How Can The Church Thrive In A Pandemic?

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It was well over a year ago (around March of 2020) when church leaders began to ponder the question, “What are we going to do if we can’t meet as a church on Sundays?” Fast forward to the late spring in 2021 as churches in our Province are allowed to resume in-person meetings, I want to share some of the lessons that church leaders, like myself and many other pastors, have gained to see the church not only survive the pandemic, but to THRIVE amid adversity.

INNOVATE OR DIE

Jim Collins said in his book, Great by Choice;

“Some companies and leaders navigate this type of world exceptionally well. They don’t merely react; they create. They don’t merely survive; they prevail. They don’t merely succeed; they thrive.”

We have seen many organizations and businesses go down over the past year (e.g., in retail, restaurants, and education) but there are also many others that have found success as they innovated in creating adaptive solutions. While many churches have found similar successes borrowing strategies and ideas from the corporate world (Coastal Church included), the heavenly wisdom that we have (James 3:17) should play the biggest role in defining the measure of success in a Heavenly Kingdom. After all, our God is the greatest Creator so innovative and creative ideas should be the hallmark of the church.

As we look forward to reopening, there is a myriad of questions to consider in a reimagined Church: What does physically distanced worship look like? How can we best serve families with kids? How do we decide when is the right time to open and at which location? What is the balance of resources (human and financial) associated with live and online services? While there are no definite answers to these questions, it always helps to look back at the vision to develop “original” strategies for this COVID season.

STICK TO THE VISION

Just as the early church was scattered because of persecution, small or micro gatherings began to form during COVID in many homes. What has come to be known as the Micro-Church model was largely an adaptation of the modern house church movement that started in the 1960s. You can make the argument that the Biblical model for house church started right from the beginning, which is also the foundation of the small group model for Coastal Church:

“So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:46-47 NKJV

More recently, Brian Sanders who leads a current movement of micro-churches called Underground includes in his vision the “irreducible minimum” for a biblical church to include worship, community, and mission. These parallel how Coastal Church carries out our mission by helping people to Follow, Connect, Discover (Purpose), and Serve.

As methodologies continue to evolve and change, the principles that guide the ministry of the church must remain constant – whether it takes place online or in-person.

As I reflect on the guiding principles, here are just a few of the new initiatives that were started during COVID pandemic:

FOLLOW
– Livestreaming of weekend services with improved video and sound production
– Added livestream services on Telus TV, YouTube, and Facebook
– Added Preshow and Overtime segments to service program
– Launch of weekly online Spanish service
– Hosting weekend kids and youth watch parties and weekly E-groups

CONNECT
– Over 200+ small groups running online (Life Group, Alpha, INSTE, Freedom Session)
– Decentralized our Alpha groups and starting new groups monthly
– Offered multiple online Marriage Courses
– Launch of Facebook Campus to boost engagement outside of weekend services

DISCOVER
– Online corporate prayer meetings on Saturday morning
– Launched Raising Mom podcast
– Ability to receive prayer from the pastoral team via Live Chat
– Revised coaching structure to better support small group leaders

SERVE
– Multiple baptisms each week at various indoor and outdoor locations
– In-home Parent-Child Dedication
– Home dedication over Zoom video
– Meal prep and delivery for DTES residents

These are just some of the innovative ideas that God has allowed us to continue ministering to others.

One of my personal ministry highlights during the pandemic has been the opportunity to go through the Alpha Course with a new family from Richmond. It began with Ajay reaching out to Coastal Church to inquire about water baptism. He had come to faith in Jesus through his own study of the Word and felt a strong desire to solidify his commitment. In the Fall of 2020, I had the privilege to baptize him, and shortly after three of his siblings who have also professed faith in Jesus followed suit.

As the family has never stepped foot into a church building, the opportunity to continue discipling them weekly through our Alpha meetings online has been so rewarding. I am invited into their home (via Zoom) and it reminds me of the Great Commission given by our Lord Jesus that we continue to fulfill using technology:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20 NIV

KEEP LOOKING FOR OPPORTUNITIES

As we move forward in our relaunching of in-person gatherings, one of the most promising opportunities is that of micro-sites. John Upchurch on gomicrosite.org defines microsite as follows:

“A microsite is a community of connected and invested believers in an area where there is no physical campus for the sponsoring church. The community shares in the life of the church on Sundays and beyond through live-streams, discipleship materials, leadership training, and small groups. But they usually meet in homes or community centers, rather than a dedicated building, and they usually stream the service on a TV.”
https://gomicrosite. org/2018/01/27/what-is-microsite-church/ 

In multisite churches like ours, micro-sites can be seen as a means to strategically expand to scale. Much like the early multisite strategy that was developed to address the challenges related to growth, and extending reach and penetration into different communities, the challenges of the COVID-19 shutdown of church facilities has accelerated the micro-site model. These emerging approaches can be utilized not only to serve the immediate needs of churches by finding ways for their congregations to gather safely, it can also result in a truly adaptive pivot to address the realities of a hybrid church with healthy and strong communities meeting both in-person and continuing online.

As members gather in smaller groups to watch the online service and then connect around the resources provided by the church for discussion and application, each micro-site can grow to serve families with kids and youth ministry, again resourced by the church. When the church can gather again in buildings with larger numbers, the plan is not for all the micro-sites to go back to “groups as usual.” Each will be given the option to continue operating as a site with a commitment to be involved with the larger corporate worship experience on a monthly basis, for example.

With some churches announcing that they will not resume in-person services and other churches laying off large percentages of their staff, and others struggling to keep the doors open, this pandemic is going to leave a lasting mark on the church. The question is how will we respond as leaders and how can our church step into this moment. In every crisis there is an opportunity, and this season is no different.

As we enter into this next season of transition, we begin again with prayer to seek God’s wisdom recognizing that His strategy is the one that will see the church as the Bride of Christ through and come out more radiant than ever. Many of you have already been part of the journey, and we encourage you to continue by participating in our 24/7 prayer initiative.

You can learn more about the prayer initiative and sign up for 30-minute slots on our 24/7 Prayer page.