The Changes are Bigger than We Think
We hosted our first in-person gathering on May 17 since lock-down started on March 08. The atmosphere was kind and easy going. People came and participated well. We had a great time, and I was so grateful to sing with all once again. But the registration numbers, compared to actual attendance, were low. We are out of the habit of church, struggling to figure out how to adapt to no childcare, and dissuaded by the potential danger posed by the virus. Its easy, during this time, to forget that the mission of Christ is to expand into the whole world by taking the good news of Jesus to people. How do we do that now?
Covid-19, and the likelihood of its ongoing presence for years to come, has changed us. It has exposed an Achilles Heal in our ministry design. We have depended on the large group gathering for connecting new people and driving our funding efforts. We have used our small groups as a means to connect people, but we have needed to stall the return to those due to building limitations. We have entered an era of digital content delivery but have found it to be less engaging than we would hope. We have announced staffing cuts due to economic downturn. The changes already upon us are big. The changes to come will be bigger.
The Vision is Unchanged
What has not changed at Cana (or any other church) is our belief that spiritual maturity inspires enhanced mission. We found new digital ways to do spiritual equipping through online delivery of biblical content. We are broadcasting into Southeast Asia and the UK, various states in the US, and throughout our local community. We have hosted biblical counseling sessions remotely. We have held ceremonies and celebrations, prayer walks and service shopping, and learned, in mass, how to video conference. These tools used to be available but we had never thought to use them. Now that we have them, we have discovered they can be leveraged to carry the gospel message into all the world. We have discovered that we can do training and connecting through these digital platforms. Our calling, expecting to have an ongoing battle with Covid-19, is still to be spiritually ready to go, train, baptize, and teach all nations about Christ: to be Remade to Reclaim.
Five New Plans We Need to Adopt
The charge to grow into the community of believers – God’s vision for the church – is summarized in Acts 2:42, “And they devoted themselves to the Apostle teaching and the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Our devotion, our “Remade” selves, should be as they were in Acts 2:42. Our mission is found in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Our mission, our focus of all energy and gifting, the “Reclaim” of our efforts, is as theirs was in Matt. 28:19. There are at least five major changes we need to make in light of Covid-19 in order to remain faithful.
1. Legitimize Digital Outreach and Digital Attendance – we need to make a permanent place in our budget, our small groups/Sunday School classes, and our worship gatherings for those who will attend via digital means. Some classes will need an online link for Video Conferencing. They will be hybrids – some are in person and others are visiting via Zoom.
2. Invest in Digitally Immersive Learning and Ministry Environments – Zoom and Live Stream and Google Classroom are a start to online delivery of content. These environments, however, are not immersive and do not engage teens and children well. We need Mixed Reality (AR & VR) technologies to accomplish better connection to our young people. We need better learning platforms for training. I expect these technologies to be fast-lined into popular use in months and years ahead.
3. Reduce Dependency on In-Building Small Group Use – Several of our Sunday School/Small Groups have continued to meet digitally. Praise the Lord for that! However, given that a resurgence of Covid-19 is likely in the Fall and Winter, we need our Sunday Schools to adapt, to regain their mission, and to be able to meet in homes or outdoor locations. I want to train for these occasions so that our training and spiritual maturity ministry can continue unabated.
4. Lean the Budget and Keep It Lean – Never has their been such an economic challenge facing the church. Many people are losing their jobs. Cana has had to announce a layoff of a 1/3 of our staff. Never have churches in debt been so exposed as now. Given those challenges, our budget must remain lean and our staff training efforts must increase. In addition, we need every skill of every member on the table and available for use. We need to be ready to learn new skills or get the professional help needed to accomplish new ministry engagement without becoming staff heavy. The present digital ministry is an example of how God provided Cana the people we needed to keep us going. We must retire the debt.
5. Excel in Love – The future is challenging. Changes are hard. Many of you will not like this letter. However, in order to continue the mission, we cannot anticipate how and when we will return to “normal” but how we can love the nations and our neighbors like Christ does, and love each other with our gifts as Christ commands. This means we lay aside suspicions, privilege, and pride in order to follow Christ.