What Are Churches That Are Doing Well During the Pandemic Doing Differently Than Those That Are Not?
With experts predicting a new but less severe surge of COVID-19 this winter, the question has been asked: How have churches fared through all of this?
Thom Rainer, founder and CEO of Church Answers, studied data and anecdotal information from churches that have struggled like all other churches but are doing well during the pandemic. Although they face lower turnout rates than before COVID-19, they are starting to grow, gain new momentum, and see opportunities that other church leaders may not have seen.
According to Rainer, while some churches have incorporated a few of these 12 traits, churches doing well during the pandemic have incorporated all 12 traits into the life of their congregations.
What are the 12 traits?
Trait 1. Faithfully preach and teach the Bible. Of course, this seems obvious. However, these healthy churches give top priority to the preaching and teaching of the Bible. People need to listen to God more than ever in these days of unprecedented uncertainty.
Trait 2. Intensify your evangelistic efforts. There are two realities related to this second trait. First, most, if not almost all, churches lost their evangelical focus and priority before the pandemic. Second, in the transforming power of God, these healthy churches decided to renew their commitment to evangelism.
Trait 3. Give hope and encouragement during the pandemic. The leaders of these churches seem to know how to proclaim God's redemptive work in a way that gives believers encouragement and hope. Members of their churches continue to feel that God has not abandoned them, that God is working for their good in difficult times.
Trait 4. Stay away from political struggles. You will not find the leaders of these churches on Facebook discussing the latest hot topic. They stay focused on Christ and his work. "Most of the time, the members of your church will follow your example," says Rainer.
Now, I must admit that this trait of Rainer's leaves me a little perplexed because the role of Prophet is definitely the work of Christ. I believe there are times when we have to perform the Prophet's role and prophetically speak truth to power. The reluctance and outright unwillingness to focus on Christ and this aspect of his work, in my opinion, is a contributing factor that has made the Church complicit in the racial inequalities and systemic racism that exist in America today.
Trait 5. Re-evaluate your staff structure. Churches across our country are at the start of a massive staff realignment. These healthy churches have leaders who recognize that they are on the verge of a mass movement. They want to understand it so that they are ready to make the right changes.
Trait 6. Support or adopt churches. These churches actively try to help other churches. Sometimes the kind of help is providing resources and people for a season. This is fostering church support. Other times, these churches become multisite congregations by formally adopting a church into their family and making it an offsite campus of their congregation.
Trait 7. Do more to become a welcoming church. The leaders of these churches recognize that many members and guests return to in-person worship with a sense of hesitation and uncertainty. They understand that whoever greets them when they arrive is more important than ever.
Trait 8. Pay close attention to your groups and the structure of your small groups. A church with healthy groups is likely to be healthier in evangelism, service, assimilation, and administration. The importance of caring relationships to the health of the church only increased during the pandemic.
Trait 9. Raise the bar of expectations. This trait seems contradictory. If people are less engaged in church, today, why not adjust to the lower level of engagement. Conversely, healthy churches see the pandemic as an opportunity to raise the bar in a culture of low expectations.
Trait 10. Become a friend of your community. Although the communities in which they live may not be respectful of Christian values, these churches still see a great opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ in a meaningful and tangible way. They continue to maintain an outward incarnational focus as they seek to find a wound and heal it or find a need and satisfy it. As a result, some of these churches are winning over their communities.
Trait 11. Form mini prayer groups. The leaders of these churches are not too busy organizing large prayer meetings. Yes, it is great when many church members come together to pray. However, these leaders celebrate when only a few members get together to pray. Mighty prayer can come from a few.
Trait 12. Stay persistent. The frustration and confusion are as real to these church leaders as it is to any other leader in the midst of these troubled times. Nevertheless, the leaders of these churches are not giving up. They really feel that God will see them through the uncertainty and confusion. They may not understand what is going on, but they know God is still in control.
On a scale of 1 to 12, how many of these traits are active in the life of your congregations?
Danny C. Murphy
Rev. Dr. Danny Murphy, SR.
The ultimate aim of Trinity Presbytery is to equip and empower our member congregations to become communities of faith, hope, love, witness and service, so that those who do not know Jesus might come to know, love and serve him and so that those who do know Jesus might come to love him more intimately and serve him more faithfully.