What will the Church look like after COVID-19? There is so much uncertainty about every aspect of life right now. I don’t think anyone could have predicted the world would look like it does a few weeks ago.
We’ve seen disasters in the recent past. Y2K, 911, the Swine flu and the economic crash of the late 2000’s all come to mind. This is on top of other local disasters. Wildfires, floods, tsunamis and earthquakes are a regular part of our life here on earth. If these disasters don’t directly affect us, they tend to fade into the background. They become more noise in our busy lives.
One thing that has traditionally followed from these disasters are an uptick in Church attendance. I remember vividly the days following 911. I remember seeing news reports were filled with images of Churches holding candlelight vigils. The pews were packed with people. People were searching for answers. The type of answers that science is incapable of answering. But I think this time it will be different. Here are a few reasons why.
We’ve Failed To Give Good Answers
As I said earlier, people search for answers in the midst of disasters. Why is this happening? Are we being punished for something? Is there meaning to all this suffering? Is this the way the world is supposed to be?
In the past, the Church was one of the places that people began to look for answers. I don’t think the Church has done the best job of answering these questions. It’s not because we don’t have good answers. It’s just that we were lulled into believing we didn’t have to provide good answers.
If someone asked you why God allowed the COVID-19 Virus to spread, would you be able to offer a good response? Have you explored the problem of evil? Hopefully we all have emergency kits at home. Being prepared ahead of time is the key to surviving disasters when they occur. The same is true of our spiritual preparedness. Have you prepared to answer the difficult questions before disaster strikes?
The Culture Has Changed
The thought was that people would always come to Church. We expected this. If you wanted to be a pillar of your community, you had better belong to the right church. And if you could obtain leadership in the Church, so much the better. You had standing and status.
Everyone’s default position was Christian. There was very little in the way of challenges to Christian thought. Such objections were seen as the remote views of academics. Maybe the people in ivory towers held such thoughts, but not the common people. We never had to worry about evangelizing to our neighbors.
As secularization has increased, Church attendance has dropped. The younger the age group, the larger the percentage of those that do not identify with a specific religion. It’s no longer expected that people will go to Church. In fact, Church is now counterculture. You’re odd if you do go to Church.
People Have Found A Different Savior
There is a growing belief that the answer to all our problems is the government. I’ve noticed a trend with this crisis in particular. And it mirrors the debate over climate change as well. There is a growing belief that the only solution to our problems is government. Certainly not everyone believes this. But it is gaining in popularity.
The younger generations are deeply concerned with injustice. This is a great thing! Where I think they miss a step is in thinking that government is always the answer to every problem. There are things that government does very well. And there are things that they don’t handle so well. This is not a swipe at the government. No institution can be all things to all people.
The Church Can’t Physically Gather
I have long lamented that the Church has not handled technology well. I think we are seeing this play out now. Many smaller Churches that have never considered holding an online service are now in the awkward position of learning on the fly how to do so. Again, the middle of a disaster is not the time to learn how to do this.
David and I recently explored the idea of Virtual Reality Church. We thought of several ways the Church could use this technology. But neither of us thought of using it when the entire world was quarantined and unable to physically gather. How was that not on our radar?
Many people will miss the interactions with other people. But there will be a percentage that finds they enjoy staying home and watching worship online. People that may have never considered doing so in the past may now make this their preferred worship method.
Keep Calm, And Church On
After reading this, some of you may think I am on the brink of committing hara-kiri. Trust me, I am in good spirits! I have long said that I think we are going to see a sharp reduction in Church attendance as it becomes less and less popular socially to be a Christian. And I think this is a healthy thing.
There are many in the Church that are simply cultural Christians. They’re along for the ride, but only because at some point it was expected of them. They attended Church because it was the culturally appropriate thing to do. Not necessarily because they believed Christianity was true. And as it becomes less popular to be a Christian, the hangers on will fall away. Our numbers will be reduced, but the body will be stronger.
Those that remain will not fear being outcasts. We will not crumble when society wants us to bend to its will. We will not break when persecuted. The truth will be spoken boldly by us. And when the promises of a broken world fail to deliver, we will be there waiting with love and compassion.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
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 The New King James Version. (1982). (Ro 8:35–39). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
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