Early on experts referred to COVID-19 as the "novel coronavirus disease", a new strain of the coronavirus family we hadn't seen before. While the disease has brought a variety of responses and opinions, we can all agree the newness of the disease has long worn off. I'm ready to see the virus in my rearview mirror for good, but for now, we have to keep navigating this pandemic highway.
We will all be glad when it's gone. I want to think about the "novel" aspect of the virus. Part of the confusion over it— is because it's new. We don't like new diseases we don't understand.
Novelty Is Typically Seen Positively
For most things, we actually like the idea of new, and this gives hope to the church.
For instance, we know people are more likely to attend something they perceive to be new. That's just reality. This is why stores have grand openings, and why New York City stores often have 17 grand openings. "Novel" gets the attention of people.
Some stores will have 50 "going out of business" sales, like every mattress store on earth. But the reason this approach works is that people think to themselves there might be an opportunity to find a sale or discover something new to buy.
Novelty in Scripture
Scripture talks about this. Well, not mattresses, but the idea of novelty.
- Psalm 40:3 talks about a new song.
- Isaiah 40:31 reminds us that waiting on the Lord renews our strength.
- Jeremiah 31:31 promises a new covenant.
- Lamentations 3:23 reminds us God's mercies are new every morning.
- Ezekiel 36:26 prophesies about a new heart.
- II Corinthians 5:17 says in Christ we are a new creation.
- I Peter 1:3 describes our new birth.
- Revelation 21:5 encourages us: "Behold, I am making all things new."
How does this apply to the church in a pandemic? As we relaunch our in-person services, there are people in our community who say, "Hey, this could be an opportunity for me. I don't feel like I know anybody, and I've been lonely." People may not come at first, but the relaunching of in-person services offers churches a chance to demonstrate a new, real love for the community.
Whether you've begun meeting again, physically distanced and safely, or whether you are still waiting, we can all look toward a time when it's safe for all to do so. Just when that will be— nobody yet knows. But it will come, and when it does, seizing on the relative novelty of in-person gatherings could be a missional moment.
It's often scary to go into a place where 500 people know one another and have been around a long time. But if there is something novel about meeting together again, it removes the "insider-only" sense some have about the church.
There are other ways we can present ourselves anew to our community. Many churches have birthed new ministries and reached new people because of the pandemic. Finding ways to welcome people to something new can help. Some ideas:
- Highlight ways you have partnered with agencies, ministries, and churches to meet people’s needs during the pandemic. A shared time of struggle offers a great opportunity to showcase churches working together.
- Start a new cycle of small groups focusing on inviting new people in the community to join. This can be done socially distanced outside, on church property, or via zoom (or a combination of these). This is one reason churches start small groups afresh more than once a year. It affords a new opportunity for new folks to step into something they haven't experienced before. There have been a lot of people tuning into online services who haven't been attending church, and people who have joined Zoom small groups who've not yet been to the physical church location. Let’s take advantage and invite them into community.
- Show them new ways your church has approached ministry, worship, and service to the community. Not all the changes this pandemic has caused over the past few months have been negative; many new things have been created.
Most unchurched people in your community walk or drive by your church with little idea of what you up to. Now you have the opportunity again to communicate, "Hey, here's who we are and what we're about". Because of COVID, you won’t have a big grand opening, but you can plan a phased reopening. Throughout your reopening, you can reintroduce yourself using a carefully executed plan.
Many pastors and church leaders meet for hours on end and for lengthy seasons trying to figure out ways to communicate with and serve their community. The novel coronavirus has forced us to do novel things; let's show and share Jesus through them.