During the past two months I’ve had many conversations with pastors and church members alike. It’s been interesting to hear the various ways churches handled the shutdown and to see the effect on their congregations. Many churches seem to fall into one of two categories right now – thriving or barely surviving. The similarities extend beyond how they navigated the shutdown to their approach to reopening the doors. I see four recurring characteristics of thriving churches.
By adaptability, I’m not talking about thinking outside of the box, but realizing what the church box actually looks like these days. The pandemic exposed churches who were slow to see the value of technology in everyday ministry. Many of those without active websites and social media scrambled to catch up.
On the other hand, most of the churches currently thriving were ahead of the curve. The pieces were already in place to communicate outside of traditional means. As a result, they quickly adapted new methods to their mission. Many even experienced an increase in tithes and offerings over the last two months because online giving was in place prior to the pandemic.
The shutdown is also serving as a kind of reset button for those considering changing where they worship. Families have been able to visit other congregations from the comfort of their living rooms. Going forward, I believe people will gravitate to churches who minister both in person and across different digital platforms.
The early stages of the pandemic required constant awareness because the landscape continually shifted. Leaders had to be mindful of their community’s situation and their congregation’s needs while balancing civic responsibility with biblical instruction. Churches who navigated those waters well seem to be thriving.
Awareness will continue to be crucial, especially since we don’t know how long social distancing will last. Members who are unable or unready to physically gather shouldn’t feel isolated from their local church body. Pastors and church leaders need to discern when gathering serves both their congregation’s and community’s best interest.
While practical awareness is important, spiritual awareness is absolutely essential. The thriving churches are emphasizing gathering to worship the Lord and to enjoy the fellowship of God’s people rather than gathering as a statement on their rights. Being unaware of the difference could do much harm.
Availability and Accountability
Churches who are accustom to community missions are also thriving. Not only are these churches sensitive to opportunities to serve, but they equip members to do so with compassion. They were best prepared to minister in the storm because they were already available to minister in the calm. As a result, they’ve become even greater assets to their communities.
Their availability is connected to their accountability to the mission of the Gospel. Churches who’ve stayed on mission are experiencing spiritual growth and renewal. The congregations who seem to be barely surviving are more meeting and program-oriented. Without established purpose in the community, the inability to gather has been devastating.
Thrive or Barely Survive?
There are still many challenges in the future, even for thriving churches. For example, how we approach caring for the sick and grieving will look different. We also need to carefully consider how to handle weddings, funerals, and public events. Churches that evaluate needs and adapt quickly to meet them with care and compassion will thrive. On the other hand, churches that simply try to get back to the old normal will likely struggle to survive.
The key is to remember that the unchanging mission of the Church is the mission of the Gospel. That mission should be indelibly sketched on every believer’s heart. And while the methods we use might change, they should be biblically sound and spiritually empowered. Any church with that approach can begin to thrive, regardless of where they are today.