I just completed a fun exercise. I looked at the data and anecdotal information of churches that are doing well during the pandemic. While these churches still have an attendance below pre-COVID days, they are beginning to grow, gain a new momentum, and see possibilities other church leaders perhaps have not seen.
So, what are these churches doing? As I examined the data and traits of healthy churches, I saw twelve recurring themes. To be clear, many churches are doing some of these items, but the churches I examined are doing all twelve items. Here they are in no particular order:
1. They are faithfully preaching and teaching the Bible. Okay, this item sounds like a no-brainer. I get that. But these healthy churches are making certain Bible preaching and teaching is a high priority. One pastor from Illinois shared with me: “It seems like we need to hear from God more than ever these days.”
2. They are increasing their evangelistic efforts. I will have more to say about this item in the days ahead. For now, understand two important realities. First, before the pandemic, most (almost all) churches lost their evangelistic focus and priority. Second, these healthy churches decided in God’s power to renew their commitment to evangelism.
3. They are providing hope and encouragement during the pandemic. The leaders of these churches seem to know how to communicate the redeeming work of God in a way that provides encouragement and hope. Their church members repeatedly hear that God has not abandoned them, that He is working for their good amid trying times.
4. They are staying away from political fighting. You won’t find the leaders of these churches on Facebook debating the latest hot button issue. They keep the focus on Christ and His work. Most of the time, their church members follow their lead.
5. They are re-evaluating their staffing structure. Churches are in the early stages of massive staff re-alignments. The healthy churches have leaders who understand a movement is underway. They want to grasp it fully so they can be ready to make the right changes. Stay tuned for my article next week. I will unpack this issue more thoroughly.
6. They are seeking to adopt or foster churches. These churches are actively seeking to help other churches. Sometimes the type of help is providing resources and people for a season. We call that church fostering. On other occasions, these churches will formally adopt a church into their family and make them a campus of their church.
7. They are redoubling their efforts on welcome ministries. The leaders of these churches recognize that many members and guests are returning to in-person church services with some trepidation and uncertainty. They understand that those who greet them as they arrive are more important than ever.
8. They are giving focused attention to their groups and small group structure. A church with healthy groups is more likely to be healthier in evangelism, ministry, assimilation, and stewardship. The importance of groups in the health of the church has only grown during the pandemic.
9. They are raising the bar of expectations. This move seems counterintuitive. If people are becoming less committed to the church, why not accommodate their low commitment? On the contrary, healthy churches see the pandemic as an opportunity to raise the bar of expectations in a low-expectation culture.
10. They are being friends with their communities. While the communities in which they live may not be friendly to Christian values, these churches see a great opportunity to show the love of Christ anyway. We are hearing some great stories about how some churches are winning their communities over.
11. They are creating mini-prayer groups. The leaders of these churches are not overly concerned about creating large prayer gatherings. While it is great if many church members come together for prayer, the leaders celebrate even when a few members gather to pray corporately. They understand that mighty prayer can come from a small number.
12. They are persistent. Frustration and confusion are real to these church leaders just like any other leaders during these trying times. But the leaders of these churches simply don’t give up. They really sense that God will see them through the uncertainty and confusion. They may not understand what is taking place, but they know that God has it under control
I fully expect we will hear some incredible stories of churches around the world in the months ahead. These churches will be living witnesses that God is stronger and greater than any COVID power.
I pray your church will be one of those churches.
Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.