Church leaders - you did it!
More than all of this, you have successfully led your church community through a global pandemic without (totally) losing your mind.
But unfortunately, this isn't over.
While many churches have reopened their doors after having them closed for 3 months, some of these same churches face the inevitable: the possibility of having to close them again.
Although the thought of needing to make the switch back to digital church may make you squirm in your seat, it is a thought we cannot ignore.
As COVID-19 cases increase in some parts of the country and more regulations are set, the church is faced with the difficult decision to either continue meeting in person or spend a few more weeks digital-only. This time though, we are much more prepared.
For the most part, we all have a general idea of how to do digital church successfully. But this time around, we cannot do online church with a mentality that says, "we just need to get past this season." We need to enter this time with a brand new outlook, one that asks, "how can our church thrive through this season of digital church?"
The age of "New Digital Church 2.0" is upon us, and we need to be prepared for what is to come to have the best possible impact. Here are a few questions you should consider when making decisions about your church's future this season.
At the beginning of digital church quarantine, many churches saw considerable spikes in viewership, followed by a steady decline several Sundays following. Many churches will look at those numbers and assume digital church is just an utter failure, but they are missing something vital.
Success in the church is not found in numbers, but it is found in lives changed.
While numbers are a gauge of success in business, we cannot measure our success as a church. Our impact goes far beyond what numbers can quantify.
Take a good hard look at the activity of your church over this last season. What are some testimonies that have been shared? Who has put their faith in Jesus for the first time? Who has asked for prayer or celebrated a praise report?
Just remember, our impact has much more to do with people and how their lives have been changed than it does with the number of viewers on our weekend services.
Your first inclination may be to answer this question by saying, "Of course, the mission is more important!" As a leader in the church, you would be highly inclined to say this and may even genuinely believe it. For the most part, however, your community may not be on the same page.
People hate change - they cling to routine.
Anytime a significant change occurs (especially in the church), there is bound to be some pushback. When people's ideal model of what church "should be" is shaken, it can almost seem like they are shaken.
But the ideal church model doesn't exist. The way we "do church" is meant to change, and it should change. The mission doesn't change, but how we share that mission needs to be malleable to fit our culture's context.
This does not mean we conform our way of doing church to the whims of every single minute shift in culture. It does mean making guided decisions on how we operate church based upon what will be most impactful for the current time in which we live.
As Andy Stanley once said, "Date the model but marry the mission."
We're all friends here, it's okay to admit you never want to hear the word "Zoom" ever again. We understand that many of the digital solutions we were so excited about at the beginning of quarantine became very stale quickly.
Most of our churches went into this season, expecting it to be just a few weeks long, so we didn't even bother to get creative or think of new ways to engage our community. That is why everyone seemed to get so bored so quickly.
However, some churches have done more innovating this season than they have their entire life as a church.
Regardless of where your church is on this scale, the need remains the same: we must continue to innovate.
The very definition of "innovate" is to "make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods."
Let's analyze what is established in our church, see if it works or not, and introduce new and better methods.
As uncomfortable as it, innovation is vital to our health and impact as the church.
We know you probably hate hearing this, but things are not going back to normal. No matter how much we wish it wasn't accurate, life in the church will never be quite the same as it was before this pandemic.
This doesn't mean in-person gatherings are over forever, and church online is the only method. It means that things are just going to be different than they were before.
If your answer to this question is a point-blank "no," you may need to reconsider that thought. If you are unwilling to embrace the new way of the world, you will miss out on a ton of opportunities to reach people and possibly even hinder the impact your church currently has.
We have to embrace the new normal because the people we are seeking to reach are ones who are living in this new normal.
Just as our need to uphold the mission over the model, we cannot hold tight to the ways things used to be and expect to thrive. We have to embrace the new, no matter our preferences.
In Acts 20:20, Paul the Apostle says, "You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but has taught you publicly and from house to house." This short, obscure verse found in Acts is profoundly impactful when you read it in the context of 2020.
At the beginning of this year, many churches had a service where they gathered around their "2020 vision" - their church's goals, mission, and projects for the year 2020. As we all know, all of our goals and dreams were put on hold just a few months into the year.
What if the 2020 vision we had for our church communities wasn't quite the vision God had in mind?
Maybe His vision was something a lot different than we expected. Perhaps His vision isn't some new revelation, but an age-old model found at the beginning of the first-century church.
The original church found in the book of Acts was based around a small group model where people gathered from home to home. They preached the word in each other's homes, broke bread together, and prayed in the Spirit. They operated under a "church without walls" model — a very different model from the one we operate under today.
Modern times have pushed the concept of the church into a weekend experience or a specific building. Many positive and impactful areas come from the current weekend experience model, but the church has always been more than a building.
The Church is a movement of God that resides outside the walls of a building or even a country's borders.
In 2020, we are returning to a model that advances the kingdom without walls or borders — the new digital church 2.0.
The new church experience going forward will be a mirror image of the original church found in Acts. This version 2.0 of the church has the potential to have even more impact by combining the digital church's power with in-person communities. It also had the potential, through the Internet, to connect the world in ways that were never thought were possible.
This new model will be a harmonious combination of buildings, digital, and in-person gatherings. This model makes room for the local church to thrive online or in-person through a shared church experience.
Here is the challenge we face: building upon the original church model found in the book of Acts and bringing it into our modern world — a world that is analog and digital. Regardless of the challenges we face, the future of the church is ultimately in God's hands. Our job is to water the seed, but it is God who will bring the increase.
It is time for the church to innovate and connect people to Christ and each other in a way that is old and yet, at the same time, very new. There is a wide-open frontier to reach people for Christ and connect them to people through a hybrid model of digital and analog systems.
We know for sure that the next decade will be transformational for the church and those who are willing to innovate!
We are walking into new territory — are you ready?
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