Your Church Is Now a Blank Slate

March 30, 2020

By Thom S. Rainer

You will never get to return to your church.

Let me be clearer. When you return to gather for worship and fellowship and study, it will not be the same church before the coronavirus pandemic.

The world will never be the same. And neither will your church.

Many, if not most, of our churches are struggling and hurting. Some will not make it. The situation is bleak for many congregations.

But this period is also a time of opportunity. It is a time to rethink your church. It’s a time to shed “the way we’ve always done it” mindset and move into a new and exciting future.

For certain, we don’t change our views on the Word of God, the exclusivity of salvation through Christ, or any of the essential doctrines of the faith. But these days are a great time to rethink how you “do church.” Here are ten points to consider:

  1. What lessons can you learn from the digital world that you can apply anew on the other side of the pandemic? How can you do church differently digitally?
  2. How can you re-discover your community? How can you learn fresh their needs? How can you reach them with the gospel? We have a tool called Know Your Community. It’s a great place to start.
  3. What should your stewardship look like beyond the pandemic? Should you make some radical changes in how your church funds are used?
  4. Will COVID-19 cause you to rethink how you use your facilities? Can they be used for a greater gospel purpose?
  5. Those who create dissension in your church kill its spirit. Will you be willing to deal with them forthrightly in the future?
  6. How will your church connect and relate to other churches? Are new models on the horizon? Should you be a part of a new model?
  7. Is the Sunday-morning-only experience for most churchgoers about to die? How should you respond?
  8. What changes would you make if you tossed out the old church calendar and started from a blank slate?
  9. Read the book of Acts. Read the letters to the early churches. What changes does your church need to make to become a New Testament church?
  10. What does church staffing look like with a blank slate? Is it time to shift models?

These are but ten of many starting points for you to consider.

Yes, the pandemic is bad news. But the opportunity to etch a future on a blank slate is good news. From this calamity many stronger, more gospel-focused churches will arise.

There is no reason your church shouldn’t be one of them.

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43 Comments

  • Brad Brisco says on

    I think two significant shifts we will see include an enormous rise of Bivo/Covo church leaders and the move to more and more decentralization of church life.

  • A.G. Wilkinson says on

    If we the church consider what God has allowed to be taken from us and then embrace what He has allowed to remain and that which He is creating new we shall thrive! Love, joy, peace, prayer, faith, the word of God and eternal life through Jesus Christ remain and are growing. Ceremonies and large gatherings will not be our source of identity or strength. The separation of the sheep and the goats is beginning !

  • Challenging Days! This certainly is the time to pray. Folowing Hurricane Harvey in the Houston Area, we were flooded and forced to be creative in ways to meet. We could not use our worship center. It took about 5 weeks of quick reconstruction to get back in . We had temporary meeting areas. It forced us to start a live streaming ministry at that time which prepared us for this crisis. However, we lost about 20% of our attendance when we were able to get back in the facility. Those we lost were the peripheal members who attended about once a month. We never recaptured that group. Praying we can use our past failures to lead us to future successes. We discovered the hard way just how important it was/is to keep in contact with everyone in our church by any means possible. We are calling everyone, texting, facebooking, youtubing as many as possibel regularly.

  • This certainly is the time to pray. Folowing Hurricane Harvey in the Houston Area, we were flooded and forced to be creative in ways to meet. We could not use our worship center. It took about 5 weeks of quick reconstruction to get back in . We had temporary meeting areas. It forced us to start a live streaming ministry at that time which prepared us for this crisis. However, we lost about 20% of our attendance when we were able to get back in the facility. Those we lost were the peripheal members who attended about once a month. We never recaptured that group. Praying we can use our past failures to lead us to future successes. We discovered the hard way just how important it was/is to keep in contact with everyone in our church by any means possible. We are calling everyone, texting, facebooking, youtubing as many as possibel regularly.

  • As a liturgically based church, one of the of the principles we are learning is the definition of what it means to be church when there’s no liturgy. I think there are churches in my community where the impact of the virus and social distancing/quarantine will be felt with greater degrees.

    For the smaller churches in our area (which includes our Parish), our eyes have been opened to the necessary care of the body outside the confines of Sunday worship. Giving goes as it has, mostly because our pledges are mailed in anyway.

    The larger churches that live by their weekly collections may find stewardship to be the greatest challenge in the new normal.

    One thing that has been made clear, at least among my clergy colleagues, is the need for support across the boundaries of the institution. It is surprising how much we miss our monthly clergy meetings – all of us. The support and sounding board that the “face-to-face” meeting brings which is difficult to replicate electronically.

    One of my prayers is the collegiality we feel when separated can carry over to the times when we can gather face-to-face.

  • Anonymous says on

    Thank you for your valuable insights. I pay attention to you, and I’ve just read you latest book on revived churches. I am an older guy who is not afraid of change, and I’ve never pastored before, but I am waiting for a church to be able to meet again so that I may be voted on as their pastor. I’ve never been so excited in my life. I see our circumstances as an example of maybe made for “Such a time as this.”

  • Greg Fleck says on

    Thom, thank you the thought provoking words. There is much fear today I can feel from people, both church leaders and those outside the church, that manifest in many ways. Yes I agree; we as THE CHURCH have to rethink in this time, how we are spreading the Gospel and the peace that comes through Christ, the grace of God. Therefore, we need to lay claim to the encouraging words Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Tim 1:7. Turn any fear into Resolve, use the Power that God gives, show the Love of God, and use our revived, salvaged Mind to allow God to use us in a mighty way.
    Were blessed to receive 100+ gallons of disinfectant from the County to distribute to the community. 140 house hold received a part of the blessing before running out in two hours. 60% of those needed some form of counseling that they receive. How was this done with only four people in two hours? It was only by the Power that God gives. This is the time stretch yourself; reach out, to get to know the community and minister to those not in the church.

    • Love it! Thanks, Greg.

      • John Cotten says on

        (Please allow me to post a bit of something I posted on Facebook yesterday.) A memorable verse of the old hymn, “How Firm a Foundation” is based on Isaiah 43:2. We’re not totally certain who “K” is who wrote it back in 1787, but we are certain of God’s promise that it helps us remember:
        When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
        My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
        The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
        Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

        We know what gold is, but maybe not “dross,” and we might not see how this relates to our church. “Dross” is the impurity that forms on the surface of gold as it is refined from ore. Though it was mixed with the gold, the fire makes it separate from it.

        I think COVID-19 will prove to be a refiner’s fire for today’s church. It will bring out the very finest of faith in our members, people who are more concerned about loving God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strengths, and their neighbors as much as they love themselves. The fire of this pandemic will separate out our church’s “gold members,” those who are committed to “making disciples” wherever they go.

        This separating of the gold in our churches will be a good thing, but, yes, there is likely to be a downside. We may well lose some members who are part of the church for some other reason than to be His good and faithful servants. Some of these could be
        • People who are part of the church because someone expects them to be, either family or friends or voters or “polite society,”
        • People who think that by going to church with nice people and doing nice things somehow earns them a ticket to God’s heaven,
        • People who want to appear holy and devout, but who secretly live a life that is anything but holy or devout,
        • People who are not really convinced there even is a God, but think, “Why take a chance?”
        • People who are spiritual infants who, rather than feeding His sheep, demand to be fed themselves, to have their needs met or their preferences catered to, or they’re leaving.
        • People who Jesus was talking about in Matthew 7:21-23. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven.

        Warning! It is too easy a temptation to begin trying to identify just who in our church must be “dross” or “gold.” We’re not qualified to do that. We see what’s on the outside of a person. Only God see’s the heart. And that He does!

        But here’s the Good News: Jesus came into our world to turn dross into gold! Every last one of us was worthless dross at one time, except to God. He loved us so much that Jesus left all the glories of heaven to come to earth, not as a King but as a lowly servant baby laid in a feed trough. Whoever puts their faith in Him, and obeys His teachings, no matter how “drossful,” will be transformed into His gold – the kind that the flames of life cannot destroy.

        So rather than wonder about others, perhaps this COVID-19 situation can be the perfect time for us in the church – every last one of us – to humble ourselves before God, to repent of all our “drossfulness,” to ask for forgiveness, and renew our commitment to do and be the gold, the salt and light Jesus wants us to be.

        Remember what He told us in Matthew 5, after giving us “The Beatitudes?” He said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men. “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

        I think the church will one day look back on 2020’s COVID-19, awful as it is, and see it as a refining fire, a turning point. If this pandemic causes us to come near to God as James 4:8 says, He will come near to us. If we wash our spiritual hands, our “drossful” hearts will be purified. We will lose our double-mindedness, and we will be the church God wants us to be.

        Lord, may it be so! Amen.

  • Kimberly Thomas says on

    I think this pandemic has given the world and the church a new awareness of how fragile
    life is and how quickly things can change. This crisis has pushed me to think “outside the box” and given me a different type of sensitivity to the needs of our congregants and community. I hope that this crisis will raise the need for the community to see the church as a refuge of spiritual and relational strength and support, but at the same time, the church must be willing to open its door to those who are seeking refuge and not do ‘church’ as usual.

  • You also are seeing the church being the people looking out for each other, being charitable, helping the vulnerable, and hopefully putting the faith into practice. Sure the Sunday service is online now, but I am also seeing virtual daily prayer, even morning and evening with some using parts of the monastic Liturgy of the Hours. I expect to see more as Holy Week draws near. Clergy are putting daily meditations on YouTube and their websites and blogs. The Psalms are being prayed. Perhaps this needs to be continued once the threat subsides. The net has made global outreach possible.

  • Albert Torres says on

    Thom thank you for your wise insight and reality check in these times. Influencers and innovators arise during times of adversity not in times of tranquility. You have been chosen for such a time as this!
    Godspeed

  • Charles “Chuck “Deglow says on

    Thom, I think you are right. This crisis threatens the viability of many churches that are already plateaued or declining. When a tornado destroyed the building of a church I was serving as Interim, it was clear to everyone that it was the perfect opportunity to rethink our strategy for gospel mission.
    This could generate the most significant positive impact on our churches, our communities and our nation if we respond rightly.

  • Kent Anderson says on

    I would tend to agree with you more, if this current situation was in place for longer than 2 months. I thin of this situation as it currently is lasted a year, then yes, you are on the mark. But I do not think two months is long enough to ingrain the changes you are speaking of.

    • Thomas Smalls says on

      For a healthy, vibrant, biblical church, your assessment may be right. However, for a sick or dying church, this relatively brief hiatus may be more than enough to make members and leaders rethink their ministry involvements and focuses.

    • Angelina says on

      Hello All! Happy Monday!
      This article is so thought provoking! And I agree completely that “church” won’t look the same…or in my heart im extremely excited about the opportunity to change. To grow. To expand our vision. Being comfortable or living in malaise has been the norm. I see this an an awakening, a reset, an opportunity to reach beyond what the definition of church has always been to reach those who wouldn’t ever consider that an option. The cyber aspect of meeting in peoples living rooms and connecting throughout the week via Cyber chat small groups has taken walls down and included folks who never thought they wanted this connection and the traditional meeting place kept them in hiding but this crisis also has feed their empty and very worried souls through the online options of connections and hope. As a pastor, I am asking myself, how will we maintain this momentum? Because going back isn’t an option! I see this as a blessing to “reset” what we’ve know as LIFE to a much greater ability to reach those we never could have without the crisis.
      Be blessed my friends! God is for you! Knowing HE works everything for our good…and God loves people more than anything!!

    • I agree that time will force the issue for a lot. But to Thom’s point, we are already outside of our comfort zone. Even our stick-in-the-muds have been forced to accept something different.

      For the Org I’m a part of, we have wondered if some would ever allow a new method (not message) in to their church setting. If they don’t change now, others will move on to a different church because they discovered change.

    • Randy Glenn says on

      The two months isn’t written on stone so be carefull of what vibration you put out there!

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