Long-Term Impacts of Coronavirus on the Church

Bryan Haley

What are the long-term impacts of the Coronavirus on the Church? We talk about what we see happening, and what that means for the global Church.

Show Notes

Transcript

Bryan:

Hey, church communicator. Welcome to the Church Juice podcast. I'm Bryan Haley, the producer of Church Juice and I'm joined again with my co-host Jeanette Yates.

Jeanette:

Hello.

Bryan:

We are here energizing church communications.

Jeanette:

Yes we are.

Bryan:

So we are again recording from our houses, so the quality may not be what we'd hope for, but you live with it. We're all kind of in that mess with you. So today we're talking about what we think will be the longterm impacts, or what we see as more longterm impacts, for the church living through the coronavirus pandemic and this crisis that we're living through right now. In the last couple of episodes, we've talked a little bit about how we're all kind of in this mess together, and based on where you're at, it may look a little bit different about what your government says you're allowed to do or not allowed to do. But for the most part, we are all isolated. We're all trying to stop the spread. We're all trying to flatten the curve. And that means that we're not meeting in person.

Bryan:

And so in this last episode, we talked about how we have seen churches quickly adapt and embrace new tools and new technology and how creative you guys have been as church communicators. And so today we wanted to talk a little bit more about what this looks long term. So I've mentioned probably in both of the last episodes, the first two episodes, that what I've experienced is the first couple weeks, or the first few weeks leading into Easter, were a little bit more crisis mode. I think you called it putting a bandaid on it, because everything was up ended so last minute and so extremely that we had to quickly adapt what we were doing as a ministry.

Bryan:

But now churches, for the most part, are settling into what is this new, temporary reality. And so we are realizing that we need to embrace new ways of doing ministry. We've changed our format to be completely online. And now churches are settling into that. And so it's time for us to think about what does this look longterm? Or how do we connect with our people on a deeper level, even though we can't meet in person regularly,? because even before this happened, what we were seeing as far as trends go in church attendance is that people are attending less regularly. Shifts in consumer behavior, shifts in travel and sports and all of that point to the fact that people are showing up less often.

Bryan:

And so I think now is a great time for us to think about, "Okay, if people are showing up once a month or once every six weeks, that means that we are only in the building with them for an hour every month and a half. So how do we keep connected with them?" And I think that's one of the main areas where this whole thing can help us adapt and embrace technology and think, "Okay, maybe Sunday morning isn't what it used to be, but we can still connect with people. We can still grow disciples. We can still be on mission, even though it's not the way it used to be."

Bryan:

Jeanette, what are some things that you think might come out of this? Or what do you have to add to my first thought there?

Jeanette:

I was going to say, I want to add a little bit to what you're saying, because one of the things that has been something on my radar for a long time, as you mentioned, that church attendance is declining, and this is something that has been just the reality. And so now that many churches have been urged, pushed-

Bryan:

Or forced.

Jeanette:

Forced into online church, they're seeing the value of it to reach people that can't get to church right now. Well, what I have known for a long time is there's a whole demographic of people that want to go to church that cannot. And part of that is because I have a mother who's disabled. And so she's been wanting to be part of her church for 15 years, and there hasn't been away for her to do that. Now there is.

Bryan:

And even if your church did live stream, that was probably it. There was no interaction, there was no engagement. It was just a broadcast of the service that you could watch on TV from somewhere else, too, if you want it to, it really was no connection.

Jeanette:

So there's that. There's this idea of like just being able to participate in church. And then we have the population of elderly people that we say they're not able to attend often if, at all, anymore, especially those that are particularly home bound. But they're also not using technology. Well, this is also an eyeopener to say, when we are able to be around elderly people again, or people that are home bound, for whatever reason, "How can we help them be able to connect even when they can't attend?" And so I think that one of the longterm impacts as you know, and I said this to a friend of mine, and this sounds kind of harsh, but for me, when I saw all these churches, literally within three days, figure out how to do an online service. I was like, "Oh, so when you can't go to church, we figure it out. But my mom's been sitting..." And of course I know we're all tired and cranky and all these things.

Bryan:

Yeah, right.

Jeanette:

I know it's not as easy as that, but I'm glad that eyes were opened. And I actually got some private messages on Facebook, that were like, "You told us this. You said that there was a purpose for this and this had value. And until we had to experience it and we see the value for ourselves, we couldn't wrap our head around it." And so I just, again, am so excited that churches did figure this out in a very short amount of time and are getting to experiencing it. And then they can say, as they're thinking about transitioning back into those in person experiences, "Hey, but we still have people that are at home, how are we going to continue to serve them?"

Jeanette:

And so I think that's going to be a longterm lasting impact is they're going to realize that not everybody's going to come back, for various reasons, whether it's because they had already stopped engaging because they were doing their sports and they had weird work schedules or whatever, or they're not coming back because they weren't there before because they're home bound, how can we continue to provide, not just a watching worship, being a part of worship? Not only reading the notes or reading the book that you're discussing in your Bible study, but engaging in that Bible study with conversation using technology? So I think that's going to be a lasting impact for sure.

Bryan:

I've seen this embrace for new technology as a good thing, but there is still, and maybe we should have talked about this in the last episode, but I didn't think about it, there is still that group of people that don't have internet or a computer or whatever other technology tools. And so one of the other creative ways that I've seen churches adapt is figuring out how do we connect to those people now, when even a month ago they still didn't have internet access, but it was just not on our radar. And so, because we're all forced to figure out how to connect to each other in this new reality that we live in, those questions are being addressed and that's been encouraging and also startling at the same time to see like, "Okay, we were really missing the ball here, but maybe we're onto something now."

Bryan:

And so, like you were saying, just that embrace of technology and that embrace of new ways of connecting people, hopefully, is more of a longterm thing. So Zoom calls can still happen even when we can meet in person. I've had more family dinners with family on the other side of the state and out of state in the last month than I've had in five years, probably, because we're all bored and have nothing to do. But also we realize now that there are other ways of connecting than just being in person. And so I think that, like you're saying, for the home bound, for the elderly, for a lot of these groups that have been probably underserved historically, hopefully that is a longterm change where we can serve our widows, our orphans, our elderly people well moving forward. And I hope that that continues to.

Jeanette:

Yes, I'm hopeful as well. And I also want to say to your point, there are people that don't have internet right now, or a cell phone or a smartphone and you know, what paper and pen is technology. The technology that works is the right technology.

Bryan:

Right. And we've also seen a lot of people writing cards or creating crafts and sending it to the elderly in the church. Or there are other ways to connect with people too, it doesn't have to be online, but I think those are just realities that we knew were there, but never really needed to address until recently.

Jeanette:

Well, and I think our job, as people in our field that speak to churches and encourage them, is to remind them of what they accomplish during this time and how important it was and just to continue to fan that flame, to energize that feeling. For a lot of churches right now, they're really feeling and experiencing this type of building revival, building momentum, and we want to keep that going into the new normal.

Bryan:

Right. And part of that, I would say, and we alluded to this in the last episode, but part of that is things don't have to go through committees to get done anymore. And so that resistance to change or, you said, resistance to innovate is kind of going away. And so I think that's another thing that I hope sticks around. But yeah, what do you have to add to that?

Jeanette:

Well, I was thinking too, one of the things that takes so long with getting things through the process, because you know me, I work for a company that basically that's our thing is we have a process. So I'm all about a process and a plan and things like that. But you know what, one of the things that makes so many hoops and it takes so long is because the meeting's got to be on a Sunday or a Wednesday because we got to... Well now guess what? People are like, "Wait, what? I can have a meeting on the computer?" I bet even if you still feel like you have to jump through all the hoops, there's going to be a narrowing of the time it takes to do all that because you can have more Zoom calls or more conference calls and jump in there and get things taken care of when you need to. Or you realize, "We don't need these many hoops." And you remove some of them. So that's one thing.

Jeanette:

But I really think historically churches have been... Well, and I say that, but you know what? The original church wasn't resistant to change. They were an agent of change. And I'm taking that from a speech I heard from Michael Hyatt, where he talks about the followers of Christ should be agents of change. That's what He was in his world. And so that's what we can be as well. And he talks about having an experimental mindset and how it's great to go ahead and say, "Yes, we're experimenting with this." A lot of the churches have said that, "We don't know what we're doing live stream, but we're going to do it because it's important. So bear with us while the sound's bad and the phone dies in the middle of the service." Whatever. It all has happened. And we're okay with it because the time has necessitated that. And what I think that the longterm impact is going to be, as you've gone through this really uncomfortable experimental mindset time, and you've realized, "Jesus is still on the throne."

Bryan:

God is still in control.

Jeanette:

He's still coming back. And you've learned something, which is one of the benefits of an experimental mindset is you figure out if it's something works or if it doesn't, and then you can move on. If it doesn't work, just move on to something else. Or this does work or this could work better if we did this. And so I think moving forward, the lasting impact is going to be is we've tried something that was completely out of our wheelhouse and we realized that it could make a difference and it could help us with our mission to build the family of God. And so we're going to continue that experimental mindset moving forward in various ways. So I'm hoping that's a lasting impact.

Bryan:

Right. And on the flip side of that, we've also been very slow, not just slow to change or the opposite of what the early church was as agents of change, but also we've continued things because we've always done them. I would say that another impact that we'll see here is that churches will hopefully take a step back and ask questions like, "Okay, is this still valuable? Is this area of ministry something that we want to continue? Is it necessary? Or is this new thing something that we have found super valuable, and so we want to continue doing? Or how do we change those? And what is really important, what is not important to the mission of our church, our congregation?" And so embracing that and innovating in that way, even just to say, "Okay, we don't need to keep doing the Thursday night dinner because we've done it for 20 years. We do it because it actually means something to our ministry. Or maybe we don't need to do it at all."

Bryan:

Those are questions that I think the church is in a better place to ask right now, or in the next several weeks or months, that hopefully will put it on a better plane moving forward. Where if we asked those questions even two months ago, I think the answers may have been very different because people weren't forced into this reality of having to change. We were just resistant to change and I see that going away. I hope that stays around for a while and makes our church healthier too.

Jeanette:

Yeah. And I think too, another shift that's going to happen, or has already happened and is going to continue, is I have heard from many people who have been resistant to churches on social media or a pastor being active on social media as like, "We don't want people to be on social media because it causes divisiveness and there's a lot of negative stuff on social media." Well, one of the things I've said as well, "If all the Christians leave social media, then you're right. It's just a cess pool of not cool stuff or at the very least not important things."

Jeanette:

But what I hope people are seeing is that just like with everything else, something good can happen when goodness is brought into a place. And that happens in real life. If the bad apple is put in the apple barrel, then all the apples get bad. But in this case, the more good, the more peace loving, the more patience, the more self control, the more goodness, kindness, all the... You know, I'm naming the fruits of the spirit, people. The more of that that's on social media, the more the light shines. And I think, developing resources to teach Christians how to be a disciple of Christ on social media, without posting the meme they think is Jesus but it's really Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Bryan:

Right.

Jeanette:

And so equipping, just like there's a gajillion Bible studies out there for the ministry of motherhood and all of these things, and we can also have equipping tools for churches to use with their congregations, with their members to be digital disciples.

Bryan:

Right.

Jeanette:

And so I think that's something that's going to happen too, is people are going to be like, "Oh, we need to be equipping people to use this appropriately and understand some of that minutia of..."

Jeanette:

I got to tell a story. Can I tell a story? So my stepdad posted something the other day and he was like, "This is my strategy on my Facebook page. I'm going to go put a frowny face on everything I hate and thereby making it known that I'm disapproving." But what he doesn't understand is now what he's told Facebook is, "Oh, he wants to see more of these because he's reacting to every single one." So equipping our people to say, "Hey, do you want a feed that is positive, that encourages you in your faith, that encouraged you in your job that inspires you? Then you need to do these things."

Bryan:

Right. You need to engage with them.

Jeanette:

Yeah. And so I think that is going to be the kind of thing that comes out is let's teach some practical tips, some strategies for people to use in their in-person relationships and their online relationships of how to connect, grow, and serve.

Bryan:

Yeah. And I would expect that online ministry as a whole changes because we've been forced to embrace it so quickly. Even churches that were slow, or had no social media presence suddenly do. And so we've been forced to embrace social media and new technology. But online ministry, I expect, will change overall too. Which I think is healthy. And like we were saying before, just meeting the needs of the disabled and elderly, those are important, but it's a mission field. Online ministry is not a sidebar, it's not an extra thing, it is actual ministry. And so we need to put resources into that.

Bryan:

We need to have that part of the mission of the church. We need to have those tools and figure out what does online ministry look like? And maybe that is providing resources on, "This is how you should use Facebook as a Christian." Or those different things, I hope, will be part of the church's ministry moving forward, is just embracing online as a ministry, as a mission field. I don't know what that looks like either, because until now I haven't actually seen a church do it extremely well. I've seen churches attempt, but yeah.

Jeanette:

Well I think it's just opened, again, I think I said this in the last episode, or maybe it was earlier in this one, I don't know, maybe it was six weeks ago. Barriers are coming down in ministry in spite of all of this-

Bryan:

And the mission of Jesus is moving forward still.

Jeanette:

Yes.

Bryan:

In spite of this.

Jeanette:

One of my favorite quotes from the Narnia series, "Aslan is on the move." Jesus is on the move. And we have that hope. And you've said it many times, we tease like, "We're going to be predicting." But we're not. We're not predicting. We're hoping.

Bryan:

Exactly.

Jeanette:

And we're in the business of hope as Christians. And so I think it's perfectly fine to say, "No, we do not know anything, but we hope that this stuff will happen. These shifts will happen. And we expect that God will work through all of this. And we believe that Jesus is on the move. He's always on the move."

Bryan:

Absolutely.

Jeanette:

And so I think that that is exciting and hopeful. I just got excited saying that I'm like, "Ooh I was getting excited." And so I think that that is something that we can always hold on to is we don't have to even see it.

Bryan:

Right.

Jeanette:

We just have to move forward with the next right thing.

Bryan:

Yeah. And we've seen throughout history that when the church is in the margins, that's when it explodes. That's when it does its best work. And so being forced into the margins where we're all isolated, where we can't do things the way that we're used to doing them or that we've always done them, forces us to be creative and forces us to innovate and to be agents of change, like the Acts 2 church. And those are all things that maybe God is just forcing us into because something good is on the cusp of happening. And that's something that I think we can only hope for and pray for and believe that God is at work in the mess because He is.

Bryan:

But how do we, as communicators, as church leaders, as staff both embrace that, but also use this time to move the church forward, to move the mission of our ministry into 2020 and beyond? And what does that look like? And I'm excited to see six months from now or a year from now, what things churches are doing. And I hope that just because things go back to normal, whatever normal ends up looking like, I hope churches don't stop what we're doing now. That's my hope.

Jeanette:

Yes. I agree. I'm excited to see what God is going to do in, and with, all of these churches, and I am excited to be a part of encouraging churches and helping equip them. That's a great thing. And so I'm really looking forward to engaging with churches in the Church Juice Facebook group and stuff like that, just hearing all the stories. Because I think that's really important now too, is gathering all of these positive stories because... And I'm reading through the Bible this year and I'm in the section where the big thing that God keeps telling everybody is, "Remember this, remember all the things that I've done. Remember." Memory is so important because we forget. And so I think it will be tempting when things, "go back to normal", even though we know it's not going to go back necessarily to the way it was, but it will get back to-

Bryan:

Some sort of normal.

Jeanette:

Some sort of normal. We may tend to forget all that we are seeing right now. So I hope that churches are taking stock of what is happening and writing down or typing out or screenshotting when they are seeing positive things happening so that when the time comes and it's like, "Oh, where is the Lord? He's never been with us..." Like the Israelites, we can say, "No, these are the times that God was with us here in this wilderness, in this mess, in this time of isolation, in this desert experience, this is where God was." And then that, I think, in turn will help continue to move the church forward.

Bryan:

Yeah. So right now it is a lot easier to feel isolated because we're all stuck at home. You can't go to the restaurant or the bar down the street. And as church communicators, it would be very easy to feel alone right now because you're not even with your church staff for the most part, you're at home doing your work. But in the conversations that I've had with churches in our Facebook group and our Zoom calls, and just one-on-one conversations, church communicators are finding community in places where they didn't have community before. And that's also exciting for me. I hope that we will continue to see that and just realize that you're not alone in this. So sharing those stories or capturing a moment where you can talk about your win is a good thing and people want to celebrate that with you and it's worth sharing because it may also help spark creativity somewhere else or for someone else. But now's a good time to find community. And so I hope that churches continue to do that too.

Jeanette:

Exactly. Amen brother.

Bryan:

Anything else you want to add?

Jeanette:

No. Like I said, I'm really excited about this season of the podcast and what's going to happen with it. And we do have some pretty cool interviews in the can ready to go. And we'll release when the time is right.

Bryan:

Right. Earlier this year we recorded three or four episodes with some really great church communicators and innovators in the church communication world. So we had those ready to publish last month, but then everyone's world kind of stopped. So the timing hasn't been great, but sometime this spring or summer, when it feels appropriate, we'll release those.

Bryan:

But talking about doing community events doesn't have the same impact right now. So we may continue doing episodes like this until the time is right to change. But yeah, we're excited. I'm excited about interviews that we've already had and also some of the conversations that we've had with other people to come on the podcast. So continue listening, subscribe. But I hope that you find this podcast beneficial, maybe creative, but also just encouraging for you.

Jeanette:

Me too. We're excited. And we hope you're energized, because that's the point, right? We hope you're energized to go do the work that God has called you to do for sure.

Bryan:

And we love being able to talk with church communicators from across the globe. And we believe that every church and every communicator's story is unique and valuable. So this week we'll be continuing this discussion in the Church Juice Insiders Facebook group. You can join that group, as well as get today's show notes, a discussion guide for leading your own talk, as well as information on our weekly Zoom call at ChurchJuice.com/podcast.

Jeanette:

Church Juice's podcast is a production of ReFrame Media, a family of programs designed to help you see your whole life reframed by God's gospel story. Church Juice is produced by Bryan Haley, with post production by audio engineer, Nate Morris in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more information about Church Juice, visit ChurchJuice.com and for more information on ReFrame Media and our family of programs visit ReFrameMedia.com.