The Republic by Plato contains the phrase, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.” Adapting Plato’s claim to the present day, I’m going with this: COVID-19 is the Mother of Ministry Innovation.” OK, if not the mother then at least the opportunity or even catalyst for ministry innovation.
With Sunday worship services on-site suspended, large gatherings of any kind prohibited, and social distancing the order of the day, churches are scrambling to find alternative ways of keeping ministry alive. As such, pastors, leaders and congregations that might never elect to change significantly of their own free will are now forced to find solutions to an overwhelming problem that threatens the church locally, regionally, nationally and globally.
For years, my training in church revitalization has addressed what I call the “two faces of change; 1. what are we changing from and, 2. what are we changing to?” It’s easy to identify what we’re changing from because we know it, we’ve seen it, we’re accustomed to it, so, we know exactly what we’re changing from. It’s comparatively easy to get a group or team of leaders to reach unanimous agreement regarding changing FROM the status quo, especially at a time such as this when the status quo is not an option. Reaching unanimous agreement of what to change TO is far more difficult and far more complex as each person at the table has a different perspective on what the new and improved us should look like. Hold that thought!
For over thirty years church analysts have been sounding the disturbing alarm that over 80% of American Protestant churches is in plateau or decline. Despite all the conferences, books, etc., that have come forth regarding revitalization, and despite the fact that we have it on good authority that Jesus Christ Himself is building His church, that stat continues to hold sway and even move further in the wrong direction. So, in short, the status quo in the American evangelical church was and is ineffective, especially regarding conversion growth.
So, where are you going with this, Ken? It occurs to me that the American evangelical church has been forced by COVID-19 to loosen its tent pegs and make sweeping changes in its approaches to making ministry happen. There is no choice at this point; it must happen. That said, it’s vitally important that we don’t try to “innovate” our way into preserving ministry as we’ve known it because ministry as we’ve known it doesn’t work. Granted, we don’t compromise on the non-negotiables such as our theology and doctrine, but we release our grip on tired but favored methodologies that are not working in our changing ministry contexts. Now is the time to make smart adjustments. Now is the opportunity to embrace Great Commission ministry fully. Now is the time to turn the tide of church decline even as we as a society work to turn the tide of COVID-19.
One day, and by God’s grace one day soon, the COVID-19 crisis will have passed, but the crisis of decline in the American evangelical church will linger unless we seize this most unexpected moment. Let today’s challenge be the mother of healthy, biblical, God-honoring innovation. Perhaps, like Esther, we are here for such a time as this.