10 Things We’ve Learned during a Year of COVID

As I’ve talked with church leaders over the last month, I’ve listened to hear what they’ve learned over the past year of COVID. Here are some of their answers: 

  1. We had taken congregational fellowship for granted. That’s because we never dreamed we in North America would not be gathering as a local body. Persecuted and threatened believers around the world, on the other hand, know better. They’re deeply grateful to gather when they can. 
  2. Our world is a small world. It’s geographically big, but a single virus has shown us how connected we are among the nations. That reality ought to deepen our burden for missions and lead to more prayer for missionaries. 
  3. We can still do church well while doing fewer activities. In some ways, COVID has forced us to make hard calls about some church programs – calls we probably should have made anyway. I pray we don’t return to cluttered activity once this situation is past. 
  4. Seeing faces matters when we preach. That’s not to say we can’t preach to people via a camera, but it is to recognize that much of our preaching is dependent on seeing faces (the whole face, without a mask) while we preach. Perhaps this lesson will push us preachers to give more attention to maintaining good eye contact. 
  5. There’s something special about a congregation singing together. I’ve experienced that truth overseas where outnumbered believers just rejoice to sing together at all. Now, I’ve experienced a similar sense in my church in North Carolina. The praises of God’s people are sweet. 
  6. Church leaders can be creative when we need to be. Sometimes we get stuck in routines and ruts, and nothing short of a pandemic can force us out of the norm. What this crisis has shown us, though, is that the combined wisdom of God’s people can be resourceful and innovative. 
  7. We were often more disconnected from our community than we thought. In some cases, congregations have been more intentional about helping their community during COVID than they had been in years. If nothing else, this crisis moved community needs to the front burner for many churches. 
  8. Many parents depend on childcare and children’s church during Sunday activities. In many cases, it’s been the young couples with children who aren’t returning to worship until all childcare is available. I realize some readers may see that as problematic, but I’m simply reporting what we’ve learned. 
  9. We must do better pastoral care of our senior adults. Some congregations do this really well, but others only respond reactively to needs among our seniors. I’ve seen many churches, though, make a much stronger effort to shepherd their senior adults during COVID. I trust that trend will continue.  
  10. We have to think through what our approach will be should we face any similar situation—whether it’s a pandemic, political opposition, and any other obstacle to worship. We had to respond overnight one year ago, but we need to have learned from the past year. My guess is we’ll face something else in the years to come. 

What would you add to this list?  


  • Robin G Jordan says:

    Here is what I observed over the past year. A number of these observations may run counter to what pastors are reporting or you yourself have observed.
    1. Churches have done a poor job of integrating children into the life, worship, and ministry of the local church. Young couples with children should not need children’s programs in order to attend church with their children. Except for a nursery for infants and toddlers. churches should not need children’s programs to lure young parents to church. The church did without children’s programs, including nurseries, for centuries. Babies crying in church was a common sound. Babies being cleaned and fed was a common sight. No one frowned at a parent because their small child was fidgety. At some point in the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century churches concluded that their worship service and other gatherings were for adults only, not children and adults. Instead of treating children as a part of the church, we relegated them to Sunday school, children’s church, and the nursery. Once we became locked into that mindset, convinced young parents that they cannot participate in church without children’s programs, and therefore they must stay home or go to another church when these programs are not available, we find ourselves regathering in our buildings for in-person worship services and other gatherings with young parents conspicuously absent. A second reason that they may not be coming to church with their children is that they do not trust us to do the right thing when it comes to wearing face masks, social distancing, and other preventative measures. When they go shopping, they see church members and even the pastor in the store without a face mask and not keeping a safe distance between themselves and other shoppers. They go on Facebook and read posts where church members and pastors are declaring face masks and social distancing are for “wusses,” fearful Christians, those lacking in faith, and insisting against all the evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax, or its seriousness has been exaggerated.

    2. We are romanticizing the in-person gatherings of the local church. We have forgotten how some folks were really unfriendly toward visitors and newcomers, how they staked out a row of seats or a pew for themselves and did not let others in that row of seats or pew, how they formed “holy huddles” which ignored visitors and newcomers, and much of the downside of in-person gatherings.

    I happened to be between churches when the pandemic blew into town. I was attending two churches, one where I increasingly did not feel that I fit in, where I sometimes felt that I was tolerated and not fully welcome, and the other where I was only beginning to form relationships with the church’s pastor and regular attendees. Online I was reading a slew of articles that one way or another played up the importance of gathering, some of which to the point of claiming that there was no church if whole congregation was not present. If that is the case, then the church has not existed since New Testament times.

    While these articles were dressed in a Scriptural veneer with frequent references to the Letter to the Hebrews and Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, the underlying fear that appeared to be motivating these articles was the fear that online church would supplant in-person church. It was scarcity thinking. There are not enough people to go around, and we might not get our share of them. While there was a lot of talk of fearful Christians who did not trust God enough to protect them from the COVID-19 coronavirus, there was no talk of fearful Christian leaders who did not trust God enough to keep their churches extant during the pandemic.

    There was little attention to what Scripture tells us: God works through ordinary means as well as extraordinary means. God could be protecting us through face masks, social distancing, and other sensible precautionary measures and the development of safe and effective vaccines. People were staying away from in-person gatherings not out of fearfulness but out of cautiousness. They knew their fellow church members too well.

    3. Pastors have been preaching to radio audiences since the 1920s and to TV audiences since the 1950s. We take our services online and suddenly we need to see faces? What do you think the guy in the back pew is thinking when he sleeps through every sermon no matter who is preaching? Or the guy in the pew in front of him whose head is always down during the sermon? Or the woman who sits near the front and whose face is a wooden mask? Maybe it helps to look at that woman who is smiling but she has always a fixed smile on her face? Like generations of Southern women, she has been taught to keep smiling no matter what. People’s body reactions do not always reflect what they are thinking or feeling. We can become too dependent upon them when we preach.

    4. I have spent a good part of the last twelve months watching videos of church music of various kinds on YouTube. Videos of congregational singing are very revealing. They not only pick up all the background noises, but they also pick up the lack of enthusiasm with which some congregations sing hymns and sacred songs and the poor quality of their singing. If I were a member of that congregation, I would not miss their singing. Lackluster does not adequately describe it.

    5. I have also watched a number of online services, but typically not for very long. For a variety of reasons, they did not hold my attention. Those who were conducting the services were attempting to do online what they do in person. What they were doing did not translate well to online. In some cases, it did not work at all. My conclusion was that if churches do not give more attention to the production of their online services, they were going to lose their online viewership to other churches that do a better job. If their online services were representative of their in-person services, they were really in trouble.

  • Chuck,
    Thanks for your article, which I find to be largely on point. While Robin presented one or two very great points, my personal observation from ‘inside the church’, while attempting to walk in harmony with the New Testament teachings of the church and build the Kingdom (during these unusual days), have led me to independently make many of the same observations which you have. The church gathered has great power, the church scattered has great power, & the church being like Christ intended is what we need to strive for. This includes so many corporate activities, “Prayer leading to Worship, Worship leading to Evangelism, Evangelism leading to Discipleship (the forgotten focus), Discipleship which leads us to Fellowship (Koinonia), Fellowship which leads us to Ministry, and putting all these together we find ourselves ON MISSION and doing MISSIONS. This seems to be the ‘healthy, New Testament’ model.
    Thanks for your reminder today. As usual, I will post this ‘on point’ post. Thanks again.

  • mark says:

    This is the perspective from a rabbi of likely the largest Reform Jewish temple in the world.

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