Editor’s note: For the January 1 issue of the Illinois Baptist, IBSA leaders shared their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities facing the church in 2021.
Carmen Halsey, IBSA director of leadership development
In 2021, churches have a pivotal role as communities recover and rebuild. They will be the bridges that carry hurting people to Jesus.
For some, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated crises already present in their lives. A healthcare hardship or employment struggle was only made worse by the challenges of 2020. For others, the pandemic threw them into new crises from which they’re still reeling.
In the first six months of the pandemic, Pew Research reported, a quarter of American adults said they had trouble paying bills. Around 4-in-10 said they or someone in their household lost a job or wages due to COVID-19. And the struggles are more than financial. The normal ways we live and deal with difficulties have been upended.
The new year is an opportunity for the church to intervene in all kinds of crises, and to ask questions that get to the heart of the matter and point people to Jesus.
Some of our ministry this year will be to connect people with resources they may not know are available to them. In other cases, churches will need to do a “gap analysis” to determine what ministries are missing from their communities. Where can we lean in and meet a need not yet being met?
To quote a well-known phrase, the church can be a lighthouse, rather than merely a landmark. The ministry at hand is pastoral ministry, but it can be done by people who aren’t necessarily the pastor.
Underlying all our ministry must be the desire to see true transformation. Jesus could look at somebody and see the physical need, but also the heart. We need to ask the questions behind the situations in front of us. Everything we do should be about trying to build a bridge to get that person to the gospel.
Brad Lovin, IBSA missions director
The rise of online education and remote work has changed community dynamics in ways that will last even after the pandemic is over. Across all sectors, there is an increasing push to decentralize industries that don’t require daily face-to-face engagement.
The psychological impact could be profound for the church. People who consider themselves outsiders will be even more skeptical about attending a worship service outside their comfort zone. Here are three ideas to consider as we seek to engage increasingly distant neighbors:
Microfinance neighborhood evangelism. Churches can budget funds for families to host small-scale evangelism events (cookouts, craft nights, clean-up Saturdays) in their neighborhoods. Small-scale events prioritize evangelism as everyone’s responsibility, and orient the entire church to a “going” versus “gathering” approach to ministry.
Create community space. There will be an increased demand for common space for people to work, go to school, and socialize. Churches that consider transforming some of their space to a friendly, safe work and school space with high-speed internet and ample coffee will capitalize on new evangelistic opportunities.
Connect with new movers. People will be on the move more in the next 20 years than in the last century. Create a welcome kit for new families, and train church members to engage new neighbors. As many people move to new areas, churches who position themselves to welcome new neighbors can sow the gospel.