EVERY CHURCH IS NOW A CHURCH PLANT
By Trevor DeVage
As every aspect of our daily lives is being reconsidered and refashioned by the pandemic, churches are rethinking their futures, too.
Or at least they should be. But I’m afraid some are anticipating the days ahead only with a vision of the years behind. And I’m convinced this just won’t work.
My thinking on this was influenced by the recent mentoring retreat I attended with Cal Jernigan. As I’ve mentioned before, I get together several times a year with Cal and five other preachers to talk about our lives and ministries. This November the talk naturally included discussions of Covid-19’s impact on the work of the local church. Cal encouraged us to think of our ministries in terms of Pre-Covid, Covid, and Post-Covid. And he helped us realize that Post-Covid ministry will look altogether different than the Pre version.
We have no control of what the situation will be one month or six months or one year from now. Admittedly, that’s exhausting. One reason so many are so tired is the exhaustion of uncertainty. Today where I live, for example, we’re waiting to hear what Ohio state Governor Mike DeWine will announce in his promised press conference Thursday. How many of our plans for the next six weeks will need to change because of whatever shutdown/slowdown he may order? We’re tired just thinking about it.
Cal shared a conversation thread that ran through a pastors retreat he had just attended. Several were talking seriously about taking early retirement, because they’re worn out from trying to cope with a world where church leadership is different than anything we’ve known. I’m guessing many readers of this blog are likewise tired. Hopefully we can be energized by the challenge to create something new, because here’s a fact: Local congregations and church leaders who survive will not do so by trying to re-create the structures and programming of 2019. We don’t know what the Post-Covid world will look like, but we can be sure of this: The Pre-Covid World is gone forever.
STARTING A NEW CHURCH
That fact explains the title of this post. Instead of seeing our local congregations as established churches, with programming and staffing and buildings whose purpose and function has been decided, let’s reconsider everything. Let’s view our ministry in 2021 the way we would approach a new church plant in our community. As Cal puts it, “We now have 100 percent of who we have.” Those who have stuck with the church through this difficult time will be the ones to meet the needs and lift up the name of Jesus in the future. We can’t recoup what the church was. We must grow our congregations into what they can become.
I liken it to the effects of a tornado. I knew Joplin, Missouri well before that day in May 2011 when a tornado demolished half of the town. I had visited there often and could easily get from the CIY offices to local church buildings to the campus of Ozark Christian College. When I went back two days after the tornado, I couldn’t find my way around. Landmark neighborhoods were gone. The high school was leveled. Streets were blocked or destroyed.
Return to Joplin today and you’ll find a pleasant place, but it’s different. Families and businesses meet in buildings that are all new. Roads have been moved. The town did rebuild, but it did not re-create. Joplin became what it needed to be, whether that was or was not the same as what it had been.
Cal said, “We need to stop being upset about ground lost and understand we have the opportunity to dream new dreams and take new land.” Instead of seeing this time as defeat, Cal believes it reflects new opportunities to serve the present reality.
PURSUING POST-COVID POSSIBILITIES
So, the leaders where I serve are grappling with questions like these: “What’s really important? Who do we want to reach? What must we do to reach them?” We’re not talking about “We’re coming back.” We’re asking, “What’s next?” Every church—at least every church that will survive through the coming decade—is now a church plant. What was has died. We need to mourn it and move on. The possibilities ahead are many for those who will lift their eyes to see them.