Change: Simple church may no longer be effective in a changing environment.
Shift: Churches need to shift from simple-models to hybrid-models of church.
We’ve all heard the saying you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But new tricks—structures and strategies—must be learned if churches want to be effective in this new era.
Years ago, Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger wrote Simple Church. I devoured that book. It became my mantra and my model that I sought to implement in the churches I served. For the most part, I have seen many churches adopt some simple form of ministry and mission. For instance, very few churches have the traditional (more complex) structures of church—Sunday morning bible study and worship, Sunday evening discipleship training union and worship, Tuesday visitation, Wednesday night agape meal and prayer meeting.
Beyond the scope of their book, there are other “simple” models that the church enacts that I believe will need to be reimagined. First, most churches have a simple model when it comes to corporate worship—even if they do multiple weekend gatherings. Second, most churches have a simple model when it comes to funding ministry and mission—solely through tithes and offerings. Third, most churches have a simple model when it comes to reaching new people—“invite them to church.”
Given COVID-19 and the future being expedited, the shift churches should make is to navigate away from simple models of ministry and mission and more to hybrid models of ministry and mission.
What does that look like?
First, churches may want to consider going to multiple kinds of teaching environments.
We know COVID-19 basically scattered the church during lockdowns, during which scores of people engaged in or tuned in to online platforms. We also know that as churches slowly reopen, there will be many who will not return until there is a COVID-19 vaccine or effective treatment—and according to others (like Thom Rainer) many will not return at all. Therefore, many of our church members and attenders will be engaging online. If that’s true, we may want to rethink our online engagement strategy.
Many of the experts espouse “less is more” when it comes to creating engaging online content. In fact, MIT conducted a large-scale study where they found shorter videos are more engaging.
However, in my opinion, I don’t think a condensed (shorter) corporate worship model should be implemented with people gathered in a room. That is why I think the church should have a hybrid model. Some churches are even experimenting right now on pre-recording the weekend service (and message) during the week and playing it on the weekends, while at the same time conducting live in-person gatherings. In any case, I think churches might want to have a hybrid model of the way they deliver content.
In the previous generation there were multiple kinds of teaching/preaching/gathering environments, such as Sunday morning and evening worship as well as Wednesday night prayer meetings or bible studies. Churches today should consider resurrecting old school practices contextualized within new season realities.
Second, churches may want to think about how they generate funding for ministry and mission.
How are most churches funded? Through tithes and offerings. And for many churches today, they are hurting financially. Overall, over the past few years giving to nonprofits is trending downward.
For churches to maximize their ministry and mission in this new era they will have to create a hybrid model of funding. As Mark DeYmaz argues in his most recent book, The Coming Revolution in Church Economics, tithes and offerings simply are no longer enough to sustain long-term ministry.
Churches may want to explore how they can leverage their property to generate a new stream of funding. What business, organization, or service can they create for the community that can provide jobs and generate additional funding?
Churches may be hesitant to move this direction. I completely understand. However, many churches throughout church history have engaged in this hybrid model of funding. For instance, the Moravians funded their mission enterprise through the Basel Mission Trading Company (see, Profit for the Lord by William Danker).
For years, churches have had preschools, daycares, and private education. Over the last decade or so, some churches have created coffee shops, restaurants, community centers, counseling centers, and the like. Creating such establishments not only serve the community or provide a platform for mission engagement, but they also provide additional streams of income.
Third, churches may want to rethink and reimagine their strategy for reaching people far from Jesus.
There’s no denying that most churches in the West struggle to reach people outside the church. The question is, what is the church’s strategy for reaching people far from Jesus? For most churches, it seems they rely on the simple invitational model. I understand why. This model has been an extremely effective model.
COVID-19, at least for the foreseeable future, has, in general, disrupted this mission model.
Therefore, churches will need to think through other missional structures and strategies in reaching people far from Jesus. Some of you might be thinking I’ve forgotten the greatest strategy of all time—people. I haven’t forgotten that the greatest potential at reaching people far from Jesus are people who have been transformed by Jesus. We definitely need to continue to equip and encourage our people to reach their family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
However, the church needs to also create additional strategies that may help enhance their witness. What about creating a whole social media strategy to saturate Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other outlets with engaging content that points people to Jesus? What about creating Mars Hill Forums, either online or in-person, where there’s a dialogue taking place around relevant topics and themes? What about creating virtual Alpha groups that are a next step to those who have come across an online service or a social media post that has been shared or retweeted by a church member? What about creating missional communities within the church that sends leaders and small groups out to engage a specific demographic in the community that might not come to a traditional church?
These are just examples. Nevertheless, pastors and church leaders will need to pray and ask God for wisdom and discernment as they pivot missional structures and strategies looking for an open lane to pass the gospel to those in desperate need of Jesus.