by Stuart Kellogg

Imagine hearing that phrase from a ministry leader while sanctuary doors closed, people isolated alone at home and one out of three Christians walked away from the church?  Yet Dr. Bill Wilson, former pastor and founder of The Center for Healthy Churches remains convinced THIS is when the church must, and will, shine as Christ’s beacon to an increasingly lost and hurting world.

As the pandemic raged, I noticed that there were two types of congregations:  those acting like “turtle churches”, hunkering down and waiting for “normal” to return, and those leaning in and aggressively using the crisis as an opportunity to shine.  I spoke with almost 100 ministers, Christian leadership experts and lay leaders to find out how Christ’s church could not just survive but THRIVE in the midst of this deadly pandemic.  What I found was an almost universal faith in the ability of the body of Christ to indeed thrive, although likely as a smaller, more embattled body.

The early Christ followers stood out by how they lived.  Plagues were a regular occurrence and while the rich were able to flee to the hills, the rest were left to face death.  Those early Christians saw the need and helped the sick, sometimes succumbing to the plague themselves.  The people noticed that there was something indeed very different about these Christ followers and wanted to know more.

The challenge today is similar.  How can the church stand out so that those lost without Christ want to know more?  A common thread that runs through the congregations that thrived is the willingness to more aggressively reach outside the walls of the church.  There have never been more Americans with no religious affiliation (almost three out of 10),  fewer attending church (less than half)  and more hostility to the faith.  One reason:  only a little more than one out of three Americans believes ministers are highly or very highly ethical!

The forced shutdowns have driven up the number of suicides, depression and isolation among all age groups in America.  The increasingly hostile partisanship has pitted citizens against each other in ways not seen since the Civil War.  An increasingly powerful secular class wants to stamp out any faith-based influence in the culture.  Within this reality is the challenge for the church and its leaders.  The allegiance must be to Christ, and Christ alone, not to any political party or human leader.  Its mission must be to the lost and hurting.  Its goal must be Christ-centered tangible help that encourages a new life and new living.  In other words, there is a LOT of work to do.

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