It was less than a month ago that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Things moved rapidly. Here are a few observations about the past month. Many of these are obvious to all. I have retained a keen grasp of the obvious. Look elsewhere for profundity and meta-analysis.
An extended period of church where virtually (did you catch that?) no congregation meets in their dedicated worship building is something unanticipated by all. We might miss a Sunday (once while I was pastor, two Sundays) for snow days. A church might have to scramble and find a new location in case of a fire or tornado but to be shut down because of a health and welfare scare is unique in our time. My church has been nimble in making the change, but then we were already doing some of this, being a relatively new church. The churches I pastored, none younger than a century, have just moved to projection screens. Online services is a work starting from scratch.
Cashless society. I’ve been reading predictions of this for decades. I like cash. I get cash. I spend cash. But I haven’t been spending cash since this started.
Online church giving. I’ve never liked it. I never set it up. If a pastor today, I’d be all in for it. I just like the act of putting my offering in the plate or basket as it is passed. That’s part of worship. We are diminished by not doing this old school, I think. My day is past in this, I assume. People can still mail checks to their church but that requires a bunch of handling and most of society are skittish about that right now.
The roles of our various layers of SBC denominational life. Too many layers to support? Our national entities, especially GuideStone and ERLC, are proving their value during these times. Both of these were pro-active and thorough on the stimulus paycheck protection plan. Their job is to serve churches. They served churches. State conventions have had difficulty for years in relating to churches. Based on their structure and budget, it looks like they see their role as serving as a transfer agent for funding for some state entities and the SBC and beyond that having people available in case an actual church in the state needs some kind of assistance. That stuff and then building nice central HQ buildings. A few churches find their state convention helpful. Most, I’m opining here, do not. This crisis is one in which every church needs help. Some states are providing this help. Some are rocking along hoping to ride this out unscathed. Associations? I’m not sure what associations are doing in all this. Most would lack expertise in relevant areas. One supposes going forward that we will see churches prioritize their mission giving. It may be that this period signals difficulty for some SBC layers. More later on that. Seminaries? I’m not sure. What is the thinking there?
Cooperative Program. Our main entities (two mission boards, six seminaries) receive a decided minority of their funding through the CP. It’s important but sharp drops can probably be managed. LifeWay can still sell stuff. GuideStone can still take tiny slices of retirement funding. State conventions don’t have another significant source of revenue and they keep most of the CP dollar, always have. They suffer early and often when CP drops. I expected CP to show a slight increase for this fiscal year. Probably not now.
Death, funerals, cremations. For an unknown length of time, hopefully not long, there are no traditional funerals, funeral visitation, graveside services, etc. Cremation, already the choice in about half of deaths even here in the south, would seem to be an easier, cheaper, and preferable alternative. I’d expect to see the rates continue to rise.
Will smaller, weaker churches start thinking about the future? Very small churches can hang on for a long time. Expenses are low. A few people can give enough to keep the doors open. There’s no future in this. Will this period of closed church doors motivate these very weak churches to consider closing, merging, or permitting a relaunch?
Will bloggers give up the ghost and find happiness in a string of short tweets that try to explain something in 20 clicks? Gonna be a tough sell for some old codgers.
Doubtless, hunkered down in my survival basement/bunker, I’m surely not seeing, even online, what you are seeing. What’s your thinking.
Hope you are having a quiet Holy Week. Easter with no physical gathering? We will see how it goes. It’s still our great day of celebration and hope.
I feel sure that the powers that be here would welcome any personal stories about you and your church during this time.