Churches, never waste a (coronavirus) crisis
Rev. Alan Rudnick
April 1, 2020
“I never signed up to be a Spanish teacher, gym coach, historian, and the lunch lady!” quipped one of my Facebook friends.
We are living in a new territory. People are losing jobs, parents are trying to work while homeschooling their children, there are those who carry the stigma of “coronavirus patient,” and we are all experiencing the disruption this illness is causing all around the world. We are all finding new ways to live into this new reality.
Churches, often finding their institutions treading behind culture, are left scrambling to find new ways to deliver worship and connection to their people. This has created a crisis for pastors and churches. Large churches have been streaming and doing online delivery for years, but most medium and small churches do not have the resources to be video production experts. Most pastors never received a class in web production, video editing, or live streaming in seminary.
How do church leaders rewire how they plan and deliver everything they do: prayer meetings, Bible study, small groups, and congregational care?
For those church communities who should not or cannot meet, the coronavirus pandemic presents an opportunity for innovation in how they deliver their ministry. It is not known if some of these innovations will last, but it enables churches (who are often inherently risk-averse) to try novel ways to reach out. Here are examples of how some churches are meeting the challenge of “being” the church during the coronavirus:
- Some churches are bringing back the old drive-in movie approach by having people stay in their cars and tune in on the radio to worship in a parking lot.
- Many pastors are Facebook live streaming their sermons from their homes.
- One church, in which confession is a part of their sacramental life, started offering “drive-through” confessions by their priest.
- Pastors are using free platforms like Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts to hold prayer and study groups.
- Modeling celebrities who are reading children’s books, churches are offering daily Bible stories on Facebook to children and families.
- There are empty churches that are holding emergency blood drives for the American Red Cross.
Churches have responded creatively to crisis before. Two often-overlooked innovative responses from the 1800s come to mind. Those little communion cups that many churches use? Individual communion cups came from a solution to stopping the outbreak of disease in the 1890s. Using grape juice for the replacement of wine at communion? That was a solution that came from Methodists in the 1800s to curb the abuse of alcohol, which was plaguing many communities. These two examples are common practice now, but were not very common when churches first enacted these ideas.
It is in a crisis that people often find themselves in panic. Panic often leads to hasty and imprudent decisions. During the coronavirus, instead of buying enough toilet paper for two weeks, people buy a whole pallet of toilet paper at Costco that will last a family of four two to three years (even though there is enough manufacturing supply to last decades). However, there is also another side of crisis: creativity and ingenuity. Churches must resist the urge to make panicked decisions, and instead prayerfully and faithfully lead others through new challenges.
During the coronavirus crisis, churches must resist the urge to make panicked decisions, and instead prayerfully and faithfully lead others through new challenges.
Winston Churchill is credited with having said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” though the phrase cannot be found in his recorded speeches, personal notes, or his books. Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel did say it in 2008. Instead of churches panicking or taking a “sky-is-falling” approach, a crisis always presents an organization with the opportunity to do something new or different. A crisis, whether national or local, provides the opportunity needed to creatively and missionally reach out to new communities, underserved populations, or sometimes people literally next door to the church.
The Rev. Alan Rudnick is an American Baptist minister, author and Th.D. student at La Salle University, Philadelphia. He is a former member of the board of directors for American Baptist Home Mission Societies, Board of General Ministries and Mission Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.