Keeping Your Church Healthy and On Mission: During Coronavirus and Beyond
by Rev. Mark Eldredge,
Canon for Congregational Health
When the first ever church was formed in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost the believers basically did five things. We can read about this in Acts 2:42-47:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
In that passage we see people in love with Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit:
- Gather together for regular Worship: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.”
- Meet together for Fellowship: “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.”
- Grow together in maturity through Discipleship: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
- Serve one another in Ministry: “Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”
- Bring others into the church through Evangelism: “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Local churches have continued to do these same five things now for almost 2000 years. Healthy growing churches figure out how to do all five of these things well and in a balanced way. In my work with the American Anglican Council, I have put these five aspects of church health into the acrostic VITAL since these are ‘vital’ to a church being healthy:
- Vision for Evangelism/Mission
- Intentional Worship
- Transformation to Christlikeness (Discipleship)
- Authentic Community (Fellowship)
- Lay Mobilization (Ministry)
Although the church has never changed doing these same five things, it has regularly changed how it has done them throughout church history. Times change, cultures change, viruses come and change circumstances, but God’s Kingdom doesn’t change and these five vitals the church provides never change!
So, during this radical change that has so suddenly come upon us due to the coronavirus, where we can’t gather like we are accustomed to, for a season, the question must be, “How do we adapt in order to continue doing what the church has always done, just in a different way?”
- How can we gather for worship without the ability to show up to a building? Worship can’t and won’t stop. Many of you are already figuring this out.
- How can we continue to have authentic community and fellowship with one another without the ability to gather in groups larger than ten? Staying connected relationally can’t and won’t stop. Again, many of you are already figuring this out.
- How can you continue to grow in Christlikeness and make disciples? Being transformed from the inside out can’t and won’t stop. In fact, this crisis is hopefully causing you to grow deeper in your love and dependence on Christ!
- How can you continue to mobilize for ministry to serve and care for one another as a church? Again, many of you are already figuring this out.
- Lastly, how can you adapt your vision for evangelism and mission in the strange new situation? Evangelism and our mission to bring people to salvation must not stop until Jesus returns! In fact, most people who repent and believe in Jesus for salvation do so during time of stress and difficulty. There are many non-believers around you, whom Jesus loves and died to save, that are experiencing fear and anxiety and need hope and answers. We, the church, have the answer. It’s Jesus. He is our hope and strength. He is our salvation. Even death itself has been defeated by him. There’s nothing to fear!
So, what can you personally, and as a local church, do during this crisis to turn it into a missional moment? Pray and seek God for ideas. Be creative. Take risks for the sake of the lost! Find ways to show God’s goodness through deeds of love and tell of God’s Gospel with words.
Here are some ideas that I have heard people talking about:
- Identify school children who normally get their meals at school everyday and won’t have enough food for the next two months. Bring them meals. Tell them it’s because Jesus loves them.
- Identify elderly shut-ins who need to be served in some practical way.
- Identify families who may be out of work who could use some support.
- Identify healthcare workers who are stretched thin and stressed out.
- Connect with people who are anxious to introduce them to The Prince of Peace.
- Volunteer with The Life Project, an online evangelism ministry.
These are just a few ideas. Jesus already went to great lengths to come and die and rise again so all people might be saved. He wants all people saved. He will help you be creative and find ways for you to reach out, build relationships, and bring people to him!
And remember, just as God is with you in dark and difficult times, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Ps. 23:4), he is with you as you go on mission and do evangelism. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)