It is cliché to say the landscape of church ministry has changed in the past five years, but it is most definitely true. While COVID is often the explanation for these changes, the reality is that they would have taken place anyway. COVID simply accelerated and exacerbated the changes.
We at Church Answers see those changes taking place regularly. We have 1,800 pastors and other church leaders interacting every day, asking questions, and providing insights. I looked over our community known as Church Answers Central and picked seven recent questions we likely did not hear five years ago. They are true indicators that the times are truly changing.
1. What do you do when a church member asks for financial assistance with the funeral of a family member? To be clear, this question is not likely new, but its frequency is. Obviously, deaths due to COVID explain it at least partially. Our community wants to be generous and ministry-minded, but they wonder if doing it once sets a precedence that can’t be met in the future.
2. How long should you foster another church? Church Answers introduced “fostering” to the revitalization vocabulary about two years ago. It is a simple but profound concept. One church helps another church move toward health. At the end of the fostering period, the fostered church is either healthy, still unhealthy, or adopted by the fostering church. There was a consensus that the fostering period should not exceed one year lest the fostered church becomes dependent on the fostering church.
3. How do I get my older congregation to be willing to update the facilities for safety and cleanliness? Younger families are demanding safety and cleanliness, especially in this COVID era. We do not see that changing. But churches with predominantly older congregants often don’t see the need. It’s frustrating for church leaders.
4. Does your church have a volunteer ministry coordinator? I am surprised to see the increasing frequency of this question. Frankly, I don’t have a simple answer. Some have suggested the difficulty in recruiting volunteers is the issue behind the question.
5. How do you confront conspiracy theorists who are disrupting the church? I have clear memory of a group of church members in a church I pastored in 1988 who had a disrupting conspiracy theory. They were convinced that a certain living leader was the antichrist, and that Jesus was returning on a specific date. I was able to ride out this issue until the date arrived and Jesus didn’t. Most conspiracy theorists do not have an expiration date.
6. Is there a pastor shortage? There is definitely a pastor imbalance issue. Churches are taking longer and longer to find a pastor. They report that they have plenty of resumes, but not enough qualified candidates. Denominational churches in the past could depend on the formal and informal structures of a denomination to help them find a pastor. That is not the case today, at least as much as it was several years ago.
7. What is the role of a denominational leader today? We are actually getting this question from denominational leaders. The denominational leaders who seem to be struggling are trying to work and secure resources within their own denomination. Denominational leaders who are excited about their work tend to have formed alliances and partnerships outside their own denomination.
These are seven common questions we’ve heard in recent months that we did not hear with frequency five years ago. What would you add to this list? We would love to hear from you.
This article was originally published at churchanswers.com on September 7. Thom S. Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.