November 7, 2020

Singapore is now easing into Phase 3. As this transition takes place, what are some things that we should think about?

During the circuit breaker, I spoke with various pastors in the course of my consulting work with churches, and noticed a few questions and concerns that kept coming up.

In this article, I have listed questions I hear most often and have written my reflections to address what I feel are deeper, underlying issues beneath them. I hope that church leaders who resonate with these concerns, will find my reflections helpful.

#1: Online and onsite services have their ‘pros and cons’. What is the best way forward as circuit break ease? Should we continue our focus with online services, or should we focus on resuming physical services?

Gathering is a theological mandate for my tradition, especially in celebrating Holy Communion. We believe discipleship occurs during that process.

When I heard the “amen” from people surrounding me, I realized how much I missed that and the impact it has on my worship despite the restrictions surrounding the Worship Service.

I see our Zoom Service having great warmth, interaction, and connection with breakout rooms. I believe that it’s a viable community for the longer term.

The uncertainty and reluctance for re-gathering eg. By elderly, sick and young families, make onsite Services unreliable in ministry across-the-board presently. I need to find an alternative that can disciple all people-groups.

I would like to open 2 services from my original 1 to accommodate my parishioners. However, this doubles the work for me and my staff. Is this sustainable and will this drain us from discipleship efforts on other platforms in the interim.

The above represent thoughts and opinions on pastors’ minds that I have spoken to.

My reflections:

This varied thoughts and concerns are all valid. In navigating the operating terrain of whether we should have an online or offline focus, it may help us all to re-visit the basics: What is Christ’s fundamental call to the church? It is discipleship (Matt 28:19-20).

How discipleship happens best through different seasons may vary. It could be through the physical gathering at a church service or through Zoom break-out meetings. There is no ‘best’ platform for discipleship, but leaders need to work toward ensuring discipleship takes place at its highest level possible.

There is only so much time and energy that all of us have. How best should we allocate our resources so that we can give our best towards discipling the whole church?

The question is, what platforms would provide the best opportunity for your church members to fulfil Christ’s commission in this season? What channels have the greatest engagement with your members? Can onsite services disciple all at this point? On the other hand, while online services are more accessible, how can the online platform be shaped to effectively disciple?

The second thing to think about is sustainability. Can your church operating arrangements sustain in the long term? What if infection rates rise and restrictions tighten again? We hope this will not happen, but we have seen this happen in other countries when gathering restrictions relaxed.

The last thing to consider is how much does it profit your church to enable in-person gathering given the restrictions, vis-à-vis the resources that it demands? Sometimes, to question the value of physically meeting can be a sacred cow. But we need to be realistic about our constraints. There is only so much time and energy that all of us have. How best should we allocate our resources so that we can give our best towards discipling the whole church?

Better questions to ask:

What platforms ensure the highest level of discipleship in this season? What is sustainable? How much value does a move back to onsite benefit?

#2: I sense many members want to resume physical church and for ‘things to return to normal.’ How can I help to manage their expectations? Should I resume onsite service just to appease them, though I have my reservations?

I feel it’s better to stay online as our attendance is never maximized onsite during this season. I would prefer to maximize resources for online discipleship. But there are so many voices and opinions from my people, I really have to open a service to appease some.

I feel there is a great need for the elderly and the less online-savvy people to have the opportunity for meeting up onsite. These are people who have never known what it means to attend Service online all their lives. These past months of Circuit-Breaker has increased their stresses and isolated them. Even a short service to “feel and touch” the church allows for some needs to be met.

The property the church has costs millions of dollars. There is a great pressure for people not to leave the building as a “white elephant” but to return to using it as soon as possible.

I sense the above opinions from pastors as I speak with them.

My reflections:

You can consider a blended approach, of online and onsite services. As you navigate this, you may find it helpful to consider:

  • How will this resource allocation decision impact the discipleship of the church? Be mindful that managing different platforms could cause resources to be spread too thinly.
  • Which segment of my church truly need an onsite experience (eg. The elderly or the less online savvy)? The onsite experience can then be designed for this group in a more targeted and resource-efficient way.

In other words, an approach like the above would seek to maximize the online discipleship encounter as it ministers to most, while tailoring the onsite experience specifically for the specific group that truly needs it. The leadership may then consider encouraging the majority to stay online while specific people-groups to go onsite.

Secondly, it may be worth teaching your members that resumption of onsite services may not be like what it was before. Safe distancing measures i.e. restrictions on singing, fellowship, etc; means that gathering in person may not have the same effect as in the past. Thus, if members hope to ‘recapture’ the experience of pre-COVID days from gathering, they may be end up feeling disappointed.

The mainstay of the church is discipleship and that cannot be compromised, whether the restrictions are tightened or relaxed.

The mainstay of the church is discipleship and that cannot be compromised, whether the restrictions are tightened or relaxed. As we go through this season of transition, you may want to emphasise Christ’s call of discipleship and encourage your members to stay flexible with platforms, in order to be readily engage with Christ’s call to actively live as His disciples in a global crisis.

We have seen from the history that God has used the scattering of His people to accomplish a greater purpose. For example, the Exile led to Jews leaving Jerusalem and establishing Synagogues throughout the land to worship and impact the communities where they were at (Jeremiah 29). Or the persecution that broke out pushed Christians out of Jerusalem leading to the gospel being spread throughout the Roman empire through the scattered disciples (Acts 8). In these cases, God’s people experienced the discomfort of being pushed out of a traditional worship environment, but God used it to push His Gospel/witness beyond the traditional locales. I wonder if our being pushed out of the traditional church building into the online space in this season represents yet another move of God to push His gospel online?

We must remember and remind our members that Christ’s call is always to reach and disciple the lost. The move of God seemed not so much about ‘managing stability’ in Jerusalem; but on pushing the light of the gospel & godly witness out into the world.

Better questions to ask:

How can I educate my members on the values of the various platforms as measure ease? Who should their target audience be? How is God using alternative platforms in this season?

#3: I need to resume onsite service in order for my church to stay vibrant. Is that true?

I hear this in pastors who are anxious to resume service because that is how people expect church services to be, and in pastors who are worried about members who may leave the church after a prolonged period of not gathering.

My reflections: 

Again, I come back to discipleship. My view is that we need to shine the spotlight, not on the question of ‘online or offline church services’ but on ‘how are we doing in discipleship’.

Personally, I see this as the season for every church to strengthen their small group ministry. We need to equip, mobilize and challenge core teams in cell groups to connect with their members, and ‘shepherd their flock’ intentionally. I am glad to have seen a few churches do just that this season.

I believe this season, which has disrupted large group gatherings and events, as an opportunity to strengthen the smaller, 1-1, 1-few biblical communities and authentic relationships. How this happens is through a variety of means. One of which is learning to have different kinds of conversations, be they online/in person.

There are many online resources. While they may attract believers to ‘view’, they do not necessarily create connection and cause them to stay. Staying power comes from connection that happens in relationship. Relationships in our churches is the asset that we need to invest in, and this can happen through online and onsite channels.

As we move into the future, it is possible that Covid-19 measures may ease and constrict through repeated cycles. Churches may experience allowances to have larger Services gatherings and then may be called to restrict numbers later or even close down for a season again. Can this happen? It already has in places like the UK (right now) and in Melbourne.

Churches that have learnt to move discipleship more effectively online are ready for the future, in other words they are “future-proof”.

Churches that are able to flex their discipleship models to be effective if pushed into a solely online space are ready if crisis strikes again, in other words, they are “crisis-proof”.

Ps. Benny Ho shared with me about the situation in Australia. He remarked that after observing what happened in Melbourne (that went back into a lockdown), churches in other parts of Australia learned not to take the easing of measures for granted. Churches want to be prepared to make their ministries both future-proof and crisis-proof.

That’s a good lesson for us to learn!

Better questions to ask:

How are my relational and community discipleship quotients growing in this season? Is my discipleship ministry future-proof and crisis-proof (if easing measures tighten/loosen again)?

This is a season of many changes for pastoral leaders who are seeking to keep the discipleship-quotient high through Covid-19. Let’s press on to build and sustain ministry momentum for Christ because He is worth it!

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria…those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. (Acts 8:1, 4)

In a situation of persecution “lockdown”, without the ability to meet in large groups; the gospel spread, the church grew.

May our churches raise disciples who live and share the Gospel whatever the circumstances may be – be it in lock-down or in Phase 3…and beyond!

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 for a complimentary consultation.

Photo by  Forest Simon on Unsplash

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