Commentary by Dr. Whitesel. In this article, a colleague described how much Thom and I agree on the future of the church. And though I purposely don’t read Rainer’s (or other Christian leaders’) writings on a topic when writing my own analysis, I am always happy to see so much agreement. I admire Thom’s intellect and influence. We go way back, to when I was the president of the Great Commission Research Network and Thom received the McGavran Award from that association at its annual conference held that year at Indiana Wesleyan University. When someone you admire so much agrees with you, you feel blessed and bolstered.
Leadership Thought: What the Post-Pandemic Church May Look Like
The church has changed more in the last year than at any time in the past 100 years, and it will continue to change according to those who study church trends. The Covid 19 pandemic has radically transformed the way we do church, and some of the change that has been wrought within the church may be more than just temporary interruptions; they may become permanent in naturel. In reading and listening to those who make a study of the church, there are a some changes that many of them agree on, and this morning I would like to share some of them.
Church change will happen faster than ever before. Our world is in a time of rapid change, and because of this people are more open to change than ever before. If the church has been considering making major changes in its ministry, including staffing or facilities, now is the time to do it as there will be less resistance to change than ever before.
“The core of the church will grow stronger and the fringe of the church will become looser,” was a statement I heard expressed on a recent pod cast. In plain terms, there will be a winnowing of the church. Some who have been attendees will not be coming back. It has been suggested that one third of the church will return, one third is still evaluating their return and one third may never return.
The church will simplify. There will be a concentration on doing a few things well rather than offering a lot of varied programs and services.
There will be a greater focus on training the laity to do ministry and the result will be more trained laymen filling key leadership roles in the church. This certainly is a good thing for it is in keeping with the equipping mandate given the church in Eph. 4:11-12.
There will be an increase in bi vocational pastors who will split their time between secular work and church responsibilities.There will be a major shift in staff alignments as some pastors will be leaving the ministry as a result of what has been called “decision and opinion fatigue.” This is a stretching time for pastors and with many of them being taken out of their comfort zones, some may choose to explore other vocations.
There will be less of an emphasis on academic degrees and more emphasis placed on online certification. This has already been happening and seminaries are presently being forced to change their traditional ways of doing education. Those looking for pastors will be more interested in past certification and personal experience than in a seminary degree.
Younger pastors will be leading churches, simply because many of them will have the technical experience to function more comfortably in our fast-changing digital world.There will be a greater emphasis on the development of small groups within the church which will meet for study, training and mutual support and which will often align themselves around a particular mission or para church ministry.
There will be a more churches closing or being adopted by larger and healthier churches. The concept of “fostering churches” will become a reality, and stronger churches will support smaller churches by training and equipping its leaders.There will be fewer senior or lead pastors heading up churches as many of them will choose to lead smaller or “micro churches” of 30-40 people. The church “will grow horizontally” as different small groups or micro churches are formed, and it will “shrink vertically” as larger churches see diminishing number of attenders.
Denominations will continue to decline, something that has been happening for many years, but with the pandemic, the decline will be accentuated.
Big attractional church events and major productions will diminish in significance unless churches are able to plan them to maximize opportunities for relationship building, something that today’s younger attenders are seeking.
The church will find new ways to educate, train and nurture those families who choose to insulate themselves from normal church activities by doing “church at home.”
There will be an emphasis on training church members to do ministry in their respective neighborhoods. Small groups may coalesce around ministries specific to their neighborhoods. For more information see The Art of Neighboring-Building Relationships by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon.
Some larger churches with significant size facilities may be forced to rent out parts of their building to both church and or non-church programs. Some churches will experience shrinking income with diminishing memberships, as government stimulus support is eliminated.
The church will discover new and innovative ways to reach out and better serve their communities.
All of the above are not givens and the post pandemic church may turn out to be a lot more similar to the church as we know than some of the changes church experts are portending. Only God know what the church will look like, but one thing we know is that it is Christ who has built the church foundation and His promise is that “the gates of hell shall never prevail against .Whatever form or shape the church takes, it’s goal will always remain the same as the goal of its Master-“to go into the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe everything I have commanded,…..’remembering,” I am with you always to the end of the world.”
Yours in faith and friendship, Tom