The established church has been hit hard by the effects of the pandemic. Many churches have seen a decline in attendance by nearly 50% in the past year, while other churches have struggled under income loss. Leading an established church had its challenges long before the pandemic negatively affected the local body, but today, the pandemic’s weight has had a crushing blow. So, what is a leader suppose to do when the church seems to be on rocky ground? There are four components to reestablishing the established church over the next year that might be helpful.
Redesign what the church will look like in the future. The pandemic has caused the established church to comfort loss and the opportunity to redesign the way the church interacts with its members and the community at large. Legacy churches carry governance, programs, and budgets of the past. The pandemic has forced her to reorient herself to face the future with a more proactive mission-minded design. The church was once for its members; today, the church must become for the lost and those not rooted in Christianity. Redesigning what the church will look like in the future is reorienting her to others’ needs outside of members. Programs and resources dedicated to an inward posture need to be reexamined to see where it fits in the church’s new realities. Every program and line item in the budget should be on the table to see if it meets today’s church’s needs. If it does not meet today’s needs, it should be discarded, and those funds diverted to future programs that directly impact the community. Established churches need to see the pandemic as an opportunity to achieve the new promises that God has for the local church and not a hindrance.
Repair past fault lines that divided the church and community. For many established churches, they have become a fixture in the neighborhood that surrounds them. As with any institution, over time, it is ignored and almost forgotten. The pandemic has created an opportunity for the church to become outward-focused again to meet the community’s needs. Before she can reengage in the community, she must repent at the altar for past missteps and misgivings in serving the community. In this posture of humility, the church can begin seeking partners to walk alongside in the community. As a disengaged church from the community, she cannot just jump back into her neighbors’ lives and demand a seat at the table. Instead, the members should reengage by connecting with community agencies and programs that are already reaching the lost, partnering with them in accomplishing kingdom advancement. By walking in a humility posture, the church presents itself like Christ by elevating others above self and creating a door of reengagement.
Restore God’s vision for the church by connecting to the community. The established church finds itself dying; she once was planted with a vision to reach the community where she has struggled to engage her neighbors as the hands and feet of Christ. While today’s church leaders can debate what and how things went wrong, it is only in the ‘seeking’ that they will find their way. What is the vision for the local church? God has a vision for her leadership to follow but does the local church and her administration have the vision that God has called them to achieve? Restoring God’s vision for the church by connecting to the community is built around prayer, listening to those in the community, connecting with other agencies who are already serving, and resourcing the local church to resource the needs around them, thus letting programs and positions die to reach the lost. Restoring God’s vision is all about letting go of members’ views of what is needed and seeking where God is already at work and working alongside God.
Recapture the love for the lost. In John 21, we read the words of Jesus as he asked and then reminds Peter about loving and caring for his sheep. In reestablishing the established church, leaders must evaluate the community’s love in which the leaders planted the church. Does the church love the people and the community in which they minister? Through a love lens, the church will recapture the calling they had when planted decades before. The love for the lost is more than just opening the doors on Sundays; it is stepping outside the church members’ comfort zone into the ugly part of the ministry that enables the believer to walk with the sinner. Jesus loved the sinner and tried to help lead them back into his embrace by rejecting sin, and by reestablishing itself in the lives of the broken, the church is reopening its arms to those it once pushed away.
The last twelve months have been challenging for the church universal, but for the established church is has created an opportunity to redesign, repair, restore, and recapture the love they have for the community around them. What an opportunity to reestablish the established church as the center of the neighborhood. What a chance to become a strong community partner and lighthouse of hope for the lost.
Dr. Desmond Barrett is lead pastor at Summit Church of the Nazarene in Ashland, Kentucky.