Essential church faces a historic opportunity

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. ~Albert Einstein.

The president said last week what every pastor and serious church-goer already knew: The church is an essential part of Americana, and it is a critical lifeline for Christians who thrive on the spiritual lifeblood it provides.

But it’s more than maintaining budgets, hugs, high fives and after-church dinners. It’s about spiritual existence and spiritual growth. You see, Christians — real Christians who survive on regular community — rely on the gathering of the saints as part of the substance of their being and existence.

Many have suggested that the effort by government leaders has methodically attempted to shut down the church and cause its demise or at least force it into a slow return to a scaled-down image of its previous self.

Last week’s presidential declaration to governors to move up the re-opening of churches on the timeline was met with every response from “it’s about time” to “they’ve been stepping on rights” to “how do we do this safely?”

But some churches — perhaps many — are missing a more significant opportunity. It’s an opportunity that has been embraced by some local churches, while others have struggled to survive by pouring new wine in the old wineskin. Churches — even more than businesses — must adapt and adjust on the fly to the ongoing paradigm shift because we will never return to business as usual from just three months ago.

You see, if a church is merely maintaining the people that were within its four walls three months ago, it’s missing the point and wasting the most significant historical event of their church lives. Serving current members and believers is undoubtedly essential, but there is more, much more! Every pastor understands the difficulty of maintaining numbers due to attrition, church-hopping and general apathy, recognizing that it’s an absolute prerequisite to add new members. Evangelical outreach is not only necessary, but it’s also actually the gospel message that comes with a command and is perhaps easier today than ever before, at least in our generation.

The Bible is replete with the mandate to add new Christians to a church. From “go and bear fruit — fruit that will last” (John 15:16) to “I will send you out to fish for people” (Matt. 4:19) and “…go and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19), the church is instructed to evangelize the people around them.

Instead, churches today rely as much on unhappy church members bouncing from one church to another or trying to get lukewarm church members to attend more regularly than once or twice a month. Sure, any “customer” is a good customer and every person is important, but it’s the easy way or perhaps more aptly said, the lazy way, to grow a church. If this is a church’s “discipleship program”, the church isn’t catching fish at all, it’s merely taking the fish from other fishermen and trying to clean them or resuscitate them.

But here’s the historic opportunity. In this pandemic environment, which no one in this day has ever experienced, people are turned toward God more than ever before. Whether they realize it or not, they are longing for more, searching for something to fill the void and they are asking questions they’ve never considered before.

The calls to mental health hotlines have skyrocketed, business closures are up, personal finances are in turmoil and domestic abuse has escalated. People are seeking help and the church has the answer. Absent that answer, people will fill the void with something that is temporary or shallow and perhaps become even more hardened to a church it perceives is without relevance and hope.

Moreover, the church that is consumed with only its four walls is blinded by the fundamental changes in the world and doesn’t see the throngs of people lined up at its virtual doors. Meanwhile, some churches are thriving using creative approaches:

  • Developing an ongoing communications strategy (e.g. texts, phone calls, email, in-person where possible) especially for vulnerable groups, to ensure they are covered in prayer and have essential needs.
  • Expanding virtual social media. Adding services, worship gatherings online, podcasts and short messages from pastors and staff. Hit every social media group to ensure a blanket message is getting out, and no one is falling through the cracks.
  • Provide informational outlets from community leaders regarding health and vital services, such as grocery store info, testing sites etc.
  • Free counseling services. Most every church will have a certified counselor, financial coach or medical personnel. Many are offering these services or at least serving as a directional agent for church members and others.
  • Food services. Many churches are providing food banks or bags of groceries for single moms, the elderly and to the general public. Or, more often, churches are delivering essential grocery items to homes in the community.

To be sure, your church may not be able to do all or any of these functions for one reason or the other. But whether it’s an old-style door knocker you leave at a series of apartment buildings or a phone call from a pastor or a care package, every church can and should do something to reach out. It’s what makes you essential in the first place. Be creative, think outside the box and uniquely deliver the gospel.

As these changes happen right before our very eyes, this new era of church transformation is exacerbated by hundreds and thousands of churches closing their doors for good each year. Indeed, churches across denominational lines close each year, for various reasons.

  • It’s part of the WalMartization of America. Bigger churches, more campuses help to consolidate church-goers. Thus, smaller/older churches close their doors, just like mom and pop businesses.
  • The so-called decline in Christianity in America and the growing apathy about the church in general (primarily among younger age groups).
  • Lack of evangelical effort. Nobody reached out to them! As older parishioners pass away or become unable to attend, they aren’t replaced by a younger generation. Ultimately, the church dies of attrition.

Yes, the church has challenges, and those challenges seem insurmountable at times, but the ability to reach people now with good news and goodwill is likely unmatched in any time since Jesus left the face of the earth over 2000 years ago.

Pastor, what will you do with this “great door for effective work” that has been opened to you? Elder and deacon, how will you respond to the “open door that no man can shut?” Church member, this is your time, you can make a difference, will you join the battle or stand and cheer on the sideline?

The days have never been more critical and the mission never more urgent. You have new wine, you need new wineskins. People are hurting, flailing and troubled. You are the extraordinary man or woman for these extraordinary times!

THOUGHTS FROM THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN THERE, DONE THAT!

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. ~Acts 2:42.

I have put before you an open door which no one can shut… ~Revelation 3:7.

Opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you miss them. ~William Arthur Ward

For a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. ~1 Corinthians 16:9.

Your big opportunity may be right where you are now. ~Napoleon Hill.

So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. ~Galatians 6:10.

Expect change. Analyze the landscape. Take the opportunities. Stop being the chess piece; become the player. It’s your move. ~Tony Robbins.

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