Looking Forward

What’s Next for the Church?  Five Considerations for Pastors and Leaders

Bruce Cochran, Region Minister, American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky

When this is over, then what?

Now is the time to plan for how you and your church will respond once life begins to return to whatever ‘normal’ we encounter on the other side of this outbreak.  Here are a few thoughts that come to mind:

  1. If the CV-19 outbreak caused you to think differently about technology, then say a hardy “Amen” and step into the future with this as a tool. Continue to employ the technology you have tapped into. One of the roles of the church is to communicate, and any method that helps us do that should be utilized.
  2. Take this time to update your website. My role as Region Minister puts me in a different church nearly every Sunday. As a consequence, I need to find out when the worship service begins, but I’ve learned that one of the best ways to discover inaccurate information is the church’s website. The first place newcomers look to find information about your church is either on Facebook or the church website, and if the posts and information on the site are dated, then forget it. They will look elsewhere and you’ve lost an opportunity to interact with, and impact, a guest. Seriously folks, I’ve seen information on websites about “upcoming” events that were several years old. Once an upcoming event is history, change it to an article about what happened. I’ve also seen Facebook pages and websites that didn’t have the church’s address or worship time on it. So, update your social media accounts and website! Perhaps this is best accomplished by putting someone in charge of this powerful tool and then empower them to keep up with it.
  3. Ditch the greeting time in worship. Hygiene may be the motive here, and that’s good, but there’s more.  I remember when I defended this practice, especially when it first surfaced in our worship services. I argued for it because (so I thought) it was a way to make worship more participatory, while forcing the congregation to reach out to newcomers and guests. Maybe it accomplishes both of those goals, but only to a small extent and so, I’ve changed my tune. Now that I’m a visitor every week, I’ve come to dread the greeting time. Believe me, it is extremely awkward for people who are not already a part of your church family. True; one, two, or maybe three people take the time to reach out to your guests, but it’s a brief greeting, and the remainder of this season of “worship” leaves the visitor standing alone while everyone else chats away in lively conversation with one another. In other words, it makes the outsider feel more like an outsider than it makes them feel welcomed.
  4. Disturbances in life routines create fertile soil for outreach because it causes people to realize how tentative and fragile life is. Like the period following 9/11, we are likely to see an uptick in church attendance. Consequently, this is a moment in time when have a rare opportunity to reach people who are seeking. Now, how are you planning to maximize this opportunity? Take some energy right now to review your church’s routines, processes, and structures and try to view them through the eyes of an outsider. How are newcomers treated? What open doors do you have in the programming of your church?  What obstacles must seekers overcome to enter into the life of your congregation? And be sure of this: obstacles do exist.
  5. Assess what you’ve learned, retool and adapt. In other words, what did you discover about what it means to be the church, and what possibilities surfaced? In the story of the church, the gospel began to spread when 1st century Christians were forced to flee from persecution. This season of social separation has been a sort of forced fleeing. In other words, it has forced us to see ways to minister and reach out that were not tied to our preconceptions.

Dear friends and co-laborers, this is not a complete list, but I trust you will be stimulated by these considerations and indeed, go beyond them in your place of service.  Remember, we are the Church!  This season is not a surprise to our Lord, so we must faithfully step forward and use this opportunity to make the most of our energies and resources.  I trust you will, and may God be with you as you continue to serve and proclaim the hope and promise of the gospel of Jesus Christ.