It’s been quite a year. And we’re not out of the woods yet.
During the lockdown, churches have had to learn to do without a lot of things that we thought were essential, but it turns out they weren’t.
I wrote about some of these from a big-picture, pastoral perspective in 12 Bad Habits Pastors Dropped During The Pandemic That We Shouldn’t Pick Back Up, but what about some of the practices that the church as a whole had to stop doing for a while?
So far, I’ve noticed 10 things most churches needed to drop that we may not need to restart. Followed by 6 that we absolutely must get back to.
We No Longer Need:
1. Printed Bulletins
A couple generations ago, when copiers became common and relatively inexpensive, printing a new church bulletin every week became cutting edge. Then it became normal.
We’ve been moving slowly away from print as more things go online, but the pandemic accelerated that. Most churches haven’t had a printed bulletin in over a year. And most will never need one again.
2. In-Person-Only Services
In-person services are an absolutely essential element to church life (see more about that, below). But they’re not the only way for us to offer our church experience to people.
Before the lockdown many churches, including the one I serve, didn’t offer an online church option. We’d talked about it, but felt little urgency to get it going. That changed fast.
Now that we’ve learned how to offer an online option, we need to keep it going. Not as a substitute for in-person church, but as an alternative for those who can’t be there, and as an advance look for people who are considering in-person attendance.
3. Outdated Programs
Most churches are over-programmed. And most small churches are extremely so.
A lot of that over-programming comes from carrying the weight of ministries that used to serve a very helpful purpose, but have not done so for many years.
If you stopped doing an already-tired ministry during the lockdown, don’t start it again. This may be the best chance you’ll ever have to clear out the clutter, quit outdated programs and refresh the essentials.
4. Pastor’s Office Hours
I stopped having regular office hours years ago (check out why in 6 Reasons Many Pastors Don’t Need An Office Any More.)
With the advent of laptops and cell phones, most of our previous need for office hours in the church building don’t exist any more.
If you need to keep office hours in the church building, by all means, do so. But if you’ve learned to do ministry without putting hours behind a desk, why go back?
5. A Crowded Meeting Calendar
Pastoral life is busy. There’s no way around that.
But most of us had to cancel a lot of time-wasting meetings during the lockdowns only to discover that they weren’t as essential as we thought they were.
It turns out there really are very few essential meetings. Don’t be in a rush to crowd the calendar with non-essentials.
6. Stand-and-Greet Time
For many people the stand-and-greet time is, by far, the least-liked aspect of the typical church service. Most churches have kept doing it because we’ve always done it. But most newcomers find it very awkward.
Churches that are able to meet in-person again have stopped doing it for obvious reasons and (almost) no one has missed it. Most churches will be better off not bringing it back.
7. An Obsession With Attendance
Counting those in attendance is helpful.
Obsessing over how many people show up is unhealthy.
Many churches that were not able to have any in-person attendance this past year were able to discover new ways to worship, minister and disciple people.
Yes, we need to gather. But one of the big lessons of this past year is that the health of a church is not determined by how many people show up.
Don’t start obsessing over attendance numbers again.
8. Big Mortgages
Sadly, a lot of churches with big mortgages didn’t survive the past year. Hopefully the rest of us are learning the hard lessons from this.
Outsized mortgages were never a good idea.
Smaller venues have been a growing trend for a while, even for bigger churches who are opting for multiple service time and locations.
The pandemic has highlighted the reality that massive church venues and the outsized mortgages that usually go with them carry more burdens and risks than benefits.
9. Passing The Offering Plate
This is another trend that has come of age.
Before the pandemic, I could not imagine our church surviving financially without the physical reminder of passing the plate. Thankfully, I was wrong.
A healthy, generous church will continue to give even without the physical plate being passed.
We’ve learned how to give online and through a drop-box in the lobby. We still take a moment in each service to celebrate our blessings, remind people to give, and thank them for their generosity. But I doubt we’ll ever pass a plate again.
10. Making Sunday Morning The Entire Focus
Here’s a fascinating paradox I saw during the lockdown.
Congregations that had an empty building from Monday through Saturday did poorly when the Sunday in-person option was no longer available. But churches with busy buildings during the week tended to stay strong and healthy after their buildings were closed.
It turns out that while a busy building can be a great sign of a healthy church, it’s never the cause of it.
A strong weekend service is important, of course. But churches that made the Sunday service their entire focus had some hard lessons to learn. Hopefully we’ve learned them and will never go back thinking that a big Sunday morning service is the all-or-nothing of our churches ever again.
6 Things We Must Get Back To
1. In-person Gathering
Oh, how we’ve missed this!
Nothing will ever replace being together in the same room to worship Jesus. An online church option is helpful (see above), but only as a supplement to the in-person experience, not a replacement.
It’s one of the essentials – remembering Jesus’ shed blood and broken body while we meet as his gathered body.
The theology of some churches doesn’t even allow for communion unless you’re physically in the same room together. My theology does allow for virtual communion, and we did that when we had to, but being in the same room really does matter.
3. Water Baptism
Whether it’s restricted to adults or done for infants; sprinkled, poured or immersed, baptism is an essential.
And it can’t be done virtually.
4. Eating Together
Christians have always eaten together. Always.
Sharing a meal is what the original idea of communion was, and still is in many churches. But even if your church, like mine, sees a shared meal and communion as separate events, neither one is expendable.
The bring-from-home shared meal (potluck, covered dish dinner) may have to be replaced by pre-packaged, individualized meals for the time being, but however we do it we need to start eating together again.
5. Worship Through Song
Singing while watching a screen at home isn’t the same. (And, to be honest, I never did sing along.)
Just like Christians have always baptized believers, shared communion and eaten together, we’ve always worshiped through song. It’s inconceivable for us to be the church without doing this together.
6. Praying Together
Different churches do this in (very) different ways.
Whether your church
- Lights candles
- Raises your hands
- Holds hands
- Lays on hands
- Speaks in tongues
- Waves banners
- Sits in silence
or some other form I’ve left out (with apologies), most of the forms that corporate prayer takes requires us to be together again.
Well, that’s my list for now.
As lengthy as this article is, it’s not exhaustive. In fact, I’m sure I’ll think of something to add as soon as I hit “publish”.
If I missed anything, let me know in the comments.
(Photo by Erika Giraud | Unsplash)