What will the post-pandemic church look like? What should the post-pandemic church look like?
These are relevant questions because now is the time for the church to look beyond today’s problems to see tomorrow’s solutions. Now is the time to engage our God-given gift of creativity, dream with reckless abandon, and experiment boldly. It has become abundantly clear that dramatic changes are occurring in both religious and secular spheres. Considering the recent developments in America, 2021 may be the year we transition into a post-pandemic world. After more than a year of strictly enforced safety measures, most states have lifted COVID-19 safety orders and recommendations, according to Dena Bunis and Jenny Rough. States that have fully reopened, like Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, and Arkansas, no longer require businesses to follow capacity limits or curfews.
Additionally, millions of Americans are now vaccinated. According to the CDC, at least 174,234,573 people (52%) of the US population have received at least one COVID-19 vaccination dose. As numerous secular organizations are opening their doors and returning to business as usual, church members are beginning to ask their leaders questions like “when is the Church going to reopen and get back to normal?” At this pivotal hinge point for the church, we must reflect on the relevant contextualized execution of the church’s mission lest we slip back into the busyness and non-missional activities of the pre-COVID-19 past. As time marches on, I suggest we leave some things in the past and take some practices into the future. Resulting from my analysis of disruptive church trends, I see a thriving post-pandemic church emerging with five notable characteristics: mental health ministry, a hybrid church structure, connection and community, vibrant children’s ministry, and spiritual entrepreneurship.
1. Mental Health Matters
One of the most notable and urgent changes the post-pandemic church must make concerns mental health. The church should care about and actively support the holistic well-being of its members and community. Recent Barna research found that 74% of non-practicing Christians say they would be interested in churches if they offered preaching and programs on mental health. In response to surfacing conspicuous mental health issues within their congregations, church leaders should broaden their truncated view of church members as exclusively spiritual beings. In truth, congregants are whole people made up of different aspects including, but not limited to, the emotional, psychological, social, racial, and relational. As 2021 rolls on, growing and impactful churches will be intentional about ministering to people’s holistic needs by offering relevant ministries like COVID-19 recovery that help people process loss, deal with struggles, address social pathology, and deal with various mental health issues.
As much as we would like to write off the last 18 months, it doesn’t take heightened perception to see that this COVID-19 pandemic has left its mark on every single person in the world. This pandemic has exacerbated anxiety in populations globally, leading to mental health disorders in individuals like psychosis, major depressive disorder, severe anxiety disorder, PTSD, suicidal ideation, and panic attacks. Federal surveys show that 40 percent of Americans are now grappling with at least one mental health or drug-related problem. Even more alarming, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently asked young adults if they had thought about killing themselves in the past 30 days, 1 in 4 said they had. To address the aforementioned sobering reality, churches will invite mental health professionals to present and offer resources and tools concerning mental health. Collaboration between churches and local mental health organizations should ensue. Churches will create an open dialogue and utilize their facilities to host various recovery groups, classes, and services.
2. Hybrid Church Structure
As more and more of our church structure shifts to facilitate online ministry, notable benefits and opportunities have surfaced. First, online church membership and growth has scaled in ways gathered worship could not. For instance, off-facility church attendance will eclipse facility-based attendance. Post-pandemic leaders will expand their vision beyond the size of a room they can fill with attendees. In good conscience, church leaders can no longer argue “Christians should not forsake assembling together” (Hebrews 10:25) as a way to guilt-trip members into attending a program in a church building. Weekly church gatherings will be as crucial as ever. However, most of these gatherings will not happen in a building owned by the church.
Second, churches should implement online/virtual membership. In the same way, restaurant owners have come to understand that drive-thru, delivery, and takeout can help fulfill their mission around food, church leaders must embrace the fact that web-worshippers, micro-gatherings, and distributed gatherings count and can help fulfill their mission around the gospel.
Third, churches need to develop new leadership roles to meet the needs of people outside of the church building. For instance, churches need to assign discipleship pastors responsible for spearheading and facilitating off-site connection and engagement in the mission. Leaders (digital discipleship team, online greeters, virtual concierge, virtual bible workers, etc.) must be assigned to meet the needs of the online “comment congregation” during live services. Additionally, technical directors, media directors, graphic designers, web designers, and numerous other roles relevant to virtual ministry will continue to emerge as invaluable leadership positions.
3. Connection & Community
In harmony with most church leaders in 2020 who were enthusiastic about getting content online, I launched an online ministry entitled, The Quarantine Revival (QR). When many were in need of encouragement, our online ministry inspired and engaged thousands globally. However, over the last year, there has been a gradual decline in viewership/online engagement with the QR and many other online ministries. With everyone in isolation for so long, people are more interested in connecting with others than consuming content. Successful online ministries will shift focus from content to connection; from consumption to community. Rather than leaning on dynamic speakers and phenomenal singers to draw attention and engagement, the post-pandemic church should nurture and facilitate home participation, small groups, and para-church ministries that accomplish the church’s mission – to spread the light and love of Jesus Christ.
4. Vibrant Children’s Ministry
As churches pivoted in the pandemic, they expended much time and effort in getting adult services online. Amidst all of the flurry of action, congregations around the country failed to innovate around children’s ministry. Barna found that one in three Protestant pastors admitted their churches made no changes in their approach to youth (35%) or children’s (37%) ministry since COVID-19 began. To maintain future generations of the church, it is essential that ministries “adapt contextually and relationally to meet the spiritual needs of children in their own setting,” writes Sarah Holmes.
Flourishing post-pandemic churches will invest in their online and in-person children’s ministries. Churches that are intentional about recruiting and equipping leaders to engage with parents and children on a weekly basis will prosper. Considering 94% of parents indicated being overwhelmed due to their families’ heightened stress levels produced by COVID-19, job loss, racial tensions, and other uncertainties, churches should provide parents with resources to help their kids navigate the traumas, struggles, and uncertainties of life.
5. Spiritual Entrepreneurship
An upsurge of spiritual entrepreneurs will mark the post-pandemic church. Similar to the gift of apostleship referenced in the New Testament, spiritual entrepreneurs plant new ministries and churches with the radical resolution and fierce innovation of the Apostle Paul. Many of these para-church organizations will work outside and across denominational lines to engage in mission and evangelism. Spiritual entrepreneurs are leaders who reject the notion that coming to Christ means coming to a building owned by a church on a set day at a set hour. These leaders are willing to leave the beaten path and blaze a ministerial trail. Carey Nieuwhof in his article “8 Disruptive Church Trends That Will Rule 2021 (The Rise of the Post-Pandemic Church)” writes, “some of the ideas that will become widely embraced five years into the future are being birthed right now.”
Step Out in Faith
Finally, I appeal to the reader gifted to be a visionary. Do not allow fear to paralyze you from innovation. Now is the time to launch/go/attempt. Seek God’s guidance but remember He cannot steer a parked car. It’s time to get moving in the direction of your destiny. Engage your faith, pray, and proceed with confidence that God will pilot your life through the turbulence and criticism. Remember, the very people who criticize you today may seek your mentorship tomorrow. The world needs your ideas and leadership. You have no duplicate or equal. Embrace your distinctiveness and champion the unusual. Be bold and go for it!
You can catch my conversation with Carmela and Claudia on #WhatsTheMessage to learn more about how we move forward together.