Five Ways the Post-Place Church Will Look Different after COVID

The concept of “place” has changed dramatically during COVID.

Perhaps it is more accurate to say the COVID accelerated the trends that were already underway. “Place” is different.

Think about it. For centuries, the home has been a place for family and retreat. Now it has become our theater with streaming video services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, YouTube TV, Disney +, and many more. Home has become our stadium and athletic arena. We have become accustomed to viewing sporting events rather than attending them. And for some, home has become our fitness center, since we elected to buy a Peleton bike rather than keep our gym membership. And, of course, the home has become an office for millions.

Think about offices. They were the daytime domain of employees. Many of those employees are now at home, in coffee shops, and in workshare places.

Think about theaters. COVID closed many. Some are barely hanging on. The viewing place of tens of millions has moved home.

We are in a post-place world. “Place” has been redefined and reimagined.

So, what are the implications for churches? Is the world of in-person services going away? Are small groups becoming small Zoom groups?

Though we can’t know with certainty, we can see some profound implications for the place called church. Here are five of them:

  1. The church will become a destination place for many for gathering. Call it a contrarian view, but I am seeing more signs of this reality. While digital worship will still be very important, there is a pent-up desire by many for some type of regular healthy gathering. Churches can satisfy this desire, but there is a presumption that the church is healthy. Unhealthy churches will decline faster. Healthy churches will grow faster. Most churches, at least initially, will have fewer people gathering. Those on the periphery, such as the cultural Christians, will not return. The median decline of churches once in the post-pandemic phase will be around 20 percent.
  1. Because the home will be prominent in the post-place world, neighborhood churches will become more important. Home is the entertainment center, the physical workout place, the office, and the athletic arena or stadium. Home will be at the center of places. Those who live in the homes will look to local venues of close proximity. The neighborhood church has the opportunity to be a big factor in the post-place world.
  1. Churches have the opportunity to be a post-place option for those in their community. Most churches have an abundance of space. Really, most churches have too much space. The churches that are creative in the post-place world will find Great Commission ways to reach their communities by making their facilities available to them.
  1. Fewer small groups will meet in church facilities in the post-place world. This trend has been exacerbated by COVID. For a long season, many churches built large educational facilities for their on-campus groups. It was not a bad thing. We saw much better assimilation metrics with on-campus groups versus off-campus groups. But the existing trend to move groups to homes, coffee shops, and other non-church places has accelerated during COVID.
  1. Church facilities will be built dramatically differently in the future. Worship centers will be smaller. Some churches will build a facility specifically designed to be shared with members of the community. Education buildings will almost disappear. And so will buildings for church staff to have individual offices. At most, many churches will build a coworking room for their staff. Most church staff have already discovered they really don’t need the church facility for an office.

The post-place world is changing much in our culture. Local churches will be a part of this dramatic shift.

How will your church respond? What other shifts do you see churches making?

Posted on February 26, 2021

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Thomas S. Burris, Sr. says on

    I agree with your assessment. I am also reminded that the Apostle Paul closed the Book of Romans with a greeting to close friends Priscilla and Aquila and “the church that meets in their home” (Rom. 16:5).

    While serving a church in a Chicago suburb for 19 years, we established home groups that provided a very close fellowship and families were able to share their needs and concerns with others who would faithfully pray and be involved. This did not totally replace the larger church gatherings, but supplemented those in a very special way.

    It may well be that smaller, more local churches will be the future in many areas, but also with many younger singles and couples who are in complexes within our larger metropolitan cities.

  • When I first saw the headline to this blog, I thought, “Oh no! We are becoming neo-Gnostic.” But after a careful reading of this article, and some of the reader comments, in my experience, I am convinced that brother Rainer is largely correct in his assessment. In-person and virtual space are two different “animals” and require different approaches to worship and belonging. Based upon what brother Rainer said in an earlier blog, I don’t know too many churches, including my own, that have the resources to do both well. I am at a loss as to how to address that deficiency.

  • Will LGTB laws, etc. prevent church facilities from becoming gathering centers? Illinois law seems to imply this. Also, as demand for new sources of tax revenue increases, how will churches respond when they are required to pay property taxes? These two issues would have major impacts on church facilities and property.

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    One way a church can serve its community is to create safe gathering spaces—spaces that are airy, open, and uncrowded, spaces that are spacious, well lit, and well ventilated. Many older buildings tried to fit too much into too little space. One consequence was that gathering spaces are small, enclosed, and poorly-ventilated—gathering spaces from a public health perspective are not safe spaces, healthy spaces.

    Before we were able to treat most TV cases with medication, schools were built with lots of open windows to let in fresh air and ultraviolet light. TB spread in small, enclosed, and poorly ventilated spaces where the TB bacillus concentrations easily built up. The fresh air prevented the build up of these concentrations and the ultraviolet light killed the TB bacillus floating in the air. When medication became the treatment of choice for TB, school buildings became the warren-like, labyrinthine buildings that they are now. Church education buildings were modeled on them.

    While vaccination will reduce the number of cases, COVID-19 is not going away. It keeps mutating, meaning that every year we may have to come up with new vaccines. This definitely has implications for church buildings. We will want to make them safer and why not make them the places where members of the community feel the safest. Human beings are social beings. We like to gather with our fellow human beings.

    We do not need huge sanctuaries, just airy, spacious, well ventilated ones. We do not need large crowds. Multiple small gatherings work just fine. They will not eliminate the risk of infection in the event of a new outbreak of the virus, but they will reduce the number of people who might be infected.

    What I am seeing a definite need for churches to have their own video studios. Sanctuaries are not the best place for videoing online services, especially sparsely filled sanctuaries and platforms with less than a handful of people on them. What I am also seeing is that the worship patterns that we use for our in-person services do not transfer well online. For our online services we need to use different worship patterns. We need video teams and directors too. We need to end the days of the wandering video cameras and panorama shots of empty sanctuaries. Scripted, tight, closeups work a lot better, particularly when you viewers are at home, sitting on the sofa. We need to take our livestreaming and video recording more seriously.