As the global pandemic first started, I wrote an article declaring that this could be our finest hour. It was a declaration of what I hoped would happen in the church I serve, as well as other churches in need of revitalization. As I wrote, “crises have a way of bringing out the best in people.” Surely, our innovation, creativity and resourcefulness would reveal some pandemic practices to perpetuate post pandemic.
SARS-CoVi-2 made us think outside of the box. But at Huffman Baptist Church, we never took our eyes off of the vision to become a family of churches committed to sending transformed people to make Jesus known across the street and around the world. These eleven pandemic practices will help us continue pursuing God’s vision. Maybe they will help your church, too.
1. Intentional Ministry to the Church Family
From the very beginning our ministry team made a commitment to keep up with the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of church members. At first, we relied upon existing ministry networks. Then we reactivated a version of the old deacon family ministry plan. In a recent survey, 94% of our members indicated they felt connected to their church family even though we did not meet together!
2. A Shift from Inward to Outward Focus
This shift is necessary for every church needing revitalization. And it is a hard shift to make. The pandemic forced us to scatter. It kept us from gathering. But it also revealed real ministry needs in our neighborhoods. And many churches responded. Food drives. Food distribution. Partnering with schools to hand out lunches.
3. Longing to Gather for Worship
Prior to March 15, the majority of Protestant church members in America did not prioritize gathering for weekly worship. Most churches reported that fewer than 50% of their resident members attended on a regular basis. They saw worship attendance as something to do when there was nothing else to do. Now, there is a longing to return. I am interested in how this will translate into worship attendance once we fully return to “normal.”
4. Freedom from Our Buildings
For years church was a destination. We went to church. We went to Wednesday Night Supper. Prayer meeting. Sunday School. Youth group. Kids ministry. We went to worship. Church was a destination tied to a building. And then our buildings were taken away from us. And we learned to be the church. Like the early church in the book of Acts, we were scattered. I hope that in the future we will see our buildings as ministry tools. Nothing more. Nothing less.
5. The Value of Partnerships
There are two churches who meet at 700 Huffman Road in Birmingham, AL. One is Huffman Baptist. The other is Kingdom Family Christian Fellowship. We say that we are two churches in one location. Together for the gospel. Together for our neighborhood. Over the past three months our leadership teams have met weekly to plan. We have shared resources. Done ministry together. This is definitely one pandemic practice to perpetuate as we begin the journey towards normalcy.
6. A Greater Online Presence
Prior to March we initiated an online strategy. We used social media to drive people to our website. And our website to open the door to Huffman Baptist Church. And then… Today, our social media and website presence is our primary ministry footprint. Over the past ten weeks, we have seen a 157% increase of website traffic compared to the previous ten weeks. 94.5% of our members have engaged in Sunday morning worship online. And 68% have participated in online prayer meeting on Wednesdays through Zoom and Facebook Live. This is remarkable considering that 62% of our members are over the age of 70 and 13% are over the age of 80!
7. A Spirit of Cooperation
Over time, churches can become divided. Some grow apart because of theology. Some over personalities. Or decisions that have been made. Some dividing points are significant. Others are trivial. In some churches the divisions have grown deeper the past ten weeks. But I am hearing more that have come together during this period with a spirit of cooperation. That has been the case for us. And I pray that it continues!
8. A Concern for Others
Jesus told us to love our neighbors in the same way that we love ourselves. One of the major criticisms leveled at churches by outsiders is that we exist for ourselves. They see the church as a glorified social club. They see our gatherings as holy huddles. The past ten weeks have given us a chance to turn that around. To see our address as a ministry point. To make decisions for the good of our neighbors, not just ourselves, especially the most vulnerable among us.
9. Financial Faithfulness
Although we have not gathered as the body of Christ for ten weeks, we continue to make Jesus known across the street and around the world. And our members have been amazingly faithful with their financial support. Some have even increased their giving during this period to help offset decreased giving from others whose income has been affected.
10. Value Ministry Over Meetings
Meetings are necessary. Decisions must be made. Information needs to be shared. Communication is important. But honestly, sometimes it feels like we meet just because a meeting was scheduled. For the past two months our Finance Team has met via Zoom to review the financial statements. Our Leadership Council and staff have done the same. This frees up more time for ministry.
11. Shuttering Programs that are Non-Mission-Critical
Over the past ten-plus weeks we paired our ministries down to four things. Online Sunday morning worship. Online corporate prayer meeting. Congregational care. And community engagement/evangelism. As we move into the post-pandemic world, many of the programs that defined “church” will not reemerge. Only those that are mission-critical will gain priority status.
Some of these practices were already in place prior to the pandemic. But they have each been magnified since March 13th. I heard Mac Brunson, pastor of the Valleydale Baptist Church here in Birmingham, say recently that because of the coronavirus, “We are not living in an era of change; we are living in a change of era.” He may be right. Nothing may ever be the same. Some things don’t need to be the same. But I hope that we perpetuate these eleven pandemic practices. I believe they are positive steps toward fulfilling God’s vision for his church!
Rob Paul is a church revitalization strategist with over three decades of experience serving established Southern Baptist churches in pastoral ministry. He has helped churches in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia to experience revival and revitalization by God’s grace and for His glory. He is currently serving as the senior pastor of Huffman Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. To find out more about Rob Paul Ministries and the work of church revitalization, visit http://robpaul.net