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Establishing a church identity in a COVID-19 world

Life changed after 9/11 and it seems that COVID-19 may leave an even greater footprint on our world.

As the dust continues to swirl on what the future may bring, people are responding in a variety of different ways. Some are struggling, others are taking time to re-evaluate their purpose and priorities. They are making life adjustments regarding:

  • The importance of family.
  • The importance of being in the present with people who matter to them.
  • The realization that serving others is more purposeful than serving themselves.
  • Self-isolation and loneliness are worth combating because connection matters.
  • How we view the future has a far more powerful affect on how we live in the present.

This is a defining moment. Our world is going to change. There are too many variables to quantify an answer of how that may look socially, economically, and politically. Like an incoming force of nature, we can only wait and see and protect ourselves as much as possible.

Christian churches are not immune to this health crisis. They are being forced to close its doors and provide online messages, worship services, Bible studies, and even Sunday school.

If churches are deciding not to enter the digital world, they will be left in the swirling dust and more than likely close sooner than anticipated.

And this is just the beginning.

Before the pandemic arrived, Christian congregations were struggling to create an identity in their community. The secular world had increasingly deemed Christian churches to be irrelevant and out-of-touch. People were choosing to stay home on Sunday mornings rather than come to hear God’s Word. But that has suddenly shifted. People are now willing to be engaged to hear messages of hope that can be found in Christ.

The Covid-19 health crisis is providing churches with an opportunity to re-establish or create an identity. This will require adapting how they interact, engage, and communicate with their community to clarify who they are and why they exist.

How can congregations be proactive right now to take full advantage of providing an identity in a new Covid-19 world?

  1. Clarify your mission.

If you had to look up your church’s mission statement right now, then it probably needs to be changed.

If you are a congregational leader and you don’t know your mission statement, then it probably needs to be re-addressed.

Mission statements are course-setters. They help establish identities. They become the plum line for future decisions and ideas. They help drive and sustain activity.

If evangelism is an integral part of a congregation’s mission statement and carries with it the responsibility of member participation, then now is the time to go and do it. It means taking the next step outside of planning, teaching, and preaching about the importance of evangelism. If there is not a willingness on part of the members to verbally proclaim the gospel, then I humbly suggest not to include personal evangelism in your mission statement.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received when I first started out as a full-time evangelist twenty years ago was given by Rev. Loren Steele – a man the Lord mightily used to spread the gospel.

“Loren, what do I do?”, I asked.

He simply replied, “Just do it.”

And he was right.

  • Master the fundamentals

Every professional regularly practices the basics. They understand that to become great at anything, they must master the fundamentals.

Gathering around the Word and sacraments will always be a fundamental part of a Christian congregation.

Corporate worship has been suspended and faithful members are missing it. Like good health or employment, we tend to take something for granted until it is taken away. This health crisis has given believers a greater appreciation of gathering with others for worship. When the doors of our churches open again, we can master the fundamentals and continue to regularly practice the basics. Only by the power of his Word and love for our Savior, can believers seek to graciously serve him and actively communicate the gospel.

  • Talk with people

The entrance to the digital age has forced many congregations to recognize that they are reaching a new audience. Granted, the pandemic crisis is arousing interest in spiritual matters that is helping spike the views of recorded messages. A digital audience will not be going away and it will become a more pronounced front entrance to your church on Sunday morning.

If your primary vehicle to proclaim Gods Word is having people come to church on Sunday morning, then I would ask you to reconsider your evangelism strategy for a COVID-19 world.

Digital access will be one important way to communicate the gospel, but only ought to serve as a supplement to help equip and inspire members to go out into the community. Talking with people will still be the primary and most effective way to give reasons for the hope we have in Christ.

The pandemic crisis is providing opportunities and awareness for our members to engage and connect. In the midst of self-quarantine and stay at home restrictions, we no longer have to isolate ourselves once the restrictions have been lifted. And the same ought to be with our life as a Christian. We no longer have to isolate or self-quarantine ourselves from providing reasons for the hope we have in Christ.

Proclaiming the gospel doesn’t necessarily mean inviting their presence to hear God’s Word on Sunday mornings. It can start by talking to people, connecting with them, and empathize with people’s pains and fears.

  • Take advantage of technology

The digital age has fully arrived.

Any reluctance and feet dragging that prompted congregations to refrain from expanding its digital presence have been quickly dissolved.

Based on the number of views, it may appear that your church is shattering worship attendance records. That’s terrific, but numbers can be misleading. Another important number is the length of stay. How many people watched the entire message? What is the average length of time per person? These statistics can be a key component to determining how to reach your community.

Engage your unchurched audience who are watching your messages by allowing them an opportunity to click an online guest card. Ask how your congregation can serve them. Ask if your congregation can pray for them. Ask them to subscribe to a weekly on-line newsletter that could provide devotional thoughts, announcements, and a schedule.

Provide short videos online that matches the average length of viewing time.  These videos can be a 5-10 minute synopsis of the sermon message or a series of encouraging words for unchurched people in your community during this pandemic crisis. Members can learn how to link these messages on their social media platforms.

Invest in your on-line presence. Now is not the time to be cheap. Hire professionals to help provide you with a powerful on-line presence and assist you in learning how to best communicate with your growing online presence with non-members. Members are excellent at learning how to operate a digital platform, but they are typically not very good at building a platform. That’s why churches ought to hire professionals with this important task.

The life of your congregation and future gospel activity is depending upon decisions being made today. Time can be invested to build a powerful identity for the unchurched families in your community who are observing, listening, and sometimes reaching out to hear some Good News.

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8 Comments

  1. Norma on April 29, 2020 at 7:55 pm

    I like your message as always. ☺I see the statement about this is not a time to be cheap…a real challenge when our offerings have been way below budget these weeks. It is a challenge to just pay our workers and pay our regular bills much less try to convince those in charge of expenditures to take on something which even in good times is not a high priority unfortunately. Sad! It grieves me often that we have so little stress on sharing the Word. I think that is something I need to pray more about.

    • Dave Malnes on April 30, 2020 at 6:45 am

      Thank you, Norma. Always appreciate your comments. I agree that church finances are a little uncertain at this time for many churches and that needs to be considered. Wherever I have served in the ministry, I have always insisted on excellence or doing something “first-class”. And if you can’t — for whatever reason — then you need to consider if its worth doing. In working with churches, those who have professionals or hire them if they don’t, are always very glad that they did. With having a digital presence, its event that more important. Thanks for allowing me to clarify that point. Keep safe!

    • Dave Malnes on April 30, 2020 at 6:45 am

      Thank you, Norma. Always appreciate your comments. I agree that church finances are a little uncertain at this time for many churches and that needs to be considered. Wherever I have served in the ministry, I have always insisted on excellence or doing something “first-class”. And if you can’t — for whatever reason — then you need to consider if its worth doing. In working with churches, those who have professionals or hire them if they don’t, are always very glad that they did. With having a digital presence, its event that more important. Thanks for allowing me to clarify that point. Keep safe!

      • Norma on April 30, 2020 at 11:07 am

        Thanks for your reply, Dave. I want to clarify one of my last statements..”we have so little stress on sharing the Word.” I was particularly referring to my own church. I am soooo thankful for the work you do and the work TILM and others are also are doing to equip our fellow believers in that most important work. I think I will email you a personal message re this.
        Thanks again for your inspiring messages, Dave. Please greet Lori for me. 🙂

  2. Duayne E. Weiler on April 30, 2020 at 9:26 am

    Thanks for the encouragement and reminder of ways we can use the digital media to evangelize. This whole experience is causing growth in us.

    • Dave Malnes on April 30, 2020 at 10:27 am

      Thank you Duayne.

  3. Terri on May 4, 2020 at 12:57 pm

    This pandemic has been a great teacher to all of us, and as you said, there is no way to foresee what the future will hold for any of us. To wait-and-see is hard to stomach for all of us who want answers instantaneously. Everything you’ve mentioned above is so very important and how quickly we’ve learned this to be true. Connecting with people has taken on a new meaning for me and I’m so thankful for my fellowship and how we are crowded around each other encouraging one another daily as long as it’s called today.

    • Dave Malnes on May 4, 2020 at 2:49 pm

      Thank you, Terri. I appreciate you for dropping by and leaving a comment. May I also suggest that people visit your blog for wonderful insight and encouragement.

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