"Crisis speeds up change,” says Carey Nieuwhof, a pastor and ministry coach. Some of the changes that were likely arriving in 5-10 years (like the normalization of remote work) arrived in days after the Coronavirus Shutdown. For churches, the shift from facility-centered ministry to home-based online ministry happened in hours. “Crisis, after all, is not just a disruptor, it’s an accelerator.”
I don’t like all these trends either, but that doesn’t mean they’re not happening. The best question to ask in a time of disruption is, “What does this make possible?”
For us at First Presbyterian Church of Mount Pleasant, this creates an opportunity to lead into the future. Let’s look at the week of June 7 for an example.
100 people were in worship at the Old Threshers pavilion.
187 viewed the worship service on Facebook live.
5 attended through Zoom and
36 watched the service on YouTube.
That’s 328 for worship on one Sunday! Our Meals-on-Wheels partnership post on Facebook had over 1,000 views.
Now, I know it’s not about the numbers. However, it is about the message and lives transformed and nurtured through “sharing God’s love, shining God’s light, and shaping God’s people.”
Now, here is a quote from Pastor Nieuwhof that won’t help him or me win a popularity contest, “Churches Will Become Digital Organizations with Physical Locations.” Growing churches in the future will become digital organizations with physical expressions, not physical organizations with a digital presence.
He goes on to explain that the difference in this trend is as stark as JC Penny and Amazon.
JC Penny (which recently filed for Chapter 11), like Sears and ToysRUs, were physical retailers that slowly adapted an online presence, behaving like most people still wanted an in-person experience. Amazon, of course, started as a digital retailer that gradually moved into physical stores.
What’s surprising is that sometimes the digital connections have been as or more meaningful than the in-person connections.
I realize there will be many who push back against this, but it’s foolish to ignore the fact that people connect more easily online and often admit the truth more readily online than they do in-person.
Digital church is one of the greatest opportunities the church today has to reach people. If the Coronavirus has accelerated one trend more than any other, it has been the decrease in church attendance. This has been happening for decades. Then, boom, overnight, nothing. And although churches are slowly re-opening, there will not be a return to “normal” anytime soon.
If we don’t adapt, according to Nieuwhof, our church will end up like malls in the age of Amazon, just hoping for people to show up again.
For the moment, forget the fact that everyone is zoomed out and longing for human connection: digital ministry isn’t going away. It will continue to grow and advance.
Furthermore, many want digital to be at least an option, if not a preferred method of engagement, where geography and other barriers prevent access.
Online church transcends geographic, physical and time barriers in a way that we could never have done before.
We have a chance for exponential growth in making disciples. Growing “our” church used to mean inviting a friend to a physical service and having them sit in a pew. Now, it means liking and sharing our online presence. It means saying to someone in an email or on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter,
“Go watch the music in worship on YouTube,” or “go listen to the message in the sermon,” or “look at the resources on racism and join our class online.”
Will we still have in-person, physical gatherings and services? Absolutely! And while there will be a return to some version of normal, normal as we knew is likely gone, at least for a while. It’s hard to go back to normal, when normal disappeared.
Nieuwhof says, “The good news is that leaders who embrace change, who find the energy, passion and time to keep adapting, will likely end up advancing their mission in the future.” Let’s advance the mission of the church! Like and share!
Rev. Trey Hegar