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Post-Pandemic Church: Why and How It Should Change

Everyone is live.  Me, you, your grandma.  Overnight, social media changed.  Now, we don’t get online just to see what our friends are doing or watch wood-working videos. (I’m a wanna-be woodworker, don’t hate.) We go because it’s our new church building.  It’s where we live.  For better or worse, everything is virtual.

Here are some thoughts, random and rambling, but hopefully helpful.

Some of us weren’t online for a reason (and it wasn’t theological).

Let’s be honest: There are some poor productions being uploaded.  Blurry focus, bizarre shot angles, audio you can’t hear, lighting that looks like a hostage situation, etc.  And some of the content is bad, not heretical, but just plain bad.

Here’s how the game changed: Churches used to broadcast only if they were good enough. Now we broadcast because we have to, our community of faith depends on it.  (Mark Dever and my college roommate John Sypert are the only ones I know doing a complete holdout.)

But here’s what’s changed in me: I’m no longer looking for awesome, I’m asking “Who do I know”, “Who do I trust”, “Who do I want to be in this with?”  I’m choosing to watch my pastor friends from college over Matt Chandler.  Trust me that never happened before.  I find myself celebrating and commenting and cheering people on in the midst of bad production.

Real and relatable are the new excellent. 

The rules are out the window. The standard is lower. Story is winning. Not production. If we’re going to be virtual, then now more than ever we have to be human, mistakes and all. Have you watched John Krasinski and his SGN video or Dewayne Wade interviewing his friends on Instagram. It’s the “feel” that makes it work.  What you’re aiming for now is relatable, not gloss, the target is being human not being perfect.

We used to live in a world where people curated vulnerability to look “not perfect”, now it’s the industry standard. It’s not all great, sure, but when we see authenticity and vulnerability, we’re drawn in, and it’s beautiful.

Most churches are mimicking what they do on Sunday with a few comments about how “I’m in my living room”.

Old habits die hard. I get it. The camera is at the church already, the music stuff is there, your podium is there, etc.  But trying to “keep the energy up” and basically replicate your gathered experience in a home experience is a social disconnect. On one hand, it’s fine, keep it the same, who cares. On the other hand, it’s bad missionary work, we aren’t adapting to our context, we’re clinging to our current method without a thought about the new possibilities in front of us.

Antidotally: Most of the creativity is still going towards the stage not the “seats”.Maybe it’s happening and I don’t see it, but generally, the time and energy are towards getting the broadcast out, not equipping our people to minister in this unprecedented time.

We’re too invested not to go back. The lost world needs us not to go back.

Our church buildings and programs cost money. We pay staff positions to operate these structures. We are crazy invested in our way of doing church. The moment the gathering ban is lifted we are going back with Easter meets Christmas level energy. And I’m sure we will celebrate how many people we gathered on “Opening Day”. I get it, we have to go back. Many of us are counting down the days. But I wonder if the world needs us not to go back.

Here’s what I mean: The church thrived in the home for generations. There was a dailiness that the new testament church lived in that we know little about.  If you can’t give up the programs and the buildings (not saying we should), can we at least learn something about the dailiness of Christianity and personal responsibility to own the mission?  When you can’t gather, you’re forced to meet with Jesus on your own. You don’t have the programs to rely on to “carry you to next Sunday”. Can we lead people to believe “every day I must meet with God, really, and every day I must meet with my church family, really.” Are we equipping our people to do and think this? What can we do now to help our people?

If we go back to business as usual, we will have missed a massive opportunity, and if we go back to business-as-usual we will have lost more than we gained.

This is not our moment to become youtube stars or social media influencers, this is our moment to expand our relational web for the Gospel. 

Creating a bigger audience isn’t the endgame. Celebrating how many people viewed your service is the wrong target.  (people only have to view for 3 seconds for it to be counted) We need to figure out a new metric for engagement. We need better destinations. This virtual data tracking could be a smokescreen that is taking our eyes off the true victory: Leading our people to fulfill the great commission, and joining the Spirit in creating a disciple-making movement.

I’m worried about our obsession with big. I’m worried about our obsession with excitement. I’m worried we’re going to see a number of views and think the wrong thoughts, cheer the wrong things, and we are going to be drawn to build a house on sinking sand.

Start preparing for when we can gather in 10-15 people. 

This will be our missional sweet spot. You will have the chance to still stream services but you can operate as functional “house churches” if you equip your people to host well, lead well and minister appropriately. This will be our finest hour, not because of good music and preaching, but because we have people leading in a new and life-changing way.

When we can gather in smaller groups and people start hosting “house church” not “watch parties”, we will see leadership and ministry happening in a way we should celebrate to no end.  And when this happens, when people can invite others to house church, we will see who actually has relational influence and who simply had a programmatic draw.

My final words: Adapt. Adapt. Adapt. 

Don’t be found as a church who didn’t innovate and change in light of the circumstances. Don’t think “just hunker down and make it through.”  This is an opportunity, take it.

I don’t know when, and I don’t know how, but the church will be asked to step up and help in the coming weeks. I pray we are ready, I believe we are, but it’s up to us to respond, to equip our people, and to lead, not just stream our services online.

Originally published on Josh-Martin.com

Josh Martin, is one of the Pastors of Resonate Church, a multi-site collegiate church, planted 12 years ago in Pullman, WA. He and his wife, Amy, have three children. He writes about leadership, culture, and the local church.

 
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