1. The Mission remains the same.
Circumstances change but the call to make disciples is constant. The job of the church is to proclaim Christ (in season and out of season), and regardless of whether Covid-19 and Lockdown apparently helps or hinders us - that work must be our priority.
2. The opportunities are exciting.
Over the past few months new doors have opened for churches and Christians to serve and connect with their communities. People have come to faith through volunteering in church run social care activities. There is some evidence of a new openness to the Gospel with people joining online courses to ask the big questions about life. Local agencies and politicians have appreciated the work and prayers of churches for them and Scottish communities.
3. The anxieties are real.
There are genuine fears for smaller fellowships dependent on facilities they no longer have access to (e.g. schools). How long can their viability continue? The big spike in online viewing has waned – one leader spoke of watching the website hits slowly fall week by week. The fringe of those more loosely connected to church feels increasingly frayed as their visibility and participation seems to diminish.
4. The value of organic church.
Following on from above – the people who had strong connections with others in the church at the start of Lockdown are generally the ones who have survived it best. Going forward churches need to see afresh the importance of fostering organic (rather than just structural) and real-life relationships among members and attendees.
5. Expect a refined church to emerge.
One leader spoke of the paradox of his church income being up – while numbers were down. In other words, the committed core people were stepping-up even as others were fading out the picture. The Gardener’s work of removing the dead branches while pruning back the healthy ones suddenly feels very immediate (John 15:1-2).
6. Small is the new big
The absence of, and restrictions upon, large gatherings for the foreseeable future is forcing a re-calibration of ministry. Where there has perhaps been an over-reliance on larger events – churches will need to (re)invest in Small Group and 1-2-1 ministry in order to sustain connections, training and discipleship. One effect of this new reliance on smaller local groups could be the emergence of many embryonic church plants.
7. Zoom is here to stay.
No-one is thinking that online church is going away anytime soon. Churches that start to gather again physically will do so with an ongoing online option – both to serve those unable to attend in person and to retain the new evangelistic opportunities this technology allows. Likewise, pastors will continue to utilize (where appropriate) the convenience of Zoom 1-2-1s (e.g. my desk to yours for a lunchtime Bible chat), leadership meetings and even some pastoral work.
8. Wake-up Call
Many churches will survive 2020 by ‘the skin of their teeth’. The question is, would they have survived if Covid-19 had been as devastating as first feared or if the severe restrictions had gone on. If not, what radical steps might they take now to avoid closure ‘next time’ – e.g. new partnerships, investing in future leadership, reconnecting with their communities? There are, of course, no easy options or fixes – but not to do anything and just hope that something will turn up is not the lesson to take from 2020.