The global Covid 19 Pandemic which was first identified in December 2019 has had, and continues to have, enormous socio-economic, political, environmental, and global consequences that are yet to be fully realised. These and other intertwined complex realities are likewise creating cultural paradigm shifts that are yet to be determined. The ecclesial world has changed too and in this short video, I want to offer some tentative and provisional reflections of ways in which church planting is being shaped in and through a global pandemic.
First, the challenge. Many church plants, like existing congregations were ill prepared for the enormous upheaval that would come their way through lockdowns, social restrictions, furlough, economic downturn, and a host of other unpredictable consequences. Such a brutal and unexpected shock interrupted many church formation processes, including relationship building, and embodiment within local communities. The fragility that is often a normative part of embryonic new communities meant that many new plants and initiatives faced serious crisis and were unexpectedly devoid of resources and personnel. Many were placed on hold or forced to find lifesaving plans for consolidating what had been birthed, while others have never progressed or recovered.
Second, and somewhat paradoxically, a new opportunity emerged in the existential crises. Many church plants and planters, alongside existing church congregations, quickly adapted (initially for survival) and soon began to unleash newfound creativity and growing confidence to respond to the changing contexts. Some began to rethink and reimagine church and move from church-centric approaches, to whole life concerns as the socioeconomic consequences of life began to emerge for communities and individuals. Many embraced new forms of church community with zoom and social media utilised to form new online churches and more laterally blended communities. Some of these in various parts of the world continue strongly, though it is to soon to tell the lasting impact as life returns to somewhat more of a norm, as online fatigue sets in, and the rekindling need for in person community is desired.
Third, a spiritual deepening in prayer and spiritual formation among planters and pioneers is tangible across diverse traditions alongside a deepening of life, faith, meaning and purpose, family and friendship realignments, and the space to breathe without the activism that lay at the heart of much planting and pioneer ministry. Slowing down, resting up, going deep, and rediscovering ancient spiritual practices are emerging. As we sail the new missional seascape where the old pre-pandemic navigating maps might not work as well in the changing tides and seas of culture, we need to answer one of the most important questions before us: What types of churches will need planting in and through a global pandemic? The critical need for corporate theological reflection, discernment and partnership are paramount.
In my own church planting practice, in and through the pandemic, and in my conversations with planters and pioneers across many tribes and spectrums, three key themes are emerging that seem to be resonating in a world where loneliness, isolation, dislocation, and disparity are the experiences of many people and places. First, the importance of community and a genuine relational authenticity in which the challenges and complexities of life can be shared safely and lovingly. Second, the importance of warm, generous, and welcoming hospitality, where belonging can be shared in practical and holistic ways as the church learns to become missional host and guest to its community. Third, the importance of hope in a world where much hopelessness, loss, bereavement, fear and uncertainly belongs. I am convinced that whatever else we might need to be and do, that planting authentic communities of hope and hospitality will signpost the way for the types of churches that need to be planted as we continue to journey in and through the global pandemic.