I love the story of the Apollo 13 space flight. There is a scene In the movie where two NASA officials are discussing the fate of the flight and its crew. One of the men says, “This could be the worst disaster NASA has ever experienced.” To which Gene Kranz responds, “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.” Indeed it was.
Crises have a way of bringing out the best in people. I know that sometimes it brings out the worst. But the Apollo 13 crisis brought out the best in the engineers and others at NASA. In light of our current situation, I can’t help but think about the early church. Due largely to persecution (Acts 8), the gathered church became the scattered church. The persecution brought out the best in the early church. And the gospel went forth. It was their finest hour.
Today, we find ourselves in unprecedented territory. We have a crisis. A global pandemic. It seems like every day we get a new set of guidelines from our government officials. In some cases we are getting legally enforceable health orders. That is the case here in Birmingham. The Jefferson County Health Department has issued an order that prohibits the gathering of any group larger than 10.
No church should be gathering for worship or small groups right now. Yes, this is a crisis. But I also believe it can be and will be our finest hour. Here’s why…
We are regaining our identity and purpose.
For too long we have mistaken the identity of the church with the church building. Don’t get me wrong. I love gathering with my church family at 700 Huffman Road in Birmingham, Alabama. I also believe that our church address is significant. God has placed us in that location to be a gospel lighthouse for our community.
Unfortunately, many churches, ours included, have relegated our “gospel lighthouse” duty to a “y’all come” invitation. We have been really good about gathering and inviting others to join us. But we’ve not been all that good about engaging the community around us.
Our physical buildings have become a crutch. And now the ability to use the crutch has been taken away. Instead of going to church, we are learning how to be the church.
We are embracing technology.
Imagine if this crisis had struck thirty years ago. Or even five years ago. The truth is that we are better equipped to handle social distancing than ever before. And those who have been reluctant or have refused to embrace technology now find themselves scrambling to take advantage of the digital world.
In the last few days I have heard church leaders say things like, “We have too many senior adults to take advantage of technology.” But I have church members in their nineties who are active on social media. They text message. They email.
What if we were to use this time to build a stronger digital presence. And to encourage stronger digital participation form our membership. It could have long term benefits for our churches and our members. More importantly, it would bring long term benefits for our communities. Not only during the crisis of this global pandemic. But beyond. Think about what it would mean to stay connected and to advance the gospel through…
At the church I serve, we have been talking about going online with our worship services since I arrived last summer. We just had not done anything about it. It was on the list. It just wasn’t a high priority. Now, it is. Ideally, we would gather as a worship team (of less than 10) and produce a live streaming worship service. But we aren’t there yet. So we pre-recorded a worship service this week and uploaded it to YouTube and scheduled it to go “live” at 10:30 Sunday morning, our normal worship time.
An Active Social Media Presence
This is an absolute must. The more social media platforms the better. For our congregation, Facebook is the platform of choice. Through our page we are able to connect with hundreds of people, church members and neighbors alike. We use it to keep people informed. And we use it to lead people to our website.
An Active Website
It’s important to have a website that is user friendly. But it may be even more important to have one that is easy to maintain. The only thing worse than not having a website is not updating a website. As I mentioned above, we use our social media platform to lead people to our website where they can find…
- Access to this week’s online worship service
- Event information (including cancellations)
- Communication from our leadership team
- Daily Bible Reading Plan
- Who’s Your One? Prayer Guide
- Contact information
- Online giving options (coming soon)
This is another digital solution that we have talked about for a while. But we haven’t done anything with it. Until now. I have seen estimates that churches may lose as much as 75% of their weekly income during this crisis. And while I believe the actual amount will be less, we must act quickly to make online giving options available.
Virtual Community Groups
Just this morning, one of our Sunday School teachers asked for an option to host an online meeting of her class. I was able to get her connected through Zoom. Now, she can host as many as 100 people for a 40-minute gathering on Sunday morning (or whenever she chooses). At no cost!
Be creative in advancing the gospel
These are just a few of the ways we are staying connected through technology. Of course, you can still use a telephone or old-fashioned “snail mail.” You can talk to your neighbors in the front yard (from six-feet apart). You can talk to fellow shoppers at the grocery store. The important thing is to be creative. And be intentional.
At the end of Acts, Paul is under house arrest. Sound familiar? He was confined to his house for two years. I hope it doesn’t last that long for us. Still he proclaimed the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. If we will do the same, this will be our finest hour.
If you need help discovering how you can best advance the gospel during these challenging times, don’t hesitate to reach out. I’ll be happy to help where I can or point you to someone who can. Let’s do this!
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 https://robpaul.net