Ask the average American, including Christians, what “church” is and most will start describing a place people go on Sundays. However, Coronavirus is forcing a shift away from viewing church as a building or weekly event. While the local church’s doors may be closed, Church as defined in Scripture is open for business. We aren’t the “church gathered” on Sunday mornings right now, but that doesn’t change the familial status of each Christian as an integral part of the body of Christ. Yes we’re the “church scattered” today, but that’s a blessing if it’s a catalyst for increasing awareness of our personal responsibility to serve as the embodiment of “church” Monday through Saturday.
The Lord can use even tragedy for our good and His glory. COVID-19 could actually spark revival – an opportunity to embrace a less institutional and more biblical view of “church”. Congregants could be mobilized to be the hands and feet of Christ in their neighborhoods – acting in their intended role as the personification of “church”. Churchgoers could be activated to demonstrate God’s love to a hurting world, bringing help and hope to millions impacted in various ways by the Coronavirus pandemic.
However, church growth consultants and technology vendors are working diligently to ensure churches maintain the status quo. They’re helping churches simply move the brick-and-mortar “store” online, devoting their energies to providing the best virtual experience possible. Churches fear that a prolonged Coronavirus “lockout” will risk losing casual attenders and “consumers” who are suddenly more mobile since they can now attend church anywhere, with no geographical constraints, from the comfort of their own homes. Yet those gyrations simply presume and unfortunately perpetuate the same flawed centralized definition of church or CAWKI (“church as we know it”) – around a place, pastor and event.
What if instead, churches diverted the resources formerly poured into Sunday service planning toward taking advantage of the new reality presented by a viral pandemic? What if churches saw “stay at home” orders and quarantines as a chance to equip members to be “pastors” of their respective neighborhoods? What if churches recognized that the new normal, at least for the time being, vastly expands its collective “footprint” – with most members confined to their houses located across the city?
The Untapped Power of Neighboring
When the virus is contained or a vaccine discovered, the window will close and churches will have missed the chance to unleash a vast army of Prayer-Care-Share disciple-makers across its network of neighborhoods. Much like a divorce or job loss provides an impetus for Christians to reflect on their mistakes and spend time with the Father, pastors and church staff have extra time right now to reflect on, and repent of, overemphasizing “nickels and noses”. This short-term period of uncertainty should lead to a long-term commitment to measuring success in terms of the Great Commission – discipleship depth, rather than “butts, bucks and buildings”.
The COVID-19 crisis should reveal to most pastors that they haven’t prepared members well to be a light in a dark world. If churches had produced more disciples and fewer “cultural Christians”, then the response of most churchgoers to this pandemic would be quite different. Many churches and ministries are doing incredible, courageous work during this crisis, but 100+ million other Christians with the power to help sit on the sidelines more concerned with self-preservation than selfless service.
Decades of encouraging congregants simply to tell members to invite their friends to church has relieved churchgoers of any responsibility to share their faith – or to learn answers to the “hard” questions non-believers typically ask. Now that there’s no live service to attend or facility to visit, the flaws in our event-centric definition of “church” are being exposed. We would have been seeing Christians across America leading millions to Christ through an outpouring of compassion and evangelism to their neighbors. We would have been seeing Christians who lost jobs or became sick acting not as “victims” but as “vessels” – not asking “What did God do to me?” but “How does God want to use me?” We would have been seeing an explosion in church growth similar to that experienced in ancient Rome, where early believers reached out to care for their oppressors suffering from the plague.
However, we exchanged the early church’s multiplicative math, leveraging scores of individual believers to be effective witnesses, for additive invitations to hear the Gospel from a single “professional”. Now is the time to humble ourselves, ask for forgiveness for abdicating the Great Commission, and seek the Lord’s will for us in the midst of such tremendous need.
Loving Neighbors Despite Social Distance
Even when we can’t have contact we can still connect and live out the Great Commandment to love our neighbor. The greatest act of love is leading people to the source of eternal life – Jesus Christ. Jesus modeled how to lead our neighbors to Him – by first demonstrating His love in tangible ways that open ears to hear the Gospel.
Jesus defined “neighbor” in the story of the Good Samaritan, saying it’s not based on geography but on how we treat a person. Yet He isn’t saying neighborhoods don’t matter – particularly when we’re under orders not to travel far from home. The Coronavirus pandemic directs our attention to those who live within earshot of our front door. During good times we tend to close the garage door behind us when we get home. But during these difficult times we should be less socially distant with neighbors – even while maintaining social distance. Neighbors are often most likely to know who needs help, who lost a job, who is lonely and who is elderly. Families are frequently fragmented, and coworkers are typically just acquaintances. Where we live is usually more permanent than where we work.
Churches lack the staff and budget to help all the families impacted adversely by the pandemic, but the “church scattered” possesses immeasurable resources and skills. The only questions are “What are the most pressing needs of families being caused by COVID-19?’ and “How can each of us help our neighbors within the context of ‘stay at home’, ‘safer at home’ and quarantines?” There are many creative ways to find out our neighbor’s needs and to meet them while following social distancing rules:
- Network to get phone numbers and email addresses of neighbors, particularly the elderly
- Distribute that contact information to families on your street to make everyone feel connected
- Reach out proactively via call, text or email to individuals who may be struggling with isolation and loneliness
- Resist fear that’s leading to panic – instead modeling peace and calm in the midst of rising anxiety
- Call and ask how their family is doing and how they feel about the pandemic – this is an ideal time to have spiritual conversations, so watch for doors to open to share your faith
- Prepare answers to tough questions like “Where’s the meaning in all of this?”, “Where is the Lord in this crisis?” and “Where do I even start with having a conversation with God?”
- Via call, email or text, check to see if you can help with anything and ask for prayer requests
- Email or text with Scripture or links to online Bible study tools, devotionals, church, etc.
- Tap into trusted sources of COVID-19 information and share the latest, accurate news
- Point neighbors to web sites or articles that provide helpful advice and encouragement
- Most churchgoers are not in the health care field, but we all have a medical role to play
- Exercise your responsibility to protect those around you – abide by distancing orders
- Shop at neighborhood stores to support small businesses
- Make a bonus online payment to your usual service providers who are now out of work
- Purchase online gift cards for neighbors who are isolated, lost jobs or are ill
- Order a meal or groceries from a local establishment and have it delivered to a neighbor
- Donate extra supplies you’ve purchased to someone on your street
- Pick up over the counter medications on behalf of a senior living nearby
- Run errands for families who are caring for a sick child or parent
Meet The Need is launching a new platform next week that enables pastors to equip churchgoers to serve their neighbors in many of those ways above!
Meet The Need’s “Love Your Neighbor” Solution
Few churches have adopted neighborhood-based strategies for reaching their community. Many send missionaries oversees but woefully underinvest in local neighborhoods. Meet The Need believes pastors should care a great deal about neighboring, but that would require a return to a decentralized philosophy – from “come and see” (a sermon) to “grow and send” (disciples). Didn’t the early church primarily meet in homes? Most church leaders have never seen a map of their “footprint” (neighborhoods represented by residences of their membership) because they’ve never asked (technology vendors) for it. Why bother if neighborhood outreach would entail equipping churchgoers for a task most would find far too uncomfortable and inconvenient?
The Coronavirus pandemic is the most opportune moment in recent history for reminding Christ-followers of the calling they’ve neglected – the reason why God put them on that street in the first place – to be “pastors” of that neighborhood, the hands and feet of Jesus. That’s why Meet The Need is launching “Love Your Neighbor” – to empower churches to equip their congregants during COVID-19 (and beyond) to live out the Great Commission with those next door and down the block. Local(ism) has become the new normal – it’s high time for neighborhood ministry.
Meet The Need’s new (FREE!) platform will facilitate that transition, allowing your church members to:
- Anonymously communicate needs of neighbors impacted in any way by Coronavirus to the entire church body
- Activate small groups to become compassion-oriented Neighborhood Groups during the crisis
- See a detailed map of the neighborhoods covered by your church’s congregation, and the specific needs of families in each neighborhood
- Search for needs by category, keyword or geography and register online to meet them
- Get reminders to complete commitments to meet needs or to cancel if no longer able to do so
All of this appears on your church’s website and looks like your church’s site, not Meet The Need’s!
Your church controls the experience, e.g. approving each member to post needs or form a group.
MTN’s team will work personally with your church to implement these features within hours, not days!
It’s Your Turn…
Reply to this blog post or contact Meet The Need at (813) 527-0222 or email@example.com to get access to the FREE “Love Your Neighbor” system as soon as it is released next week!
Interested in the Love Your Neighbor System
Jim, do you have your blog posts in Spanish?
As a pastor of a small church, I confess that I’m guilty of leading a “come and see” church. We have always been about the Great Commission with personal as well as corporate discipleship but have failed to take discipleship to the natural “next step” of caring for our neighbors and neighborhoods! Lord, please forgive me! And Lord, please lead me to the place and the people who can help me adjust the vision you have for our little church!
All that to say, Yes! I’m very interested in the “Love Your Neighbor” system! Please include me!
great article Jim.