As unreal as it may seem, we are now at the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our church met in person for the last time on March 15, before we were mandated to close for over two months. Even though we began gathering in person again on Memorial Day weekend in 2020, the last 10 months have looked much different than anything we experienced before.
While I’m not an expert by any means, I want to share three things I’ve learned through the pandemic.
1. Worshiping with the local church is a blessing.
While I would have certainly affirmed this reality before March 2020, the past year has revealed just how much of a blessing the local church is. Almighty God has bestowed a gift upon us in the ability to gather with other believers who are joined together as a local church. I didn’t realize how much I valued this until I found myself standing in a mostly empty sanctuary preaching to a camera for two months. I’ve pledged to myself that I will never again take for granted the ability we have to gather as believers to worship, fellowship and open the Word together.
2. The excuse “I don’t have time” doesn’t work.
I found myself saying this often. “Well, I’m just so busy at the church. We have so many activities. I just can’t spend as much time in the Word and in prayer as I’d like.” Then, suddenly, all the church activities ground to a halt. Summer plans and events were canceled. While the early days of the pandemic were among the busiest I’ve ever experienced in ministry, eventually I settled into a new routine. And I found that I waste far more time on social media and games than I care to admit. This required a pretty serious heart-check on my own part. I’m learning, slowly, how to be a better steward of the time I have.
3. Some folks will not return to church.
While the first two lessons here are primarily personal, I’ve had to grapple with this important reality over the past few months. When we first resumed in-person worship, I kept saying to myself, “Even though our in-person attendance is low, it will come back quickly. Folks will return.” While many (I could say most) have, some have not. As I’ve seen folks resume many “normal” activities, I’ve noticed that some — who are comfortable sending their kids to school in-person, eating in restaurants or going to a local gym to work out — have not returned to attending church. And despite assurances like, “Don’t worry, pastor. We’ll be back someday,” I remain a bit skeptical.
Despite my skepticism, I am not discouraged, however. While I wish everyone would come back, I’ve learned that those who do return are committed to the mission of the church. I believe we’ll see some folks return as more people are vaccinated and mask mandates are lifted, but I do think the reality is that many churches will see fewer people return in-person for the foreseeable future.
Every pastor will still have to wrestle with some questions as we move into a post-pandemic world. These two are important for us to think through:
- How can your church operate with a decreased budget? Personally, I think it’s wise to consider how your church can operate at 15% to 20% below budget. As we wait to see what the long-term financial impact will be from the pandemic, we need to be prepared for potential impacts to giving. While we never want to live in fear, we also want to be good stewards of the resources we have.
- What does “digital” ministry look like in the future? Many churches began livestreaming worship services for the first time during the pandemic. Some even began offering virtual small groups through Zoom or another group-chat platform. Pastors and churches must decide which of these avenues will continue, and what they will look like, in the future.
Published March 12, 2021