Do you remember the excitement when the data began to point to a waning of COVID?
Hospitalizations were down. Deaths were declining. Offices and stores were reopening. Masks were coming off. Crowds were gathering again.
And then the second big wave of COVID came. The Delta variant spread faster and caused more infections. The world was taken aback by the virus. Businesses are shaken. Schools are wondering what to do. And churches, once again, are in the middle of this challenge.
Our team at Church Answers has been working with thousands of church leaders about leading in the second wave of COVID. Here are the seven most common challenges we see with churches:
1. Greater polarization and divisions. In the first wave of COVID, churches faced divisions over politics, masks, regathering, streaming services, and social distancing. All those divisions still exist, but the polarization over vaccinations has been added to the mix.
2. Weariness expanded. We are all tired. Church leaders particularly feel the exhaustion of dealing with so many issues. Both church leaders and members can get ornery and critical as a consequence of their exhaustion.
3. Decision fatigue growing. We have spoken to countless pastors who tell us the biggest surprise of the pandemic as a church leader was all the new decisions they had to make. Every week, many church leaders are confronted with gather or don’t gather, masks or no masks, and other issues unique to the pandemic.
4. Hopelessness pervasive. The first major wave of COVID did not have the sense of hopelessness that is endemic with the second wave. You felt in the first round that it would be over and done, even if it took a year or so. The second wave has been a real challenge. Many church leaders find themselves reminding their church members of the hope of Christ more than they ever had.
5. Confusion about the path forward. With the first wave of COVID, church leaders expressed confidence in one of two paths forward. One perspective was that churches would resume their practices just as they were before the pandemic. The second and majority view was that churches would face a new normal and must learn to adjust. But church leaders today wonder if any stability is on the horizon. There seems to be change after change with no time to catch your breath.
6. Denominational structures destabilizing. Churches that are a part of a denomination had to deal with the reality that the level of resources and help was not nearly what it was in the past. Even before COVID, most denominational structures were shrinking. But with the second wave, we see many denominational structures destabilizing. They don’t know their own future, so they are often at a loss to help the churches they serve.
7. Major personnel shifts in churches. With the first wave of COVID, we saw many churches reduce personnel costs. This second wave seems to be ushering in a new era where church leaders must rethink everything about both full-time and part-time staff. The era of bi-vocational and co-vocational ministry has arrived rapidly. There will not likely be a new normal any time soon, if ever.
Of course, churches have survived greater challenges and endured greater changes in the past 2,000 years. Many churches will survive. Some will thrive. And some will die.
In future articles, we will share with you how we see churches adjusting to these challenges. In the meantime, I would love to hear your insights.
Posted on September 6, 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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