Surprising Culture Shifts for the Church from COVID-19

by | Apr 16, 2020 | 1 comment

For decades all signs have pointed to the decreasing role of religion in American life. Then came the pandemic, and with it, church culture shifts.

Churches, uniquely suited to provide meaning in uncertain times, quickly moved worship online. In the process, congregations filled a sudden need for community. Amazingly, worship attendance surged. Church-hopping became popular once again. This uptick in worship attendance is just one of the surprising gifts of the pandemic. Elsewhere I write about how to turn this quick shift into a sustainable culture shifts.

Today I will highlight another quick shift and unexpected gift the pandemic has brought and how you can anchor it in your congregation’s DNA. Just as importantly, I’m going to tell you about a unique set of three one-hour classes I’ve created to support YOUR resilience. You can continue to lead your congregations on the front line of change.

To fully appreciate this quick shift and unexpected gift, let’s take a look at one of the church’s pre-pandemic mindsets.

When churches moved online, attendance surged, a surprising gift of the pandemic. Here's how to turn this into sustainable culture shifts. Click To Tweet

Pre-Pandemic Mindset: Wait Until “They” Tell Us What To Do.

For the last several years, United Methodists have been waiting, rather impatiently, for the General Conference to direct their future. Those quadrennial global proceedings would have answered the question: Will the denomination split into smaller denominations to pursue divergent visions? Or will the denomination stay united, at least in a name? Until an urgent question is addressed, many decisions, including critical missional initiatives, have been delayed.

This isn’t just a national dynamic. The wait-until-they-tell-us-what-to-do approach has hampered congregations at the local level for decades. Congregations often slow down decision-making as they await the arrival of a new pastor. For churches that receive a new leader every three-five years, all this waiting creates two problems. First, the church itself slackens as it defers responsibility for sharing the good news. Second, the community is daily ­­­­­impoverished as the ministry is withheld.

The pandemic has changed that. Not only has General Conference been postponed until 2021, meaning there is no one else upon which to impose decision-making responsibility, but churches have been thrust into a “decide now” dynamic.

Mid-Pandemic Mindset: The Decision Is Ours To Make.

The rapid changes wrought by the need for social distancing have created an immediacy in the church. There is no time to wait for “them” to decide. Instead, churches have sprung into action, all hands on deck, with a refreshing immediacy.

Not only have you offered online to worship, online giving, and online Bible studies, but you have creatively reached out to health care workers, children, parents, the lonely, the sick, and the just plain bored. Church members are moving into action, seeing a need, and filling it. All around you, the community has responded beautifully.

At last, the church has taken ownership of its direction, its ministry, its gospel. It is no longer waiting on some other authority to permit it to be agents of change. It’s as though the church has taken up its mat and walked. It’s a delight to behold.

Necessity is the mother of invention. And this newfound new sense of authority has been refreshing. But will it last?

Turn this Quick Shift into Sustainable Culture Shifts

I will be curious to see if this quick shift turns into a culture shift. Not only has General Conference been delayed by a year, but many Annual Conferences will be postponed as well. This is a good testing ground. In the meantime, churches are free to do what they are called to do: love, pray, worship, minister, lead, and connect.

To anchor this quick shift into the DNA of the congregation, take these three steps:

  1. Celebrate the courageous ministry of the local church. Acknowledge the congregation’s rapid response and decisiveness. Over the next three-twelve months, as you emerge into the new future, don’t let these days and months of ownership go unappreciated. Tell and retell your stories of action, compassion, and bravery.
  2. Discern where else you have been “waiting on them to tell us what to do.” Ask God to show you how you can bring to bear the new mindset of “the decision is ours to make.” You’ll be surprised how renewing this can be. Especially on the heels of this season of effectiveness.
  3. Strengthen the mid-pandemic mindset of ownership. Do this by leading the church to be response-able in ways large and small. Exercising responsibility is like working a muscle—the more you use it, the healthier you’ll get, and the more comfortable you’ll be going forward.

Leader, this season is more marathon than a sprint.

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1 Comment

  1. Lynn Reece

    This is a well-written and thoughtful piece. You put into words what I have been thinking and feeling. I’m so proud of how our congregation had “shifted.” It also puts to rest the excuse that older adults are resistant to change. If something is important to them, they will make the effort (which is true of all age groups really).

    Thanks for all you are doing, and the encouragement for those of us who leading in ministry in a new way.

    You are a blessing. Stay well,



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