We find ourselves in a very unique time in the history of the church. Over the past 6 months, the Church has faced and learned to adapt to a new way of church operation. We have shifted from our largely in-person model to a fully online experience and even a mixture of digital and in-person. Wherever your church finds itself on the spectrum of how you operate, the same thing remains true: we are all out of our element in this season.
Much of this season has been marked by uneasiness and a series of questions church leaders and pastors have asked themselves.
- How do we navigate government ordinances?
- Will our giving be affected?
- Will our normal attendees ever come back?
- What if everyone prefers an online church experience over being in the building?
- What do we do if we have to close our doors again?
For the majority of us, our focus during the wake of the pandemic has been largely inward. We are worried about our church, our attendance, our numbers, and the list goes on and on. There is nothing wrong with asking the tough questions regarding your church’s livelihood, but in focusing so much inwardly, we can forget about the bigger picture.
When you are constantly focusing on yourself, you become completely blind to the needs around you. While culture would argue “put yourself first before everything and everyone else”, the call of the Christian is the exact opposite.
1 Corinthians 13 is famous for its description of love, namely Christ’s love for us. One of the most profound parts of this passage is where the author Paul states “love is not self-seeking.” This is a bold statement especially in our modern culture that is obsessed with “self.”
Our call as Christ-followers is not to obsess over our problems, our needs, and our wants — it is to willingly put the needs of others before ourselves.
When we put our faith in Jesus, we enter into a life that is no longer our own. Everything we do is not done in our power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit Who lives within us. It is this same Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, that spurs us to lay aside our needs and care about the needs of others, just as Jesus did when we lived on earth.
In all of His years in ministry, Jesus never once put His needs over the needs of others — we ought to do the same.
Jesus wasn’t caught up in the followers He lost, the money He possessed, or the uncertainty of the future. Jesus was caught up in the purposes and plan of the Father! He focused solely on the plan of the Father and didn’t get distracted by anything else that went on around Him. Jesus is the ultimate example of pursuing God’s plan without wavering!
Jesus is the King of the world, but He is also the King of “owning the moment.” He used every opportunity He had to point others to the goodness of God and the freedom found in the Son Whom God sent, i.e. Himself. Jesus used healings, teachings, and miracles to point people to God and to demonstrate His love for humanity.
Amid this season, there are endless opportunities laid before us to take hold of. While the cultural norm is to look to ourselves and our needs, the Christian norm is to look to others and their needs. Here are a few opportunities we have to both strengthen our communities and help those people outside of them.
OPPORTUNITY 1: ACTS OF SERVICE
One of the most obvious and important opportunities the church has, especially during this time, is exercising acts of service. For centuries, the church has been one of the primary driving forces in showing up in the middle of disasters, famines, and times of sickness to help those in need. This same spirit of generosity and service is the same one we can exercise in our current time.
Many churches have stepped up during the pandemic and provided meals for families in need, dropped off supplies for immunocompromised people and their families, and have met the needs of their communities. Although lockdown restrictions are not as severe as they were at the beginning of the pandemic, there are still people who the church has the opportunity to serve.
This opportunity of serving others differs for every single community. The most important thing we can do is simply look at the needs of our community and do our best to meet them. Whether that is through food donations, financial support, or even just offering an ear to listen, we have so many opportunities to serve those around us.
OPPORTUNITY 2: BEING THE CHURCH, NOT JUST ATTENDING IT
For many people, not being able to attend their church service has been a major hindrance to their identity as a Christian. Think about it — our entire sense of community has been dismantled and isolation has become an everyday reality for us all. Of course losing community, losing your job in some cases, and dealing with the realities of a pandemic all at once is a lot to handle!
All things that make up our identities — our job, our community, our routines — have been completely stripped away and many of us are left not knowing who we are outside of these things. That is why right now, the church has the opportunity to live into our true identity — not as a building or a program, but as a people.
Priscilla Shirer said this about Christianity:
“In the first century in Palestine, Christianity was a community of believers. Then Christianity moved to Greece and became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome and became an institution. Then it moved to Europe and became a culture. And then it moved to America and became a business.”
Christianity and the church have transformed from our original foundation and has in many cases been reduced to a program, a building, and a business.
- The Church is a community of people, not just an organization
- The Church is not a thing that we do, but something that we are
The opportunity we have right now, especially because our idea of church has been completely shattered, is to embrace our roots. We have the chance to focus on the community rather than just the business of the church. We can now live into the phrase “The church is not a building, but a people” and not just let it be a cliche thing we say but don't truly live out.
How do we embrace this opportunity? It of course starts with us! We can do this practically by changing the way we talk about church and define it. We can also do this by recognizing that talking about Jesus over coffee with a few friends is just as much church as worshipping in a huge building with flashing lights is!
OPPORTUNITY 3: REEVALUATING PRIORITIES
This opportunity can be a tough one to swallow, but it is one that we must recognize. During this pandemic season, the church has taken a huge hit in their giving numbers across the board. This has forced the church into an uncomfortable but necessary reevaluation of their priorities especially when it comes to finances.
Many churches out there have huge budgets that are allocated to their building and grounds and other budgets for their physical church building. The trend we see though, especially in business-owned commercial real estate, is a drastic decrease in the size of the square footage needed and even the complete elimination of physical spaces altogether.
This trend is something the church needs to understand when it comes to their own physical spaces. Our priority used to be mainly on improving and expanding our spaces, but now the trend is improving and expanding our reach. This expansion is limited when its main focus is in the physical space, but it is limitless when online.
Technology allows us to reach thousands upon thousands of people. For example, Transformation Church has 1.17 million subscribers on their YouTube channel. Now imagine trying to fit that many people in one single building! Transformation goes beyond the physical restrictions of an in-person space through their innovative use of YouTube sermon series and other videos. Many churches have followed suit and placed a huge emphasis on their online experience rather than solely their physical experience.
As we now know, the digital experience is a necessity for the survival of the corporate church. But what if it is no longer a survival technique, but the future of the church? This is where the church must reevaluate our priorities. We can continue to hold on to our physical spaces, take no strides in our digital experience, and just pray things back to normal — that is absolutely an option. But what if instead of holding onto what we prefer, we reevaluate our priorities, invest our resources into something that has a limitless reach, and see people all overcome to know the love of Jesus. This is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss!
OPPORTUNITY 4: GETTING CREATIVE
The fourth opportunity we have (which is certainly not the last) is to flex our creative muscles. At the beginning of the pandemic, most church creative teams poured out just about every ounce of creative juice they had in a very short amount of time. If this season has taught us anything, it is that our creative teams are way more vital than we may have ever previously thought!
The church still has a huge opportunity during this season when it comes to their creativity. Many churches have killed the creative game right from the get-go, but some may still be yet to discover ways they can improve their services, online presence, and other digital elements.
Church creativity is not a one size fits all deal — it is different for every single community. Each church has an opportunity to discover what their members desire and to utilize some sort of creative expression to meet that desire.
For example, maybe your community is seeking encouragement in this season. You can utilize something like a live-streamed daily devotional on your Facebook or Instagram to encourage then. Perhaps they are seeking more community and conversation. You could implement virtual small groups to encourage more community.
Now that in many places we can gather together again, we may tend to shrink back on our digital presence, but we must continue to care about our digital experience just as much as our in-person experience. We have an opportunity to get creative in the ways we reach both our online and offline communities. This is truly a huge learning opportunity for all of us and is one that will help to spread the message of Jesus through innovative, creative means!
The church has endless opportunities we can take hold of in this season and in the season to come. To recognize these opportunities, we must look outside of ourselves and look to the needs of those around us, both in person and in the digital realm. We must open ourselves up to change and be willing to selflessly reevaluate our priorities and normal way of doing things. Ultimately, we must sacrifice our sacred cow of “normal church” and be willing to change things according to the needs of our community.