Lent 2021: Pondering the Pandemic

Dear Readers,

ash wednesdayAs I write this, our churches are observing Ash Wednesday as we move into the traditional 40-day period of Lent. Lent is historically a time for repentance, reflection and “getting right with God” in the language of our revivalist brothers and sisters. This year Lent coincides with an increasing amount of information from church consultants who are tracking trends in the church during the pandemic period. Lent forces us to ask the question, “How do get right with God in this time,” or asked in a more Presbyterian way, “How do we align ourselves with what God is doing in this fragile and fertile time?”

I decided to use my blog space this week to offer a way for your church to observe Lent and take an honest look at how this pandemic may be affecting your church and inviting you into something new. Below is one question for each Sunday through Easter where you can reflect on some of the questions and trends that church consultants posing as the church is experiencing a radical transformation.

I hope you find this helpful.

February 21       The body as truth-teller?

Floating bodyWhat messages is your body giving you in this time? Intuitive people will tell you that they often know something in their body before their mind can articulate it. What is your body telling you right now? Are you like a horse in the starting gate which can’t wait to hear the gun and get to the work of coronavirus recovery? Are you like the car accident victim shell-shocked and emotionally paralyzed? Are you like the grieving spouse who simultaneously is experiencing loss even as she anticipates a new life?

February 28       Adopting or Adopted?

adoptionChurch consultants who are studying trends expect a wave of “church adoptions” in coming years. Churches with a higher degree of long-term sustainability will be in a position to adopt and take in churches with a low degree of long-term sustainability. Is your church more likely to fit the profile of the adopting church or is your church more likely to fit the profile of the adopted church? (This is not the only choice, but it helps the church to see whether it has resources to offer other churches or will need to be the recipient of resources.)

March 7              Small and strong? Small and fragile? Large and uncertain?

Church consultants are seeing three patterns emerge. 1. Smaller churches with a high percentage of engaged people don’t seem to be as impacted by the pandemic. 2. Smaller churches which were already feeling fragile before the pandemic are reaching the point of crisis. 3. Larger churches (over 250 in attendance) may experience 20-30% drops in attendance as those churches typically have higher proportions of nominally engaged members. Do you see your church in one of these three categories? If so, what does it mean for you and your ministry as you plan for the future beyond 2021?

March 14            Permanently changed?

In what ways has the coronavirus pandemic changed the face of the church permanently? In other words, what practices and approaches have you adopted in this time that you now believe need to be carried on beyond the pandemic?

March 21            In-person? Online?  Hybrid?

OnlineMost of our churches have learned how to “be church” digitally. When we emerge from the other side of this pandemic what percentage of your church life will be in person, what percentage will be online, and what percentage will be a hybrid?

March 28            Want and Need?

In what ways would your answer to these questions be different? What do you WANT your church to be post-pandemic? What do you think the church NEEDS to be post-pandemic? This is really the God question.

April 4                 Easter Sunday!

Our most essential Christian narrative is the one of death and resurrection. In this time, what do you believe is dying? What do you believe is being born? How will your church live into the death and resurrection story?

Note: Some of the trends were gleaned from the blog “12 Major Trends for Churches in 2021” by Thom Rainier

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

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