The effects of the pandemic, the growing cultural disdain for “organized religion,” and the socio-politico turn to secularism have reduced church rolls. A Gallup report going all the way back to 1937 shows formal church membership has dropped from a high of 70% to 39% in 2020.
“Continued decline in future decades seems inevitable,” predicted Gallup Senior Editor Jeffrey M. Jones.
Is it over for American churches? Are we living in the era of end-times apostasy signaling an inevitable, irreversible slow fade of church life as we know it?
Movements come and go, say some historical observers, and it just may be that the church’s journey in finite time from the launch at Pentecost has sputtered out. Institutional atrophy seems inevitable.
Sadly, the institutional quest causes a church to become introverted, focusing more on its institutional survival than on incarnational mission. The focus on survival and reconstruction on the ruins of a collapsed institution means a church’s own survival becomes more important than the Lord who created it, the truth He gave it, the call to which He summoned it, and the people to whom He sent it.
The biblical view is the kairological outlook: God so often uses catastrophes for His purposes and no doubt this will be a new day for the Church of Jesus Christ. The church Jesus intended as described in the Book of Acts.
The focus must not be on trying to breathe life into dying institutions. In the biblical scheme, death leads to resurrection. Rather than seeing this period with the desperation of hopeless people watching the creep of finite time bringing death to antiquated hulks, the better focus should be that of the infusion of new life. Rather than pre-occupation with sustaining structure, the energy should be spent on building ministry, making disciples of Jesus. Instead of mourning the death that is inevitable in chronos-time, it is better to rejoice at the new kairological day that is rising before us.
adapted from an article in Christian Post: A New Day for the Church Part 1 by Wallace B Henley
This quote from church thought leader Carey Nieuwhof sums up the institutional church well. It is obvious that only a major disruption , indeed a catastrophe was needed to bring the church to its knees and consider it may not be serving the purposes of God.
History tells us that God uses disruption even major catastrophes for His purposes. History also tells us that disruption leads to innovation which in turn changes the world.
God forcefully moved Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden. This pattern of forced displacement of people by God is in the whole narrative of Scripture. It is an essential part of His global plan for the redemption of mankind which brings glory and honour to Him.
Does God bring destruction and calamity? Does our loving and gracious God cause disasters to occur in the world? Read these words God spoke to Noah:
“I have determined to make an end of all flesh for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold I will destroy them with the earth” Genesis 6:13,
God destroyed that He might save. God saved Noah and His family that He might preserve the line of His coming Redeemer.
What about the TOWER OF BABEL: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”Genesis 11:3-4
Once again we see a massive disaster brought about by God, which caused massive migration and displacement of people: the foundation of the nations that exist today. A refugee crisis on a much larger scale than today.
Covid 19 is another of God’s major disrupters. The church needs to recognise that we are in a time when God is doing something new. Therefore, it is a time to get into prayer to seek His leading, just as the church at Antioch did in Paul’s day. Those that read my posts know I believe the church in the prophesied “last days” before Jesus returns to take His Saints to heaven and before He pours out His wrath upon a world which is fast becoming as it was in Noah’s day, will be much like the early church as described in the Book of Acts. It is one of the reasons I am supporting the Kenya House Church Movement (KHC) and I am hoping that some of my followers will join me in that endeavour. None have done so as yet, but that is OK, God’s timing is always perfect. My next post will be an update on KHC.
Nickey Gumbel, vicar (pastor) at Holy Trinity Brompton in London, recently recorded a podcast with Canadian Pastor and thought leader Carey Nieuwhof. Gumbel developed the world-famous Alpha Courses and has decades of experience with in-person small groups. Like so many, he never considered online groups as a viable option and only transitioned his church’s small groups to online when forced by the coronavirus pandemic. A few short months later, he is a true believer in online groups and their advantages. You can listen to the whole podcast here. (He starts talking about online groups around 29:55).
According to Gumbel, here are nine ways that online groups are actually better than in-person groups:
1. Everyone is more relaxed. Think about it: instead of walking into a strange environment, everyone is sitting in their favorite chair at home, they’ve got their coffee or tea (or whatever) fixed just the way they want, and they’re in their comfortable clothes. All of this puts a person at ease, leading to better discussion.
2. Everyone is in their own home. For most, home is a place of solace, and it’s much more inviting to join a group while at home. Some actually have a reluctance to walk into a church building or someone else’s home, so this can be an incredible advantage.
3. Travel time is cut down. This isn’t as big of an issue in smaller towns where distances are reduced, but in larger urban environments, travel time can be a groups killer. For instance, the average commute time where I live (Northern Virginia) is about an hour each way. Adding another meeting with travel time on top of that can be a huge hindrance. Online groups eliminates the travel time.
4. The total meeting time is shortened and cost reduced. Because travel time is eliminated, the total meeting time is shortened, making it easier for people to commit to a group. Cost of Zoom for each group, max $20 a month.
5. Childcare becomes so much easier. Unless your small group meets on Sunday morning at church when children’s activities are going on, childcare for young families can be a deal breaker for in-person groups. Gumbel shared about a single mom that was able to join an online group precisely because it was online and she didn’t have to try and arrange childcare for her kids.
6. The conversation flows better because everyone knows each other’s names. Even in groups that have met for awhile, people aren’t confident that they know everyone’s names. This can lead to reduced interaction out of fear of getting someone’s name wrong. When you’re on an online group meeting like Zoom, everyone’s name appears by their screen. As simple as that sounds, this is actually a big deal. Everyone knows everyone’s name!
7. There’s an easier out if you don’t like the group. People like to have an exit strategy before they try something new (like a small group). Think about the hurdles facing someone debating whether or not to try out a small group for the first time: they’re walking into an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people. If they don’t like the group, they’re stuck there at least for the rest of the meeting, longer if they feel a social obligation to continue. With online meetings, there’s an easier out: just get off the call. This easier out actually incentivizes people to try something new.
8. People tend to be more open online than in person. Call this the social media effect. Have you ever noticed how people tend to share more openly (even when they shouldn’t) online? It’s as if the screen gives them a sense of transparency where they can share how they really feel. This works for online small groups as well. Gumbel shared in his podcast interview that after leading in-person groups for decades, he was shocked at just how quickly his new online group shared and how quickly they went deep.
9. Group dropout rates are reduced. A final positive aspect that Gumbel noted was that in his short time leading online groups, the dropout rates seem to have reduced. In any in-person group you start, the number you start with is hardly ever the number you finish with. It’s too easy for people to talk themselves out of getting dressed up, getting back in their car after a long day’s work to go to small group. If you’re not feeling well, if you’re got a lot to do, if childcare falls through (or any number of other things), you miss the group. With an online group, people tend to stick longer, leading to reduced dropout rates.
Article by Josh Daffern in Patheos (www.patheos.com) 9 Reasons Why Online Groups May Actually Be Better than In-Person Small Groups.
God is in control of all events in His world. Covid 19 did not take Him by surprise so we need to ask what is God doing and how can we get in step with Him. We are meant to be overcomers and game changers. We know that in the last days, church will be as it was in the Book of Acts, all believers involved in the Great Commission. As Nickey Gumbel has found Zoom Home Group meetings work so let us learn from his experience.
Most of you know what I believe God has already revealed to us in His Word about church. He initially set it up as described in the Book of Acts. Church was held in homes and small groups which is ideal for making disciples who in turn will make disciples. This is how church will be, once again, in the coming tribulation prior to Jesus return.
Phil Miglioratti • The #ReimagineFORUM Pray Network has provided a useful guide for church leaders to use post Covid19.
This guide is all about what God calls the church to do: disciple its members and impact its community with the Gospel.
Resist the temptation to merely reopen your church. Instead, reimaginehow a church lives out faith, hope, and love in the shadow of a pandemic. Invite the Holy Spirit to take you (pastors, lead teams, affinity groups, congregations) on a journey of rethinking by:
Assessing how the new normal impacts the calling and gifting of your congregation
Blessing your constituents but also the diverse peoples in your community
Confessing your fear and declaring your faith to move into the future
Make a fearless assessment of the new normal.
Have we made meaningful connections with every member? Attender?
Have we developed systems to identify practical needs of our families? Our community?
Are we identifying the degree of difficulty each person/family has experienced?
Have we surveyed our membership to know how to serve their:
Gather (virtual, if not safe to meet in person) leadership to prayerfully discern:
Strengths – what new capabilities have we discovered in our people?
Weaknesses – in what ways has our ministry capacity decreased?
Opportunities – which needs or new options are we facing?
Resources – what undiscovered, unexpected resources have surfaced?
Risks/Rewards – have we counted the cost of making changes? Doing nothing?
Begin to daily ask for the mind of Christ so that you (personally but also with congregational ministers) discern how to reimagine how to develop:
Enthusiastic (“in; theos/God”) fellowship
Pursue a Spirit-led, Scripture-fed journey. God always wants to move you on to a new level of service. Therefore, it should lead you to begin a new chapter of ministry. Your congregation or team may be called upon to make a radical change or to re-calibrate systems or reorient programs. Focus on Jesus. Fear less. Fear wisely. Follow Jesus… to the places where Almighty God is already at work; He is inviting you to serve in the power of the Holy Spirit. As you step out miracles will follow.