“It’s the end of the Church as we know it, and I feel fine.”

Let me clearly state, for the record, from the start, I neither own a crystal ball or am a doomsday prophet.  I don’t know how long this coronavirus crisis will last, or how deep the impact might be.

News outlets and “experts” are warning this could potentially last twelve to eighteen months, impacting the health of millions of people and devastating the world economy, bringing the entire world’s population to our knees, literally and figuratively.  Will it be that bad?  Only God knows.  Only time will tell.

And, what about the Church?  What is the Church’s role in this crisis?  Most Church professionals are trying to figure that out, as best we can, day by day.  Seven days ago, the idea of closing the Church for a virus seemed preposterous.  Seven days later, we’re planning for the possibility of months of closure.   For all of us, this is unexpected, uncharted territory.

And, what will the long-term impact be on the Church?  What and who will we be when the coronavirus is safely contained or cured, after many months of closed doors and potentially diminished/depleted financial resources?

We’ve been through crises before, of course.  We made it through the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis.  We made it through 9-11.  But, as soon as the crisis was over, we basically returned to life as “normal,” as though nothing had ever happened – even in the Church.

Maybe that will happen after the coronavirus.  Maybe we’ll go back to Church, and, after a brief season of recovery, we’ll get back to our normal activities and programming.  Maybe, life – Church life – will return to “normal.”

But, maybe not.

What if this crisis lasts MUCH longer than others in recent memory?

What if the financial impact is beyond the possibility of recovery?

What if fear, loss, and grief – without the face-to-face comfort and support of pastors and the church community –  diminishes our faith in God?

What if our fear of human contagion doesn’t pass as quickly as the virus, and staying home feels like the wiser, safer alternative?

And – this is every pastor’s greatest fear – what if people get comfortable NOT going to Church, and don’t come back?

The old REM song, “It’s the end of the world,” has been playing in my head over the last few days.  I am an 80’s kid!  It was inevitable!  Which leads me to wonder, is this “The end of the Church as we know it?”  After all…

  • All of us are broadening the ways we utilize technology and social media to do ministry.
  • Empty buildings are reminding us that the Church is the people, and not the facilities.
  • Many of us are passing on resources to individuals and families to use at home, deemphasizing, at least temporarily, traditional church programming.
  • If this impacts the economy as deeply as some predict, churches may have to reduce their budgets drastically, and learn how to function with fewer financial resources, smaller staffs, possibly relying more on volunteers.
  • Reduced resources and staff may mean focusing on ministry priorities and essentials, and reducing or eliminating non-essentials.
  • In the aftermath of this crisis, there may be new, unprecedented community needs, and opportunities for mission and service.  Church facilities may need to be used in new, creative, and missional ways.
  • Speaking personally, my own leadership abilities and skills are being tested, tried, and are hopefully improving through this ordeal.
  • Hopefully – we can hope – this crisis will awaken in people a new spiritual hunger and need for God!

I have a strong, growing suspicion, this IS the end of the Church as we know it, and I feel fine!  Well, sometimes I don’t feel completely fine.  But, you get the idea.

I don’t mean to be glib, or to trivialize the painful impact this could have on many Church communities.  I’m not suggesting the changes caused by this crisis won’t be difficult.  They will be!  They’re already hard as hell!

For years, church professionals have talked about how the church must change to meet the needs of the 21st century world.  But change is hard – as I said, hard as hell.  Most of us are inclined to do what we know, and resist change, whenever it feels the least bit uncomfortable.  Most of us don’t embrace change until we absolutely must, and even then it’s hard – damned hard!

Maybe, after this, we won’t have a choice…

  • After months of closure, the Church just won’t be the same.
  • After months of staying away, our people won’t be the same.
  • After months of ministry experimentation and innovation, ministry won’t be the same.
  • With reduced resources, how we function won’t be the same.
  • After growing and/or failing as leaders, Pastors and ministry professionals won’t lead the same.
  • After our faith has been tested and tried, through personal and financial loss, our relationship with God won’t be the same.

And, I’m choosing to believe all of that might actually be GOOD for the Church.  Maybe, just maybe, this crisis will force us to change; to do and become the Church we couldn’t be without it!

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not downplaying the tragic impact this crisis could have on every arena of our lives.  I’m far from being a Pollyanna or an optimist.  As I’ve shared before, I’m a realist.  And, realistically, I just don’t think this virus will leave us with any options other than change.  And, when I say change, I mean we will either adapt and respond to the new situation and opportunity, or we won’t.  And, if we won’t, we’ll cease to exist.  Tragically, some churches may be among the fatalities of this deadly disease.

Though I never would have asked for this, I’m choosing trust and hope in God for the Church’s future.  If I continue to learn and grow, and be stretched – as uncomfortable as that is – I’ll be a better leader.  If we master new ways of connecting, the Church community will be stronger.  If we master new ways of serving, the Church’s missional impact will grow deeper and wider.

Though I firmly reject any suggestion that God created this virus or caused it to spread, I do believe, “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”  (Romans 8:28). I’m choosing to believe God is working right now!

What are you choosing to believe?  Let me know.

2 thoughts on ““It’s the end of the Church as we know it, and I feel fine.”

  1. Dear Brother Vance,
    Thank you for being a voice of reason in a world that has gone mad and/or crazy.
    I like yourself am a realist and that is the way we find our future thru a sound foundation based on principles and knowledge that has stood the test of time.
    As a 67 yo gay man who has survived the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s I myself am treating this new virus with the same atitude and respect as I did that virus. I cannot begin to give you the many, many names of loved ones that I lost to that dreadful virus….but my point is this….it is my own personal belief that if I personally did not do those things back then when I was younger during that epidimic than I would not be living today to be able to share God’s love for ALL people. AIDS as we all know is still an epidemic in many parts of the world still to this day….yes there are new medical advances that have allowed those infected with the virus to have a better quality of life and to be able to live longer….but there is still no cure for it after all these years.
    So in closing my dear brother….like you clearly and simply stated in your writing …it IS the “End of the world” as we know it….so we new to embrace a new world and a new way of thinking just like the Jews had to either embrace the old Laws and rituals dictated by the Torah and the Sadduces and Pharisess or they could have embraced the new Messiah who came to fullfill the laws.
    Life is always full of choices in all of our lives…it is my prayer and my hope that each of us individually and collectively embrace whatever new reality appears for our tomorrows with courage ,love and compassion.
    I remain your humble servant as well as your Brother-in-Christ now and always,
    Steve Bennett

    Liked by 1 person

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