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ChurchNext II: Will the Church Look the Same after COVID-19?

Flexibility and innovation are needed in this hour, though several aspects of the Church must always be done in community

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Our world has changed. The ChurchNext series is a collection of conversations with pastors and prophets from around the world to canvass thoughts surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and realize the effects and the opportunities it presents the Church.

In this second article of the series, we grapple with the changes that events in the year 2020 has brought, and how the Church continues to remain relevant.

How has your immediate community made adjustments for COVID-19? Are there other changes that will be happening in the coming months?

Benny Ho (Senior Pastor, Faith Community Church, Perth, Australia): Perth is blessed to be one of the safest places to be at this time.  We have had no community spread for several weeks and our skies remain closed to foreigners.  Our government is also strongly inclined to keep the borders closed until further notice.  We would be considered a low-risk area at this point.

Vincent Lun (Senior Pastor, Kingdom Community Church, Singapore): Thankfully, our leaders have been wonderfully proactive and our members supportive, so we managed to settle into a new routine and format of meeting quickly.  Our emphasis on community life, discipleship and cell groups is serving us well during this season.

When we had to stop in-person Sunday services, we decided on holding live services via Zoom, as this allows a high level of interaction between leaders and those who are attending the service via Zoom.  We are also broadcasting our live service via Zoom on Facebook, to reach a wider audience.  Additionally, we rolled out a number of discipleship and equipping programs via Zoom.  It helped us to stay very connected with our members.

Our pastoral team and cell leaders stepped up by spending more time with individuals and small groups.  All these have actually drawn us closer despite the social distancing.

Julian Adams (Senior Pastor and Founder, The Table Boston, USA): It’s been a very interesting season for us because we planted our church during COVID-19. That has obviously had some very real impact on how we planted. We’re following guidelines about how many people can gather in the space that we have. We’re wearing masks and we’re trying to build a community that is open and creates a real sense of belonging, while we have all these restrictions.

So there’s been some very practical challenges in gathering and planting the community within the pandemic. The incredible thing is that we were given a very powerful prophetic word just before we started the plant. The word was about Isaac. God told him to plant seed in the middle of the famine, and God promised to bless him. Now, sowing seed during famine is a crazy thing to do. But yet Isaac reaped a hundredfold.

“I believe there are some things that are not downloadable online.” -Benny Ho

We were promptly given that verse as a promise, as we are planting in a season where people would say, “This is not the right time to sow, you’ll lose your harvest.” Actually, God is saying, “Stay and plant in the season of famine of COVID-19, because you will reap a hundredfold.”

We’ve been really fortified by that prophetic word, even amidst the practical challenges of planting a community in a global pandemic.

So just to follow up with you, Julian and Katia – you actually went ahead and started your church plant during the pandemic?

Julian Adams: Yes, we planted the church in June of this year. It was one of the trickiest times in America’s political history, against the backdrop of Covid and the Black Lives Matter movement and the elections.

It has been a very interesting context, and really exciting to see a multicultural church developing. We’ve got a number of different ethnicities and cultures and nationalities in our church already. This is after only a few months, and with a small group of just over 20 people.

Julian Adams preaching at The Table Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 2020

 

You can ask me, “Did you already have plans for the plant before Covid happened?” Yes, we had loads of plans, we had a great plan. God’s been speaking to us about the church for a few years, and we kind of had an online launch of our community back in January, inviting people to join us.

But then when we moved to the city of Boston in May, COVID-19 had changed everything in terms of how we thought the plant would look. But God’s been so kind. We’ve got 25 people. We have to meet in two locations, but we are meeting and we’re seeing people grow and flourish. It’s beautiful what God is doing.

Do you see the church going back to the same forms and practices after COVID-19 is over? We obviously know this pandemic will change us in some ways, but do you think our usual practice of services, outreach events, worship, etc. will return to pre-COVID?

Benny Ho: Definitely!  I believe that there are some things that are not downloadable online.  I can think of a few off the top of my head like worship dynamics, corporate anointing, personal ministry, Holy Spirit encounters, service opportunities, human touch, intimate fellowship, real-time discipleship and united purpose.  In that sense, there will always be a place for the onsite church that is not downloadable through the online church.

Some things that will change will be a greater shift from onsite training and equipping.  Most of our people have learned how to go online to access content, and most churches have learned to go online, so training and equipping that is not so fellowship-based will stay online even after Covid-19 is over.

This is one good shift that has allowed more people to access good biblical training content via online platforms.

Ben Richards (Senior Leader of The Gatekeepers, Dubai): I definitely see an evolution coming. To be honest with you, the church has always had a history of being the last one to the innovation party. When the world innovates, we’re the last ones to show up.

We’re often tech-resistant. We say, “No, no, no, we take comfort in the familiar.” And I think that’s driving what church leaders are feeling, that we just want to go back to what we had before. We spent so much time and effort building what we had, and we don’t want to lose it.

I have told my staff that Gatekeepers Church is going from being a local church with an online presence, to being an online church with a local presence.

“We need to ask what is the primary mission of the church and how we can pivot and refocus our attention…” -Vincent Lun

I feel like the Lord is calling the global Church to a hybrid model, of being able to meet in-person but also meet online.

There have not been many benefits to COVID-19, but one of them has been that those who were tech-resistant in the past have been forced to go online. The churches globally have been forced to think this way. And if we just went back to doing everything onsite and ignored the online opportunities, we would be doing this whole season a great disservice.

I believe that we’re moving towards a hybrid model. I believe it will involve church online, and it will involve church in-person.

Vincent Lun: I don’t think it is possible nor desirable to go back to the pre-COVID normal.  We need to pivot to become more pandemic and end-times ready.  The pandemic has brought about permanent changes to the way we live, work, socialize and travel.  I think the new normal for church life will be a hybrid of in-person and online gatherings.

More importantly, we need to ask what is the primary mission of the church and how we can pivot and refocus our attention on achieving this mission, which is to establish God’s Kingdom on earth, primarily through building Christ-like and Kingdom-minded disciples.

Jesus’ way of evangelism, discipleship and ministry is highly relational.  He ministered to the multitudes but discipled only a few.  And discipleship in the Jewish culture Jesus grew up in starts in the home.  All this is better facilitated through one-on-one, small group and family settings, than big group gatherings.

Therefore, we need to release our church members to have more time at home and for relational discipleship.  For evangelism, a relational approach is far more effective than through big group programs.  We should also let our members have more time to connect with and impact people in their work places and serve the poor and needy in the community.

All these may mean reducing big group gatherings and programs within the church building facilities so we can have more time and resources for one-on-one and small group gatherings, building faith at home and work and serving the poor and needy in the community.

Perhaps weekly worship services can be held in person in cells at home.  For the worship, sermon and corporate announcements, these cells can follow a centrally produced program live via Zoom.  They then process and respond to the sermon, followed by a time of ministry to each other and fellowship over a meal or refreshment, all in their cells at home.  This was the model for the early church for the first 300 or more years.

KCC 9th Anniversary Service via Zoom, Singapore, 2020

 

Once a month, all the cells can come together for a combined in-person worship service.  This will help the cells connect with the larger Body of Christ in the church.

We will need to equip and empower our cell leaders to lead and minister in their in-person worship services at home.  We also need to challenge and equip our people to open their homes for worship service and extend hospitality.  These are great discipleship opportunities that can help to cultivate a more Kingdom-impacting and not a consumer mind-set.

To facilitate in-person community building between cells, we can have in-person church camps, cell/ministry retreats, youth retreats and discipleship programs, and children’s vacation programs, when these activities are allowed with proper safe distancing measures.

This will greatly reduce the need for building facilities.  Even staff teams can work from home and meet at home, via a hybrid of in-person and online meetings.  We will then need a much smaller office space.  This can release finances that can be given to the poor and for equipping believers for relational evangelism and discipleship, building faith at home and work.  But I can understand it is more difficult for churches who own building facilities to pivot to this format.  There is a need to justify leaving their building facilities underutilized.

Katia Adams (Senior Pastor and Founder, The Table Boston, USA): Of course, there will be some things from the last season that were great and we will continue doing. I don’t think that COVID-19 is going to mean that everything is redefined and that we never do big meetings again.

I think we’ll be able to take the best of the last season and the best of the current one, and bring them together. Like Julian was saying, this will create a more authentic and real sense of community.

We will have both big gatherings and small, in-person and online – it will be a both-and rather than an either-or.

In what ways do you hope the Church will be different than it was before? In what ways do you hope it will be the same?

Katia Adams: I hope the church will look more flexible. I hope the church will look more compassionate. I think if COVID-19 has taught us anything that we weren’t aware of already, it is that the world is hurting, in need of help, in need of a hug, and in need of peace. I don’t know if the churches responded brilliantly through the season.

But I hope that this season is teaching us to be a voice of hope, and help give compassion to the hurting. And to recognize that part of the reason we exist is to provide the solution to the deepest cries of people’s hearts. I hope that the church will come out of this season more aware of the needs of people’s hearts more willing to address them, and more willing to be a voice of compassion to help the hurting and the broken.

Julian Adams: We are still going to be worshipping the same glorious God. We still get to demonstrate the ways of the kingdom. Preaching is still going to be needed. It’s through the foolishness of preaching that God displays His power. And we need clearer, more prophetic voices that preach the fullness of the Gospel to people who need a revelation of a kind God. I think those things are still going to be the same.

Like the wise King Solomon said, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” Even with this pandemic, there’s nothing new under the sun. We’re still going to need the revelation and the wisdom of God, with the same dependency on the Holy Spirit that speaks.

This is the second part of our conversation in this Church Next series. You can read our previous conversation at the links below:  

ChurchNext I: What Shifts Are Necessary in the Church?