Months ago, many congregations turned off their metaphorical lights. Before those lights get turned back on, though, it would be good to answer this important question: What will it mean to be the church? In this entry, some additional observations.
In the previous entry, I offered the opinion that it will be difficult to reassemble our congregations to resemble their pre-pandemic selves. I ended by naming that as hopeful: If we can’t go back, we will head forward instead—bringing along with us the Spirit and spirit that have always characterized the Body of Christ.
Many congregations may have found it difficult to offer and maintain a full array of programs during these pandemic months. Instead, they’ve gathered and focused their still-active assets in just a few basic directions. In that way, they’ve remained manageable and therefore sustainable.
Leading the way here have been smaller, compact congregations that have already come to the point of matching their vision with what their available assets allow. Here I think of rural or inner-city churches that may seem to have minimal capabilities. That’s not true, though. These are places where the Spirit’s rich gifts continue to work invisibly, without the splash of headlines or vitality/abundance verbiage. They’re small, they’re beautiful and they’re working smart!
In my former career as a denominational staff member, I visited lots of these congregations, and saw that they were doing quite well at the basics. Their finances and energy might have been limited, but they were flourishing. Like small patches of prairie flowers or seedlings in a grown-over urban landscape, these congregations had scaled back their expectations. Their identity and actions as God’s people matched their capabilities. Their spirits remained strong and their view of the future was positive.
My guess is that that kind of congregation is still out there, each of them operating as an enterprise of God’s will in spite of the pandemic’s limitations. Next time I’ll share what might characterize these places of mission.
Stay tuned, and stay hopeful!