On my blog mikecrudge.com I’ve written before about problems with Sunday church services as our primary expression of Christian faith—they can be inauthentic and lacking actual service, leading many Christians to become disengaged from the faith community. COVID-19 has forced us to do something different with our gatherings, and I hope there is no going back to what was.

Affirming the importance of regular Christian gathering, below are the thoughts that came out of my household when thinking about our local church and what post‑lockdown gathering as a church together could look like. Maybe one or more resonates for you too.

Keep the traditional time-slot of Sunday mornings

Practising Christians generally block out a few hours of their time on Sunday morning in order to ‘do’ church together. Often events outside of this time-slot are sporadically or badly attended, as people’s lives all look different. Because meeting collectively to be the church can be hard at other times of the week, let’s use the Sunday morning commitment time that we have corporately made and see what we can do with it.

People do what they see

Typically, being a practising Christian is seen as going to church services in church buildings on Sunday mornings. ‘Worship’ is often just seen as group singing of Christian songs during those same services. Let’s expand our appreciation and experience of being Christian together by expanding what gets done/seen when we are together.

  • Pray together en masse
    Have you ever turned up to a pre-service or mid-week church prayer meeting to be one in a group of seven or eight people? (I know, seven or eight people praying together is an excellent thing!) We (the collective ‘we’) want people to pray together. So, one Sunday morning each month, during the church ‘slot’ (e.g. from 10am to 11.30am), why not gather and pray together—as one, in small groups, intergenerational, intercession, for healing, confession, for mission… No sermon, no singing, just praying. Imagine everyone in your church community praying together for 90 minutes, 12 times a year! I have never experienced that before in any local church I’ve been part of.
  • Love our neighbours together
    We want people to love their neighbours. One Sunday morning each month, gather to serve the neighbourhood together. The ideas are endless, and need to be hooked into meeting the identified needs of the local community. For example

    • cooking meals for a communal freezer, to give away when needed
    • working bees at people’s places who are shut in
    • visiting a rest home
    • picking up litter
    • doing jobs for local schools or community groups.
  • Diversify our communal worship of God
    We want people to worship God together. One Sunday morning each month, gather for curated worship, drawing on church tradition: singing, formal liturgy, contemplation, engagement with Scripture, ministry of the Spirit. We demonstrate/teach and practise the expansiveness of Christian communal worship, ancient and future. Skills in leading this aren’t always present in local churches, but there are people and excellent resources that can help.
  • Learn together
    We want people to learn. One Sunday morning each month, gather to learn. For example

    • teach the Bible (unpack Scripture)
    • enliven Christian thought and history (train us in theology)
    • inspire our action (resource us for mission).

What pedagogy would you use to do this well in your particular faith community?

  • The sermon evolved
    We could also continue our learning via weekly input. Rather than a weekly sermon in Sunday church services, let’s continue to have weekly sermon-like content (earthed and coming out of the local context), but shared each week for individuals and groups to consume in their own time (video/audio/text) and then reflect on and interact with together (in home groups, life groups, households, on social media, etc).

    Most of us probably already listen to other content during the week (podcasts or news while walking to work, for example). I would gladly add local content from my church community. Before COVID-19 I missed every alternate Sunday sermon as I would be in another part of the church building with our toddler; I often listened to the sermon online later in the week.

  • Foster a culture of generosity
    We want to be intergenerational and have a culture of generosity. One Sunday morning each month, gather in a way that embraces and affirms all age groups together. There’s no reason why other examples given in this article wouldn’t also have this as a concern, but why not emphasise this monthly? Once a month everyone gathers to intentionally appreciate and affirm the differences within. Once the culture becomes generous this need not be an actual focus.
  • Come on and celebrate!
    We want to gather for massive celebrations, around food and in hospitable spaces, for events such as Easter Sunday, Pentecost, the start of Advent, Christmas, baptisms, etc. These are times where a large indoor space would probably be required, which could be rented within the neighbourhood in order to earth them into the local community. Some of these could include other local church communities in the area or, in the case of New Zealand Baptists, other churches that associate together in the region. Blue Moon Sundays could be another reason to gather for these celebrations. I’m thinking ‘party’ here. Imagine an Easter Sunday where 50,000 followers of Jesus living in Auckland filled up Mount Smart Stadium to celebrate together the risen Christ!

Different resources for a different rhythm

In time, this new rhythm to our gatherings may require different spaces or building designs. We might find we no longer need an auditorium arrangement (rows of seats and stages), but something more flexible. We may not even need our own space for large gatherings, but could meet in other spaces in our neighbourhood (e.g. school halls, performance spaces, town hall, community centres), thus releasing the current building/footprint/land/resource for some other purpose. 

Church buildings are not the hub of community life—do you know what is the hub in your neighbourhood? The shops and the schools are the focus of my local community. What spaces might our church partner with here?

How might this happen?

We’ve seen massive disruption since the COVID-19 lockdown began. Working differently has been a tiring experience for many. But the urge to return to business as usual need not influence our imaginations and decisions as we embrace the future.

Pastors, elders, team leaders, deacons—start floating a few scenarios of the things you’d like to see change as a result of the COVID-19 experience. Call for people to pray and share. Socialise what emerges.

If you don’t have an official ‘church leadership’ role, you are part of the majority in which any change relies upon your willingness to be open to and engage with. What can you imagine? What is the vision God is laying on your heart? Many of the church leaders I know long for this kind of engagement from the people they serve—so start sharing!

Contributor: Dr Mike Crudge

Mike facilitates the Carey Centre for Lifelong Learning (lifelonglearning.nz) which primarily exists to resource and support people in church leadership roles (formal and informal). He has been a pastor in two church contexts and now, with his household, attends their local Baptist church.

This article is adapted from a post titled “Sunday church after COVID-19” on Mike’s blog and is used with permission.