Let’s say that I live in Texas and I’ve been “attending” a virtual service at the church in NC that I found during the pandemic. Sometimes I’m at worship live and sometimes I watch the recording. I attend their Wednesday night Bible study because I love the teacher and have gotten to know some of the others. Two of them move to NC to Texas. I’ve been sending them money via Givelify. What’s to keep me from joining this congregation?
Friends I have been answering this question often these days. Pastors ask me, “Can people we’ve met during COVID join our congregation if they live in another state or country?”
I spoke with a pastor yesterday – a really gifted pastor by the way – who, when asked how things are going during the pandemic, told me that:
- The church’s giving is stronger than expected.
- About 20% of the people participating in their virtual worship service live in countries besides the United States.
Hello. Welcome to the post-pandemic Church.
This congregation whose pastor I talked with yesterday is not large by Big Steeple standards. Pre-COVID worship in the pews ranged from 75 to 125. Like most of our congregations they expect to be back in the pews eventually, and online worship will also continue for the people who prefer it for whatever reason. Maybe they prefer it because they live in Texas. Or in France.
What I’m not saying here is that a church has to have world class technological skills or large numbers or a huge evangelism budget to welcome people who live faraway.
What I’m saying is that churches simply need to be offering what people are seeking: authentic and Spirit-filled worship, stirring theological conversations, honest prayer groups, real community.
Here’s what I’m seeing:
- It’s much easier to enter a community by tuning into Facebook Live or YouTube than it is to get dressed and cross the threshold of an unfamiliar church building. Especially if you have rarely or never been part of a church, especially if you are a person of another faith or no faith, it’s so much easier to come as you are if you can literally “come as you are” – pjs, sweat pants, dirty hair, eating a Pop Tart.
- Those seeking a Bible study on the Psalms or a book study on anti-racism, or group of LGBTQ Christians might be disappointed that own church doesn’t offer this kind of thing, but they can find what they seek via social media in other congregations.
- Financial contributions are up for churches making the effort to serve creatively during this pandemic. The easier a church can make it to give, the better. Also, if church makes it known that there are specific financial needs, people are more likely to share what they can.
God is going to amaze us in the post-pandemic church.
Can someone in Texas join a church in N.C.? I would say yes. I would rather have 25 committed church members living in 25 different states who are hungry to serve as disciples of Jesus wherever they are than have 25 members living near the church building who nominally participate in worship and mission.
And I don’t think it’s just me.
About the image: Imagine mapping where your congregation lives and finding that membership is everywhere. Yes, we’ve always had members who live out of town perhaps, but now they can be with us regularly.