Preston T. Adams III is senior pastor at Amazing Grace Christian Church in Indianapolis. Contact Pastor Adams via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @DrPrestonTAdams. For more information, visit agccindy.org.