I’ve been surprised by the number of people I’ve spoken to in the month since our church building has been closed who have effusively thanked me for the ongoing ministry of the church. Their gratitude has been so overwhelming, it’s led me to spend a lot of time wondering of why they are so grateful. And I’ve got a couple guesses.
- They just appreciate that we are trying hard and are willing to forgive our hiccups for the time being. In essence, we are enjoying a digital ministry honeymoon with our congregation.
- They sense we are more focused on their spiritual needs than before.
I think there is truth in both these guesses. And if we want to continue to reach our people after the digital honeymoon is over, we’ll need to figure out what we did intuitively in a time of crisis to meet the spiritual needs of our people and how to continue doing it once church buildings reopen.
When our building closed, all our programs came to an immediate halt, except for worship and a few mission programs which we needed to provide basic needs within our community. Without the rest of our programs, we immediately formulated ways to communicate a biblical message of hope on a daily basis and we made our discipleship pathway real simple.
Instead of just telling people to read their Bible and pray every day, we made plans to send out daily email devotionals year round, not just at Christmas and Easter. Instead of just telling people to serve others, we made it real easy to sign up to help with basic needs and we focused on helping them discern how God was calling them to serve and cultivate community in their neighborhoods outside of official church ministry programs.
Looking back, it’s easy to see how, at times, we were guilty of presenting overly intellectualized messages about what people should do without making it simple for people to discover how to incorporate spiritual practices in their lives. Then we would wonder why more of them wouldn’t show up for all the incredible programs we dreamed up for them.
In the past, many churches have been guilty of looking at participants as resources who could help fulfill the church’s agenda by supporting its many programs. In the future, effective churches will be those who make it their agenda to resource their people for ministry. Many churches have already made this shift and from their examples we know this shift will look different in each local congregation but it will have some common characteristics.
- Simple small steps – These churches know that spiritual giants are not built in a day. They will focus more on help people learn how to follow rather than just telling them that they should. They will make spiritual practices simple and practical for people to implement . And they will celebrate each time someone takes a small step.
- Staff will not be paid to do ministry – Pastoral and program staff members will no longer be paid primarily to do ministry for the congregation – which is the consumer model of church. Instead, everyone will be expected to do ministry, so staff will be paid primarily to recruit, resource, and deploy church members for ministry. Churches will also place a higher emphasis on communications and technical staff to help make their messages easy to access.
- Care for the community – Churches who do not help their people become deeply connected to the most pressing issues facing families in their communities will become increasingly irrelevant because no matter how good your preaching and music is, there’s some church from some big city in some other state with better preaching and music a couple key strokes away. Good music and good preaching are prerequisites for a healthy church, but they alone do not make a church healthy.
These characteristics may seem overly simplistic to you. They do to me as well. But when it is comes to discipleship simple and easy are two totally different things. We will never make spiritual growth easy for our people. It wasn’t intended to be. But we must make it simple or it may never happen at all.