I posted recently on The church after Covid? I suggested there that the social isolating that has closed most churches would have an effect on the post-pandemic church. I thought that most churches, especially conservative ones, would try to return to “normal”, but some changes would likely cause them some grief.
But perhaps there is hope that some churches might embrace positive change.
A conservative church examines itself
The Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church in Australia is theologically conservative evangelical. Its equally conservative Moore College has recently made public the result of a survey of churches from several denominations across Australia.
The results may be applicable to other countries, and may be of interest to you who read this blog.
Pretty much what you’d expect
A lot of the findings and comments are not unexpected:
- The report at first seems more focused on how churches are trying to continue the normal services they provide rather than on meeting people’s needs. But this focus changes through the report.
- Most churches have worked hard to provide online “services” and groups.
- Paid staff are tired making the changes required and trying to keep their communities together.
- Not surprisingly, giving is down, more than 10% for most churches, and sometimes much more.
So will churches in the future have to live with lower incomes? Will online activities continue in some form?
Some welcome changes
Faced with the possibility of losing numbers, and eager to reach out into the community at this time, many churches have ventured into new or enlarged activities. These have included:
- encouraging members to invite friends to online church,
- online evangelistic courses,
- provision of food and support to those in need, and to health workers and school teachers,
- prayer walks.
I can’t help feeling that some of these activities are not well designed for the times and audience. I don’t want to be harsh, but inviting people to many church services, whether online or in-person, has always seemed to be more likely to turn people away – after all, many services are hardly scintillating, and even regulars can doze off in sermons!
I suspect that churches that will be most successful in these activities will be those already doing them.
Nevertheless, you’d have to think that something is better than nothing. And perhaps churches new to community care ministries might continue them after this crisis is passed.
I didn’t expect the unexpected!
But some recommendations both surprised and pleased me.
Enlarge lay ministry
The survey found that the conservative Sydney Anglican Church was, of all the churches, the least likely to use lay leaders. Paid staff ran most of the programs.
But, the report recommended this should change as soon as possible:
- transition to a greater role for lay leaders, and
- paid staff to focus much more on training and equipping lay leaders.
This is a welcome emphasis. It will not be easy for some senior ministers who may be comfortable with exercising a fair degree of control, and it is therefore surprising to me that the recommendation has been made by an influential education training group within the church.
Even more surprising was the report’s recommendation that “leaders keep a strong focus on discipleship over this period” and review whether activities are meeting the church’s goal of making and equipping disciples.
Clergy are encouraged to “sincerely question what church meetings are about” and to “seek authenticity”.
I don’t know whether “church meetings” includes the services themselves, but I hope it does.
It is quite clear that the form of most church services is making many members passive consumers. Sermons are a particularly poor method of discipling people and not very effective at teaching them either.
So an honest review could be a game-changer.
It’s a hard rain?
Change isn’t easy, especially when conservative people and traditions are involved. Most ministers are not well prepared for the present situation, nor to actually reviewing what they are doing. And especially not to training and equipping lay people, handing over some power and responsibility, and leading services in a more involving manner.
We can only hope that they will get the help they need to make these changes where required.
How many Sydney Anglicans does it take to change a light bulb?
Read the report
Photo: Wikimedia Commons, with sign added by unkleE. This photo is merely used as an illustration, and nothing I say refers to this actual church.