With 2020 wrapping up in just a couple of days, it’s difficult to avoid looking back at what took place this year. Reflecting on 2020 evokes a range of emotions—grief, anger, perseverance, hope, even joy—and church leaders are taking this opportunity to focus their lens on any fresh goals and changes within their ministries this coming year.
On the most recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, guest Vivian Mabuni sat down with host Carey Nieuwhof to discuss this year’s impact on people’s emotional well-being, women’s growing burdens and Gen Z’s current perception of the Church. She likens 2020 to a marathon without a finish line, but offers hope in Christ and encouragement for fellow leaders as they step into the new year.
Americans’ Emotional Sponges Are Full, but There Is Room for Grace and Hope
Sharing personal insights from her battle with cancer, Mabuni—author, speaker and podcaster—reminds listeners that, with this year having impacted Americans’ emotional health, people are in need of grace.
“What I realized through [my cancer] experience was that, I think people have an emotional sponge that just gets filled until they are unable to take in anymore. I feel like collectively as a people, we are just maxed out,” states Mabuni. “I have this real burden for the Church and for women in ministry—with that level of exhaustion, this is the time we need to give each other grace and to give ourselves grace, because we have never been in a situation like this before.”
Even more than grace, Mabuni later points out, people are also in need of hope. “If I can have a little bit of hope, I can keep hanging on,” she shares, “without being hyper-spiritual, I do believe that Jesus is our hope.”
Mabuni concludes, “[This pandemic has] stripped away so many of the things that we cling to for security. We’re presented with an opportunity to see [Christ] anew, to seek Him anew in our circumstances. The interesting part though—I think especially speaking to leaders and people in vocational Christian work—is that we are the ones who are most in need of that fresh faith. Especially as dispensers of wisdom or whatever people are looking to us to give, nothing can replace our simplicity and period of devotion to Christ.”
The New Year Presents an Opportunity to Reimagine Women’s Ministry
At the beginning of the episode, Savannah Kimberlin, Barna Group’s Director of Published Research, shared recent data with Carey that showed that while both men and women were feeling more anxious because of the pandemic, the stressors heightening their levels of anxiety were not the same. While men are more likely to express anxiety around vocation and economics, women were more likely to be worried about their family and social well-being.
Commenting on the data, Mabuni—a mother who has also devoted 31 years alongside her husband on staff with Cru—shares her own thoughts on where the Church could step up in terms of caring well for women.
“[Regarding women’s ministry], we need to become a lot more inclusive to remember single women, women who are divorced, women who are trying to navigate the complications of the blended family, women with special needs kids,” Mabuni notes. “There’s a growing trend that we assume women’s ministry is [for those] married with kids—nothing beyond that. … We need to reimagine what women’s ministry looks like.”
She continues, “I think we have a great opportunity, almost a reset, with things completely obliterated right now that could reimagine. When I think of solutions, I think that sometimes we need to look to the younger generation with how we can go about doing things differently. … I think, really being able to lean into the younger generation is a key part of it. The younger generation needs the old generation. I think intergenerational is always a win when it comes to women’s ministry.”
The Importance of Having Empathy
To wrap up the episode, Nieuwhof and Mabuni discussed what older generations can learn from Gen Z teens and young adults. Their conversation started at how these digital natives have a lot to offer older generations, but slowly deepened to include how the crisis has impacted those in high school and college as well as Gen Z’s perception of the Church.
“When I think about parenting this next generation,” Mabuni shares, “they’re aware of things that… In some ways they grew up too fast, in my opinion, because they’re exposed to so much, but they’re also so smart. Because they’re interconnected, they actually may be able to solve a lot of the problems of the world. I have great hope in this next generation.”
“But it’s easy for them to throw the baby out with the bath water,” she adds. “I think the biggest challenge for the Church right now—especially for pastors—is to not lose this generation. They’re not seeing the Church as relevant anymore because of the inability to have their lived experiences addressed in a way that’s thoughtful, helpful and biblical. I think that the Church has become increasingly irrelevant in that regard.”
Mabuni concludes with a word of advice to fellow leaders. “Right now, there’s such a divide because of all of these other issues that the Church becomes increasingly tone deaf in some ways. I would say, to church leaders, we would do well to take time to listen, to learn, to be in a posture of learning all the time from other sources, other voices and other backgrounds. That, actually, will help enhance our ministry.”
About the Research
ChurchPulse Data: Barna Group conducted these online surveys among Protestant Senior Pastors from March 20–September 28, 2020. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s Church Panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size.
Data Collection Dates:
Week 1, n=222, March 20-23, 2020
Week 2, n=212, March 24-30, 2020
Week 3, n=195, March 31-April 6, 2020
Week 4, n=246, April 7-13, 2020
Week 5, n=204, April 14-20, 2020
Week 6, n=164, April 21-27, 2020
Week 7, n=167, April 28-May 4, 2020
Week 8, n=165, May 5-11, 2020
Week 9, n=184, May 12-18, 2020
Weeks 10 and 11, n=191, May 19-June 1, 2020
Week 12, n=203, June 26-29, 2020
Week 13, n=256, July 9-14, 2020
Week 14, n=285, July 24-26, 2020
Week 15, n=336, August 13-17, 2020
Week 16, n=315, August 27-31, 2020
Week 17, n=422, September 10-18, 2020
Week 18, n=475, September 24-28, 2020
U.S. adults are U.S. residents 18 and older.
Practicing Christians identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives and have attended church within the past month.
Churched adults / churchgoers have been to church in the last six months.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2020