What comes next for the church?
Thom Rainer’s answer: Change.
In The Post-Quarantine Church, Rainer considers what these changes might look like. While challenges certainly abound, he invites us to look for the opportunities that will come along as well.
As a sample, here is a list of “nine key changes” Rainer mentions at the end (pp. 102-109):
- Simplicity will be vitally important. The pandemic has allowed us to “try on” a simpler schedule, and we should retain the efficiency where it makes sense.
- Only outwardly focused churches will survive.
- Worship service gatherings will be smaller. Churches are trending away from mega gatherings and towards smaller, more local gatherings. This will continue.
- “Multi” will multiply. More services, more formats, more options.
- Staff and leadership realignment will focus more on digital proficiency.
- “Stragglers” will become a subject of outreach and focus. Rainer defines “stragglers” as those who have slid into online-only church participation. He thinks this group will require intentional outreach to get them reengaged.
- Digital worship services will be newly purposed.
- Ministry training will change dramatically. The delivery method will continue to shift to online, but also the content itself will shift to address the new landscape.
- Pastors will leave their lead positions for second-chair roles. Pastors may decide they are not equipped to lead in this new landscape and will move to pastoral roles that do not require being the main leader in these turbulent times.
I will leave the merit of these “key changes” for you to decide.
Two critiques of his book would be: 1.) On several occasions, Rainer seems to have wrapped previously held opinions in pandemic garb. For example, he urges alternative service times ( a decades-long debate/recommendation) as an outflow of the pandemic because people have mentioned they like being able to watch the service video at different times in the week. He offers one pandemic anecdote on this (p. 21). That’s hardly a glowing commendation or tight link. 2.) He essentially gives zero time to reflecting on the theological significance of his proposed changes. Churches could implement many of his suggestions, but should they? What the church “can” and “ought” to do are two very different questions.
That being said, I appreciate that he is encouraging the church to pray, think, and take action. And for me it was helpful just having a conversation (via the book) with Rainer about these important times.
Some of my biggest takeaways from this book would be:
- Churches should be open to change. I think that’s a fair point even if you disagree with some of Rainer’s suggestions (and I do). As Rainer notes, “normal” is not coming back, and normal-ish is still months, maybe years, away. So churches need to be willing to experiment, try new things, and fail. While we want to be wise and prayerful, we do not want to be complacent or fearful.
- Churches should communicate, communicate, communicate. Good communication is always important, but it is even more important when times are uncertain and life is constantly changing. Communicating well can bring reassurance and clarity to the church family.
- Churches should think short term. Rainer says gone are the days of five and 10 year plans. Churches need to make short-term plans, work towards short-term goals, and celebrate short-term wins.
What about you? I would love to hear what you think the post-quarantine church could and/or should look like. Please comment below.
THE POST-QUARANTINE CHURCH
Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation
By Thom S. Rainer
128pp. Tyndale Momentum. 11.69