A 9 Minute Read - By Chris Bright - posted on December 24, 2020

This is what I’ve learned in 2020

It’s Christmas time, and I think we’re all glad 2020 is coming to a close. Coronavirus, toilet paper crises, lockdown, politics, more lockdown, more politics, I’m A Celeb in Wales… It’s been a tough year.

There’s an old saying that says you learn more in adversity than in success. So what have we learned this year?

I’ve put together a list of the things I’ve learned over the last 12 months:

1. The church is more resilient than we thought

There’s a book that I read a while ago called The Starfish & The Spider, which talks about the structure of organisations. Some organisations are like Spiders, with a central brain that controls the legs. Squash the head and the whole creature dies. Whereas some organisations are like a starfish. A Starfish has no central brain, and therefore is a highly resilient creature. If you chop an arm off of a starfish, it just regrows.

In 2020, I’ve seen the church act a lot like the Starfish. In March, the large arm of in-person services was lopped off and so we adapted and grew the new arm of online services. Then when restrictions started to ease, the church re-grew it’s in-person arm, making us even stronger than before.

The projections are that when all restrictions have stopped, our churches will have smaller attendances than in 2019. That’s natural. In these times, the church in the U.K. has shown its resilience. It is still alive, still breathing, still making a difference. Whereas industries like retail and dining are collapsing, the church is an adaptable starfish. We’ve gone through worse in the past and have always come out stronger as a result, and we will in 2021 too.

At some point we’ll need to morph back to being a bit more spider-ish (after all, a spider gets more things done than a starfish) but our ability to be resilient is something to be celebrated.

2. Online church isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s essential

As I sit here and type this article on the sofa in my living room, I’m aware of how much time I’ve spent at home this year. I now don’t need to leave the house for anything, If I need something for the house, it’s a few clicks away. It’s the same for if I’m searching for an answer to a question.

In the last few weeks I’ve started playing chess again for the first time in a while (Yes that TV show did inspire me to get started again). What I realised quite quickly was that my mid-game was off. I’d sort my opening moves and then I didn’t know what to do. So what did I do? Did I join the local chess club? No, that’s way too scary for now, but I’d be interested to go along at some point, just not yet.

Instead, I turned to YouTube and started watching some tutorials on how to improve my mid-game. The chess bug in me is growing again and at some point it will lead to me engaging in a local chess community.

Sound familiar?

This is how we all think, and how people in our spheres approach church. It starts with questions about life that remain unanswered. But in this day and age they’re not going to turn to a church building, they’re going to turn to a YouTube video, or a Facebook Page.

Online church is now an essential strategy for all churches, regardless of size if they wish to engage with people who are seeking a relationship with God.

3. Churches with Online Services already in play adapted faster

This seems obvious, but the ramifications are profound. When COVID struck, there were some larger churches that I follow that already had online church in place already. So what they did was… they just carried on as normal, but didn’t have people in the room. Because they had already innovated, they could adapt to the change a lot faster.

I remember hearing John Glass, former General Superintendent of Elim UK and friend of thinking.church, say that you can either be like a road or a river. If you drop a giant boulder in a road, the traffic must stop whilst you work out what’s going on. You then need to remove the boulder before the traffic can resume their journeys. Whereas if a boulder falls in a river, the water just flows around it.

Churches need to be early adopters when it comes to innovating. The faster churches innovate, the faster they can get back to their mission rather than figuring out what’s going on. If your church can become an innovative church, you’ll be ready to flow around the next crisis that hits.

4. Services must change from attractional to serving needs

Back in 2019, churches were generally attractional in nature. That means we worked really hard on getting the music right, the lighting right, the sound system right. All of these things are important and won’t stop being important in the future. However, there’s a saying that “content is king” and on the internet that’s even more the case.

Nowadays people are getting a huge following with very simple tools, often just an iPhone and a few apps. It’s the content that people want to watch.

What does that mean for the church? Well, it means that we need to focus less on creating an entertaining experience, and more on finding content that people are struggling though and finding ways to help them through it by trusting in God.

The top 5 searched terms in the United Kingdom in 2020 were:

  1. Coronavirus
  2. US Election
  3. Caroline Flack
  4. Coronavirus symptoms
  5. Coronavirus update

What does this tell us? It means that the things people are mostly thinking about are physical health, politics and mental health. How can we as a church respond to these things with a Christ-centred worldview?

Let’s orient our services around serving the needs of where people are at.

5. A polarised world needs a unified church

Things like Brexit, The US Election and Black Lives Matter have polarised the world, and sadly, the church too. On Twitter, I see more tweets of Christians bashing other Christians than I do Christians loving other Christians. This is not what Jesus has called us too as a church. In John 17:21, Jesus prayed that we would be one as He and the Father are one.

Jesus also reprimands his disciples in Mark chapter 9 for telling someone to stop driving out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus replies, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

The church is more polarised than ever, but we all have Jesus in common. Regardless of theology, politics or practice, we should be known for our love for each other. That other church down the road may have doctrinal differences to you, but if they love Jesus, then they are not against you, so they are for you.

Churches have enough competition for the hearts and minds of people in our communities for us to be fighting against each other. If you dislike Donald Trump, love Christians who think he’s great. If you’re a Trump supporter, love Christians who can’t stand him. We have Jesus in common, so that must be enough.

A polarised world needs a unified church, now more than ever.