What will we need to lead a church that’s been dispersed by a crisis?

corona virus, covid-19

In Illinois, California and New York the government has put the brakes on large gatherings of 250, 500, and 1,000 or more people. This has left churches with a dilemma on their hands. What do we do about Sunday morning?

So much in church life hinges on Sunday morning. Most churches could go without meeting a week, or two. But many churches are living paycheck to paycheck. And the Sunday offering is their paycheck.

Many years ago, I was planting a church in California. Those were lean days. I was to be paid on Monday, but the church didn’t have the funds. We needed a $600 offering for me to get my full paycheck. That sure made my prayers urgent because I had a wife and 4 children who were counting on it with me.

I praised God again and again for the $601 we received in that offering. But what if we couldn’t take the offering because we couldn’t meet? It would have been devastating.

Many church leaders are just trying to get through this season and some will face tough times. I pray that we can all come together to help each other out. There will be churches of all sizes that need a little extra help from each other to survive and serve another day. Let’s be the New Testament church and make sure other pastors and congregations are supported.

But let’s not just survive this together. Let’s learn and develop some new ways of doing ministry that will help us be healthier in the long run. Here are some things you and your leadership team might want to explore.

1) Consider new ways to gather. If we can’t gather in large groups for a while, do you have a system in place, with leaders and spaces, to hold small group gatherings? I actually considered putting a notice on the NextDoor app, that if there were any neighbors who wanted to gather for prayer and the Word, come to my house on Sunday morning. I may still do something like that if this lasts longer than a week, or two.

Small group gatherings would be important because internet services won’t be a healthy replacement for long. That just increases the isolation of people and faith can’t be lived alone.

2) Create new communication systems. Most of us are used to Sunday morning being our main means of communication. Do we have a consistent, strong system of connecting with your people? Do they know where they can go to find out the latest news? Are you consistent with how often you’ll communicate? What about 2-way communication? Do they know how to communicate their needs and how those needs will be handled?

If you’re old enough, you remember “Phone trees.” Phone trees were lists, where everyone had people to call when urgent news needed to get out. It may not be time to do that, but it wouldn’t be bad to have an “emergency communication system” in place.

3) How’s your discipleship system? What if a congregation can’t meet on Sunday, for 6 months? How will you disciple your people, when Sunday has been the main discipleship element for most churches? It seems to me that giving people something to listen to, or study on their own, just won’t be enough for enduring spiritual growth. Are there people ready to step up and lead others in the Word, prayer and living through the crises of faith and life that come in tough times?

4) Prepare healthy and adaptive financial systems. It seems churches need to prioritize ways to get “lean” fast. Churches with staff and facilities should have emergency funds, not because of a lack of faith but for the sake of caring for the staff that counts on the church and for the sake of living with integrity by being able to pay our commitments.

Years ago, a lot of us talked about decentralized ministry. In those days, we used the term “Cell Groups.” Most in Christendom never made the switch away from everything being centered on Sunday morning. But crises like this remind us that we need to have systems in place for a church that has been dispersed. It’s happened before. It’s happening in other parts of the world. And right now, we’re getting a hint of what could make it happen here. Let’s learn and grow, without fear. But let’s also remember, that even without a Sunday event, our job is still to shepherd the people of Christ, who feel like they’re wandering in the wilderness.

If you’d like to talk through any of these issues, or just would like me to pray for your congregation, please DM me on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

-Jim Renke