The Response of the Church in a COVID-19 World

The COVID-19 pandemic may hold a magnifying glass up to our churches and faith communities.

Are we businesses or ministries and if we’re both, what do we do when there is a tension between the two sides?

There’s a trend–not a new one– for churches and ministry organizations to apply the latest business principles to their culture. I remember my dad being assigned to read Good to Great when he was an elder. This can be helpful. You don’t have to work in a secular job to benefit from learning about healthy teams, leadership, and efficiency. I wonder, though, how that informs a church in communities facing a pandemic.

If we’re not careful, the application of business principles in a ministry can lead to viewing people as customers and the ministry as a brand.

When we treat people like customers, we don’t minister well to those who can’t afford to buy what we’re selling. These are the people who Jesus pays attention to– the scared, hurting and poor. 

The precious people in your community are individuals. They have souls. They need a savior. Some need groceries. What they don’t need is a slick sales pitch. They have stories. They come with unique gifts and needs. These people deserve to be considered as more than lead and lag indicators.

March 2020 has interrupted the plans of many churches. The way we respond can show where our hearts are at– as leaders and as communities.

If your faith community ethos is a brand to promote and protect with the perfect strategy it’s especially painful to pivot. I’m seeing beautiful flexibility happening in the churches in our community. Many are doing whatever they can to serve the most at-risk. They are showing evidence that they believe the church is built by God. It has never been a church growth consultant that built our churches. God brings the increase. Each gathering of believers has her own DNA, not because of church strategy, but because of God’s gracious creativity.

We rely on that same creativity in a time of uncertainty.

Our western culture in 2020 defines ministry growth by measuring attendance, giving, baptism and engagement. I’ve heard some pastors declare that a healthy church is a growing church. In many ways, that’s correct. However, during a time of crisis, we have the opportunity to reassess what “success” looks like in our churches.

Faithful shepherding pastors and elders have been modeling what it looks like to be a church that knows how to love a hurting, scared, uncertain community. These may not be the biggest churches in town, but they may be the most prepared for doing church when we’re under a state of emergency. A church with a heart to reach the needy can thrive even in a time of putting aside programs and plans. An unhealthy, narcissistic church will not be able to set aside their agenda for long. 

In Shannan Martin’s masterfully written article, Church, Wash Your Hands, she reminds us that many of us have proclaimed that it should be the job of the church, not the government, to care for sick. So this is our time.

Andy Crouch says this: “More than ever in my lifetime, the direction of the culture around us, and the future of all those we love and care for, is quite literally in our hands. May God direct the decisions we make, and the way we communicate, today.”

Are we willing to be inconvenienced? Our neighbors are watching.

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