Matt Lake

What Does A Resilient Church Look Like Now?

I suffer from what one might call “Password-itis.”
And I would define it as the inability to remember passwords. Anywhere. Anytime. Of any length.

Even when the password is easy to remember.

Experts would say a “weak” passwords would be something like this:
“love” or “chocolate” or “45678”

Notice, all lowercase and words that make sense. OR numbers all in a row.
Again, nice, neat. Makes sense.

But experts say the best passwords, the most resilient passwords, have 4 elements:
Upper case letters
Lower case letters
Numbers
Symbols

So something like the following is a very strong password:
K49**vw2?!fG99sQ&L09ce$B

Passwords such as “love” or “45678” are orderly They are easily understood. Easily digestible. They make sense in our minds.

The second one is messy. Hard to remember. Not easily digestible. It does not make sense at first in our minds, but it is a much more strong and resilient password. This issue of resiliency has been on my mind for a while when it comes to being church. I have wondered in our current culture what it means for a church to be resilient and to flourish.

For a long time now, we have primarily done church one way. We produce a Sunday morning worship service. It is nice, orderly, and easily understood. You go home. You come back the next Sunday and you do it all over again.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Nice. Neat. Orderly.

For a long time now, we have primarily done church one way. We produce a Sunday morning worship service. It is nice, orderly, and easily understood. You go home. You come back the next Sunday and you do it all over again. Click To Tweet

Even before the pandemic hit, this nice, orderly way of doing church was losing effectiveness. Many churches before the pandemic were struggling to flourish. But then this pandemic hit, and almost over night we were forced out of our buildings. The pandemic acted as an accelerant to the adaptive changes the church was already experiencing!

Now in light of the pandemic we are all left scrambling on what to do and how to do it.

I certainly do not have the answer (or answers) on exactly what should be done (By the way, be wary of anyone who describes themselves as knowing exactly what to do in times such as these. There are no experts in this pandemic season… just practitioners willing to experiment, learn, and act on that learning in their own contexts).

Having said this, here is what I think might be next when it comes to ministry in churches and particularly how to be more resilient: I think churches will shift more and more from a simple password mindset to a more complex one. From “chocolate” or “45679” to “K49**vw2fG99sQ&L09ce$B”

Here is what I mean by that.

I believe the most resilient churches in this pandemic season will be those who learn to worship in a variety of different ways, rather than one way. I think the most resilient churches will be multi-modal in their worship approach. The most resilient churches will not continue to worship only on Sunday AM. Right now many churches can’t even worship this way, or must do so in a very altered form.

I believe the most resilient churches in this pandemic season will be those who learn to worship in a variety of different ways, rather than one way. I think the most resilient churches will be multi-modal in their worship approach Click To Tweet

Historically in my own setting, we have been a strong, traditional, inherited church. We have been used to coming to church on Sunday mornings in a physical manner and doing it well.
We could represent it this way:
Sunday morning worship only in the church facility = Gathered (G) and Physical (P)
Then, some years ago, through God’s leading and circumstances we began exploring another form of living as church.

We began exploring what it meant to live into Fresh Expression of worship in third space places on times beyond Sunday morning. So we began experiencing Tuesday evening house worship, community in a Pajama Factory on Monday evenings, worship through Swing Dance at another time, etc. We started a network of Fresh Expressions which we call the Acts Network.

We call this part of our church the sent (S) side of our church.

So now, look what we have emerging:
When it comes to worhip, our church is: G +Sent (S) +P.
Admittedly, this form is messier as we meet in different locations with people of all varying times of spiritual maturity.

But with this format worship can happen beyond Sunday morning and in places beyond the church and connect with people who would not come on their own to a Sunday morning service.
So this format is messier but more resilient.

And now, in this pandemic world, we have had another whole element added on: The only way any of us have been able to worship is in the digital (D) realm.

None of us have been able to meet physically as we used to until very recently. We perhaps used to have online services but they were an afterthought.

But now we have a whole digital layer that has been added on with a new focus because it has been the only way to worship.

Now our gathered church is worshipping online. And our FX groups are worshipping online… and eventually we will also go back to physical.
So now in this pandemic reality what do we have?

We have: (Digital) D+ G + S +P = Sunday morning worship, other days of the week, other locations, different levels of maturity, happening virtually, and happening anytime (digital never ends)…

What do you see?
We see something much messier, BUT something much more resilient!

The shift from Sunday morning only event to multi-modal church creates much more messiness but also much more resiliency!

The problem is, most of us like nice and neat over messy.
We would rather be orderly and have everything all figured out AND be less resilient than be messy but more resilient.
Most of us would rather be like the “chocolate” password rather than the
“K49**vw2?!fG99sQ&L09ce$B” password.

The shift from Sunday morning only event to multi-modal church creates much more messiness but also much more resiliency! Click To Tweet

I think moving forward the most resilient churches will look more like this:
G/S/P/S resulting in Sunday Am worship, online worship, home worship, and worship in other 3rd space places, etc.
Not simply G/P with Sunday morning worship only in the building.
They will be multi-modal. Not just Sunday morning only events.

They will be BOTH/AND…. Not either/or.

This is not a new concept:
Think diversified portfolios, thriving metropolitan areas teeming with commerce and multiple industries, or beautiful rain forests thriving on a diverse ecology.
Also, remember Jesus. Was He human or divine? Yes… both.
Remember Acts 2. Did early Christians meet in public space or homes? Yes. Both.
For me, in the end, this is a gift of the current pandemic. It is shaking up everything we thought we knew about how to live and be as God’s church. It’s not easy. It is not for the faint of heart. But I do believe in the end we may discover a much more resilient church as a result of it.
In my setting, we do not have this all figured out by any means. None of us do. We are a work in progress. But we are learning new ways of moving forward. We are learning to be church in new ways. Or more perhaps more accurately we are learning to reclaim and live what the church was always meant to be.
In short, we are learning to become resilient.

 

 

Matt Lake

Matt Lake

The Reverend Dr. Matthew Lake is the Lead Pastor of the First UMC of Williamsport PA which is a congregation operating with a gathered and sent mindset resulting in multiple forms of traditional worship experience as well as a group of Fresh Expression worship experiences called the Acts Network.

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