Is life back to normal? No. Is church back to normal? No. Will it ever get back to where it was in February? I just don’t know. Do you want it to? Now that’s the question.
Church had to go online in March and many of us were unable to meet together in person until July, or August, and some are still waiting. We’ve been back to meet together in person but we’re nowhere near back to normal. No singing, 1 church family split into 3 congregations (2 gathering in 2 services and one still online), no Sunday school, toddlers, gospel group or kids work yet. And it certainly looks like that, or significant parts of it, will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future, at least until after the winter.
But that is where my question comes in. It’s been nagging away at me for a while. What will it look like for us to get back to normal as a church family? Will it just be a return to the old normal or is their a better new normal that we could be preparing to return to?
We’re not an old church. I’d like to think we’ve contextualised quite well. We’ve been going 13 years and regularly adapt what we do, trying new services in new venues, taking risks in evangelism and are generally outward looking. We’re not dying on our feet. We’re engaged in our community in providing practical, emotional and spiritual triage. Numbers fluctuate due to evictions, moving away for work, health needs, students leaving for uni, and all the other normalities every church faces. We have regular contact with lots of unbelievers and run evangelistic courses and have unbelievers joining with us every Sunday, even post-lockdown. But are there places where we could fulfil our God given mission of ‘speaking and being’ grace better?
It’s not a crisis that is posing this question. But is the old normal the normal we should go back to? What could we do better to fulfil our God given task of mission and maturity? If we were relaunching (which we all kind of will be come Spring 2021) how would we relaunch in a way to engage with our community post lockdown? Will it mean meeting at a different time? Maybe we’ll scatter to reach those engaged in Sunday morning sport and gather in the afternoon around God’s word instead of gathering on Sunday morning. Perhaps if we find a significant portion of the congregation and our community have had to get new jobs that mean they now work Sunday’s we ought to be thinking about a second service not on a Sunday but on a Thursday evening.
What about in terms of maturity? If the pandemic has made people miss their distant scattered family more, perhaps we ought to move the service to Sunday afternoon to give them greater opportunity at the weekend to care for ageing parents and work out their growing maturity in the gospel that way? What about setting the church up to to better disciple those in it to maturity? How could we relaunch in a way that made it more difficult for people to be spectators or consumers or passive and instead required them to get more engaged with one another and with God’s word and in service when we gathered? I know that produces the fear of people leaving, but I think it’s likely we’ll see fringe folks not return post pandemic lockdown anyway. If statistics I’ve heard bandied about are true up to 20% of our congregation won’t return.
What about in terms of our young peoples work? How will we reimagine and relaunch Sunday school to evangelise and disciple not just teach Bible knowledge? How do we better involve parents in this? How do we resource it?
What about our online presence? Many churches have invested considerable time and effort in creating watchable online content, what will we do with it long term? Will we keep it as it is, accepting that some of our folks will default to comfy couch church? Or will we see it as the church porch, the first step to getting non-believing friends and family to engage before coming in person? And how will that impact what we do and how we do it?
I know lots of pastors and elders are feeling overwhelmed by the constant churn of change. But if we’re short sighted and don’t think about what about when we emerge from restricted church we will miss so many opportunities. What if we spent the Autumn and the Winter working through the new normal we want to see when we emerge rather than just assume the new normal is the old normal by default? What if we were ready to hit the ground running, with a church fuelled for mission and maturity? Engaged in evangelism and discipleship?
Don’t waste this opportunity to at least think about these things. We may think and pray and study and decide ‘no’ what we were doing was right, great. My hunch is that we won’t. But the greatest tragedy would be just to sleep walk back into a return to normal without seeing the potential to innovate, pray, prepare, and change.