God’s Church: Getting Ahead Of The Curve Of COVID-19

May 5, 2020

While governments speak about flattening the curve, from a spiritual perspective, I would like to urge all of us to get ahead of the curve so that we emerge from it, healthier as believers and healthier as a church!

Someone said to me that he has never seen anything like this in his lifetime — the whole world brought to their knees by a virus.

It has disrupted the way we work, the way we live our lives…and the way we “do church”!

More than one has called COVID-19 a divine disruption. As someone who has worked with the local church over the last 10 years in Singapore, what I see is God using this season to shape and strengthen His church.

We can respond by seeking to survive this season, or we can fully harvest the good God desires for us through it. While governments speak about flattening the curve (of infection rates), from a spiritual perspective, I would like to urge all of us to get ahead of the curve so that we emerge from it, healthier as believers and healthier as a church!

I asked myself what God is showing us about our lives, our ministry and church through the challenges of this season. What is God shaping His church to become through the COVID-19?

1. Getting Ahead for the Individual

Personal renewal precedes corporate renewal. As God works to re-shape His church, God is also doing a work in us. Through this season, God may be leading us to reflect on:

  • Has our work or ministry has continued to serve or impact people (in view of the world’s changing needs)
  • Are we trusting in our financial security rather than on God’s faithfulness to provide (finding ourselves in a panicked state when we are in the red)
  • Are our family relationships truly authentic, or have we have forgotten how to have honest and empathetic conversations (when we experience conflict during enforced homestays)

As we reflect on these, I believe we will learn our lessons to become more holistic and stronger – being ahead of the curve of what God is shifting on a personal level.

2. Getting Ahead for the Church

What does it mean to be ahead of the curve for the church? I would like to share 2 thoughts on this.

“Why have you limited and narrowed the scope of outreach when it could be so much broader”?

I wonder if God may be saying this to local churches that have depended solely on onsite programs and services.

Now that many churches have gone online with live-stream, video services and small-groups on Zoom, we are hearing stories of new people attending church and small group meetings—people who would otherwise have never stepped into a church building!

A small group leader commented that his group attendance is at 100% for the first time! A Young Adult pastor shared that attendance across the board has been higher than in the past.

Maybe it is the novelty of ‘online church’ that has drawn people. Maybe people forced to stay home, are visiting online church groups and services from a need for connection, or they have become more open to their friends who invite them to join.

Ps. Timothy Yeo of Hope Singapore said, “Because of the new format, now we can get the gospel out beyond the four walls of our physical location.” Even in the weeks leading up to Easter, he had heard of pre-believing friends who had joined their live-streamed services and “given their lives to Jesus, despite watching the service fully online.”1

Someone I know saw his relative who is not a church-goer, faithfully join his church service’s live-stream service every week since COVID-19 began. And both of them are not even in the same country!

The potential of an online community to draw friends and loved ones to connect with the church is immense. Imagine a group of 10 believers, who in pre-COVID times may each have invited 1 friend to their onsite group in a year. That would have been a very good effort! However, in this season of COVID-19, with enforced homestays and more people finding engagement online, it may well be possible for each believer to invite 3 to 5 times that number to join their online small group!

I believe that in the midst of COVID-19, God is working sovereignly to bring people to Jesus through the online church, and that He may be orchestrating the equipping of churches in the area of online capabilities!

I see that moving ahead of the curve for the church, firstly, means learning new online habits:

  • Encouraging members to invite friends and loved ones to church via online means
  • Discerning the needs in the lives of loved ones, and tailor messages and teachings to meet those needs
  • Building friendships with invited friends and loved ones through the support of an online community, such as Zoom-based small group
  • Effectively conducting online services and small groups, and honing those skills for the longer term (even beyond COVID-19)

“Why have you not leveraged your programs to build even deeper conversations and relationships?”

This is my second thought: I wonder if God is nudging us to reflect on the quality of our relationships and how authentically we connect with one another in our ministry programs and activities.

We have all felt the loss of the ‘human touch’. The face-to-face connection, human interaction and contact when we talk, play and eat together, are lost no matter how we try to “replicate” them on an online platform.

Ps. Adriel Yeo of Prinsep Street Presbyterian reflected, “I was struck when ministries were suspended. For a brief moment, I began to wonder: “What’s there left to serve in?” Without realising it, I found myself at a loss over how to serve without these ministries. What was originally intended as a platform to facilitate serving had become service itself, such that without it, service seemed to have vanished”.2

The program was intended to facilitate the ministry but had itself become the ministry!

I believe that in the midst of COVID-19, God is working sovereignly to bring people to Jesus through the online church, and that He may be orchestrating the equipping of churches in the area of online capabilities!

In this season, it seems that God has allowed the stripping away of programs to help us get to its purpose —deeper conversations and authenticity. At the end of the day, discipleship thrives in the context of healthy and loving relationships.

When we hold an online meeting, we may conduct activities and energizers to ‘break the ice’, but what is left as the main, is the conversation. The main meal is deep and authentic sharing!

I believe the second way that the church can move ahead of the curve is by leveraging an online, 1-on-1 environment to grow deep connections and relationships.

This requires churches to equip members to:

  • See every online conversation as a precious window to touch and impact someone’s life
  • Learn to listen better, probe and discern a God-word to edify the other
  • Pray for God to open and touch hearts through moments of deep sharing

I still believe in the importance of in-person church services and small groups. However, I also see wonderful opportunities in this current online season, to allow God to move us to new ways to reach the lost, encourage the saints and strengthen the church. The online world is now our mission field.

Hakuei Kosato, a world-traveller, wrote that when he experienced the Hanshin earthquake and the Asian financial crisis, his life changed significantly. “I had to innovate as my environment suddenly changed, and I am here today because those crises forced me to be resilient and think outside the box.” He went on to write that through this pandemic many people will move to innovate. “Once all this settles down, in the same way with the innovations we have already seen happen, we shall witness the dawn of a huge innovation era on multiple levels…I do hope that everyone will think deeply, try new things and plan for better times.” (Straits Times Forum, 26042020)

If we can use this season to review our ministry: discover creative ways to reach out to our friends, develop listening skills to encourage deeper authenticity in our 1-on-1 conversations, then we would have seized the season to get ahead of the curve, and become the church that God is shaping us to be.

Rev. Dr. Philip Huan is the Principal Consultant at ChurchLife Resources, and is passionate about helping churches and leaders become strong and healthy!

ChurchLife Resources provides consultation and coaching pertaining to ministry issues pertaining to health and growth of the church. Write to [email protected] for a complimentary consultation.

Photo by  Taneli Lahtinen on Unsplash

1 https://thir.st/blog/the-church-has-come-online-but-is-it-working/

2 https://thir.st/blog/covid-19-rediscovering-what-it-means-to-serve-in-church/

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