Church leaders are balancing between old and new normals. The pandemic isn’t going away any time soon—just last week (September 10-18, 2020), half of pastors (52%) report that attendance was below pre-Covid levels—and pastors and lay leaders are seeking to adapt long-term. Yet many churches are still seeking to restore the old normal, with 65 percent of leaders reporting that their church facilities are “open for normal use, with some precautions in place.”
This week, ChurchPulse Weekly hosts Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman invited three pastors into a discussion to hear how churches are innovating during the crisis. Dave Ferguson, author and pastor of Chicago’s Community Christian Church, shares his seasoned perspective from years of church planting, while new church planters Roy Helu Jr. and Glenn Lawson share their providential story of planting Citylight Church Bennington—and bring some much-needed hope to the table.
Discussing Options for the Church’s Future
Even while many churches have returned to in-person worship (67% as of September 18, 2020), leaders are crafting hybrid models for their churches; 68 percent of pastors say that they will “definitely” provide digital options for worship even once social distancing is no longer required. And churches are diving into the digital world, with 93 percent of churches using Facebook and 62 percent using YouTube for their ministry.
Ferguson counsels pastors to expect a variety of desires and opinions from congregants as churches move forward. He suggests viewing the range of opinions from a “red, yellow, green” perspective, with “red-light” congregants choosing to sit out entirely, “yellow-light” congregants cautiously venturing out, and “green” congregants living life pretty much as they were already.
In the early days of the pandemic, Kinnaman points out, “3 in 10 practicing Christians said essentially, ‘We’re going to sit this pandemic thing out.’” But, says Ferguson, “We’ve been in it long enough that now, it’s started a behavior pattern.” Staying home and diminishing travel may become further entrenched, and the Church’s new opportunity and challenge is to minister to the whole spectrum of attitudes.
Church Planting Is Going Forward with Enthusiasm
While some pastors and their teams create new approaches to worship and settle into new norms for ministry, others are also creating brand-new churches. ChurchPulse Weekly guests Glenn Lawson and Roy Helu Jr. have encouraging news from their church plant in Bennington, Nebraska: despite the tumult of 2020, God is doing great things.
When Covid-19 hit the United States, in fact, it barely altered the timeline for their Citylight church plant. If anything, the planters felt a new sense of urgency. Says Lawson, “I felt more like a pastor in those first three months than maybe I ever have. I was on calls, maybe six, sometimes seven, calls a day with all sorts of different people. I would have never been able to do that physically.”
Throughout the spring and summer, the pair continued to develop their plant. And Citylight Bennington met for the first time on September 13th, in a Nebraska barn—reaching 190 adults.
The key to this success? Despite the disruptions, members of their sending church were still eager to support the new church plant. In their Citylight church network, “It’s not a collecting mentality. It’s an empowering mentality. And they’re getting everyone ready to advance the kingdom of God,” says Helu Jr., noting that the planters were surrounded by a culture which encouraged exponential church planting. When Lawson and Helu Jr.’s church grows large enough, it won’t turn inward; instead, it will send out new planters.
It’s a strategy which can succeed during a pandemic: small-scale, nimble, and focused on making an impact.
However, Ferguson advises the young church planters that as important as strategy is, the process needs to be rooted in virtue: “What’s the movement going to be like? It’s who you are…be the person along the way that you want everyone in your church to also be.” Pastors of new churches will see their own struggles and successes radiate outward to the church. In a time of mental, physical, and financial strain, it’s never been more important for pastors to be honest about their own mental states and modeling healthy responses to pain and stress.
The Next Generation Wants to Be Engaged and Challenged
The good news? Millennials and Gen Z are willing to enter into the challenges of this season. The variety-focused model of ministry right now is well-suited to welcoming the next generation, because Millennials want option; Kinnaman notes, “they were already picking and sampling from a global church.”
Younger generations are also seeking a church which truly engages them. Kinnaman says, “As I look at the data among Millennials, Gen Z, they’re really tired of just coming to a church that’s all about trying to get them to fill the seats… They want to be a part of a bigger mission. … They’re more willing to be challenged than most church leaders are willing to challenge them.”
The younger generations see that the world needs to change, and they want to be part of changing it.
That hunger for mission is what energizes Lawson and Helu Jr., who encourage listeners to be attuned to the good things God is doing in the Church despite the disruptions of 2020.
About the Research
COVID-19 Data: Barna Group conducted these online surveys among Protestant Senior Pastors from March 20–August 31, 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
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