Prior to pandemic, I wrote this Let’s Talk article to remind us that we have to step out of the way we always think things should be in the church and begin to look at what fits and works for our ministry goals today. I was thinking about this article today as I have had several conversations about the anxiety in the system now as we emerge from pandemic and continue to live with endemic(s). There is pull to “get back to normal”. My argument, however, is that this is actually an opportunity for us to do a new thing. I hope the re-printing of this article is helpful to you in this moment.
A few years ago when I was working with a church concerned about their future I suddenly couldn’t help myself and said, “You know, there is nowhere in the Bible that says church happens at 10 AM on a Sunday morning.”
What I meant by that is when we think about what church means we sometimes get stuck in thinking that the worship hour is THE event that defines who we are as a Christian community. The response by the church leader I said this to (after I had pointed out all the amazing ministries this church was doing that I considered to be just as important as Sunday morning worship): “But, the offering plate doesn’t get passed during those events. How do we fund this?”
My response was that just as their ministries were creative they should look for creative ways to fund these projects.
We all talk about what church is going to look like in this new generation. We all agree that it won’t look much like what church looks like today but how far are we willing to go with that thought? What would it mean if we scrapped everything we have ever believed about church in the 20th century? Then, with a totally blank canvas in front of us, what are our dreams of what church might look like today? With nothing in our heads that can be called the “have to”s or the “should be”s what might we create?
If we were to do that, maybe some of those “too sacred to lose” characteristics will make it to the canvas. Then again, maybe we will surprise ourselves by finding out they aren’t as sacred as we thought. The truth is, no one knows what the future of the church looks like. We all have ideas and some of them are based on really good data and experience but we don’t really know. I think one of the reasons we don’t know is that this new vision of church may look different in each particular community where we seek to serve.
And, that’s a good thing!
When I remind churches that in the 1950s people opened the doors of a church and people came in I also point out what we all know—that this isn’t happening so much anymore. But, I continue, we still need to open the doors. Only this time, we are opening the doors so we can go out. And, that is why this new version of church might look different in each and every community. The needs and the make-up of any given community looks different than another. Churches need to be connected with where the pain is in the community around them and be willing to join with others to address that pain in the way that Jesus calls us to do that.
With our faith in hand we go out from our churches into a bold new world to be the church that God calls us to be—whatever that might look like. The canvas is blank and we can create the Christian community God calls us to. It’s scary but it is exciting at the same time!