Like many of you, I have been doing all I can to keep my church members connected during the COVID-19 lockdown. Also, I have been doing everything that I can to plan and prepare for an eventual corporate worship service. My church gathers this Sunday in a “soft” reopening that does not include Sunday School or nursery. While many pastors are getting ready to do the same things, I wonder how many things that have been typical of Southern Baptist culture will continue post-COVID.
Below is a list of some of the things that pastors and churches throughout the SBC—especially the South—might want to consider in light of the new “normal” of social distancing. NOTE: this is not an endorsement or an attempt to get people to change anything. This is simply an attempt to list some things that might change in the coming months after we figure out how to actually gather again in corporate settings at church.
- I hate to state the obvious, but how are churches going to do VBS in the future? VBS is still one of the best evangelistic ministries that many churches have…but what is the future of this ministry going to look like? Are any churches going ahead this Summer with VBS plans? Are churches going to move to do “virtual” VBS? These are big questions to a lot of churches going forward.
- Sunday School. Sunday School—or small groups—are crucial to the health of a church. Are people going to want to sit in close contact with one another in a smaller room, or are they going to want to use technology to meet remotely? Hopefully, churches will rediscover the importance of these small groups. Still, one cannot help but wonder what the future will look like here. Will we stop buying Sunday School books and move toward digital copies? Many questions remain for the future of Sunday School.
- This hurts. But, will any church do one of these soon? In the South, church potlucks are the epitome of social gatherings and are a place to find some of the best food anywhere. However, will we see a move towards an old-school “dinner on the grounds” where families eat in a more picnic style? I just want to be able to get some homemade chicken and dumplings and banana pudding. Curse you covid19.
- Hospital Visitation. I hate that at present, I cannot make a hospital visit because most of our local hospitals are closed to the public. Will hospitals ever allow pastors to make visits that are crucial to pastoral ministry? Much ministry is done at the bedside of a church member, person in the community, or a family in a waiting room. When will we be able to do this again?
- When people feel comfortable to have weddings in a church again, will they be smaller and more intimate? Or will people still want large weddings with many attendants? Also, if churches allow weddings, will they now require people to come in to sanitize the building after to have safe church services? After all, many weddings are on Saturday evenings. This leaves little time for sanitization for the morning service.
- Laying on of hands. Churches do this differently, but most SBC churches have a portion of an ordination service where ordained men place their hands on candidates and pray over them. This is a beautiful and meaningful service, but will churches continue to do this in the same way?
- Some churches have revivals every year. Will this continue, and will the same people continue to come in a large group? Also, in the South, it is not uncommon for local churches to cancel Sunday night services to attend and support other church’s revivals. Will this change?
- Senior adult trips. Some churches, like mine, have a monthly senior adult trip of some sort. Sometimes they simply meet and go eat lunch, but other times they may go out of state. Will our senior adult members—who may be more at risk of covid—want to continue doing these events?
- Activities Buildings/Family Life Centers/gyms. Many churches have one of these, but how will they be used now? Many states are lumping them into the same category as commercial gyms and have a lot of different requirements and guidelines for them to be opened to the public. These buildings have much to offer, but how will they be used in the future?
- Summer youth trips. Many Christian campgrounds are closing (Ridgecrest anyone?). Will the Summer camp circuit continue, or will churches change how they do Summer student ministry? Will parents even want to send their children off for a week anymore? This remains to be seen.
- Bus ministry. Many churches have vans or buses. If buses and vans are no longer filled to capacity because of social distancing, they will need to have double the routes or drivers to transport the same amount of people. If this happens, will churches continue to use them?
- Gospel Singings. Will people want to gather in large groups to have a gospel singing? In some areas, these singings have a lot of senior adults. While these same senior adults want to continue to gather in these large groups in this manner?
- Homecoming services. If I have to explain what these are to you, skip this! For many, a homecoming service allows a great opportunity for people to come back to the church that they grew up in to visit with friends and family and celebrate the importance of their church to their lives. Will these continue?
- SBC annual meeting. I love the SBC annual meeting. But will this continue long-term, or will people continue to push for remote voting?
- Event-based ministry. A lot of church ministry has been focused on doing something to get the community to the church. Will there be a shift in this logic? Will churches now change strategies to go to the community instead?
Again, this post was not meant to make the case that these ministries are not important but was meant for pastors to consider the coming state of pastoral and church ministry. If we are honest, there is much that we cannot account for. I, for one, am just glad to be getting ready to meet again. My hope is that we can get back to normal soon. But there is a part of me that doesn’t see that happening anytime soon. Hopefully, I am wrong.
Pastor, we are in this together!
Adam, a second-generation pastor, is the pastor of First Baptist Church, Leakesville, MS. He is a doctoral candidate at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary writing his dissertation on a biblical assessment of patriotism. He can follow him on twitter, @pastor_adam.