COVID-19 pandemic disrupted church services. Disruptions led to strict compliance with government safety measures. Churches adopted protocols of social distancing, disinfecting, and wearing a mask. But priests find themselves bombarded with opinions from those refusing to wear a mask, conspiracy proponents, and devotees demanding to receive holy communion on the tongue – often stopping to come to Church.
Disruptive Trends Needing Attention in the Church
I am talking about disruptive trends in the Church that get less to almost no attention. It’s a complicated situation, as the Christian culture is becoming a minority in Europe and in the US. People talk about being raised a Catholic. Many of these people identify themselves as “nones” with no religious affiliations. Shockingly, the number of ‘nones’ in the census is larger than the Roman Catholics in North America. ‘Nones’ are rapidly increasing across the globe.
Churchgoers worry about how the post-pandemic services will look. Some worship communities will be obliterated, wiped out as without notice. Christians will learn to behave as a minority. Christian countries (or regarded as one) have public policies almost contradictory to the Church’s teachings on life and our ‘common’ home.
The challenge to evangelize continues more than ever before – to bring people to Jesus. Church leadership may have to look at disruptive trends as an opportunity to foster faith communities.
Nine Disruptive Trends in the Church. What Can Leaders Do?
1. The danger of Average Churchgoer Disappearing
Law of average may have worked in the past. The average person is lost in the crowd and will disappear from the church pews – without even the priest noticing it. Priests try to be relevant with limited resources at their disposal. An average churchgoer has gifts that others don’t. And churches that are leveraging such skillsets of average parishioners will grow. A priest who fails to connect with the audience will eventually see a declining congregation.
2. Global Competition for Priests to Deliver Sermons
Faithful flock to the churches to feast on a well-delivered sermon and great music. For the first time, people are using their access to online services from all over the world – some preachers on the screen are better than their pastor. Priests have to polish their skills to grab attention, break the word of God, and to deliver the message. Quality preaching will triumph over repeated low-quality content. Your pastor may not preach every Sunday, giving him additional time to prepare a better sermon. the congregation suffers from fatigue to listen to the same voice every Sunday. Pastors may play a video sermon from another pastor or bring in visiting preachers.
3. Church in Action as opposed to a Church in Liturgy
People want to do something for the less fortunate. There is a hunger to serve others in an ocean of selfishness. A Sunday service has become more about the sermon than service to the community. People listen to excellent homilies online from scripture scholars and communication experts. People want the religious experience, but it’s more about making a real connection in the community.
4. Challenge to be a Priest-Entertainer on Camera
As the church services are getting live-streamed, it’s a new learning curve for the clergy. Priests continue to find themselves coping with the congregation in front of them and the audience behind the screen. Not all priests agree to a live-streaming service, as younger clergy embrace social media to engage with the audience. The priest should avoid turning worship services into some form of religious entertainment.
5. Flood of Information about God against a Desire to Encounter Him
There is so much information about God and less action to continue the mission of Jesus. Encountering God offers a deeper level of hope than all the information about spirituality. People need moments of transformation than a load of information. People want to be part of the right action – be a solution than spread pessimism.
6. Younger Priests versus the Older Clergy
There is always a tension between rigidity and dynamism. Young leaders (under 50 years) are leading growing churches. Younger priests continue to lead young adults, youth and children into a meaningful expression of faith. Younger priests tend to experiment often, fail, learn from the mistakes and push the boundaries to reach people. Young people tend to innovate more often as compared to a senior population.
Younger clergy have more goals, which can blur their focus. But the older priests continue to serve the people. Exceptions do exist. Even the aging clergy can bring energy and freshness into the ministry.
7. Change of Leadership Will Bring Additional Crises
Succession crisis. The older priests know the time to move but struggle with the transition. Younger leaders become frustrated because the senior priests hold on to the office. When you interact with younger priests, you will learn how senior leadership stubbornly refuses to accept suggestions from young leaders. The church leadership challenge is to deal with pastors who lack vision, energy, and novel ideas – and some who refuse new ideas as impractical or financially unaffordable. Younger priests confess that it’s a leadership crisis that has led to the Church’s decline.
Don’t take this as ammunition to fight older priests and endorse younger clergy. I do respect priests, irrespective of age. I am writing about issues that can be addressed to foster a missional church – faith in action. Outstanding leadership is open to new learning. Rigid ones will fall off the cliff.
8. Politics that will Divide Congregation
I recently saw a social media post: the left-wing and right-wing belong to the same bird. Leaders fail to unite a politically divided congregation on the Gospel’s values. It’s controversial to take sides with political parties on public policy matters regarding abortion, euthanasia, and human rights violations. But silence is not golden. The church leaders need to navigate the divisive culture to serve the faithful. When church leaders make public their political affiliations, those who don’t share the same views feel alienated. The people will be divided on issues that have less to do with core faith values. The Church exists for the glory of God, not to elect or defeat political parties. In a divided culture, Christians help and offer hope – not hate.
9. Be Ready for Online Conversation
As the Church Online experiences grow, pastors need to interact with a different audience- who may not share the same religious affliliation or are culturally diverse. But replying to comments on social media posts and engaging in healthy conversations is a way to go forward. Feedback is instantaneous, and the response needs to catch up even before getting into the meeting rooms to plan a strategy. Pastors need to be comfortable with controversy, be well informed, and prudent. There are tools to handle nasty comments. Priests will have to search for creative responses rather than hide, block, or ignore damaging comments on social media handles.
I look forward to your feedback on the topic, so emerging and pivotal for the apostolate. The disruptions offer an opportunity for growth, ideas to navigate crises, increase engagement, and foster growth within the faith community.
Recently, I read a well-written article by Carey Nieuwhof on disruptive trends. It’s reflective. Carey’s write-up led me to add my experience as a pastor and write something about it.
Something for you …
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