Morgan Bailey noted many events that have changed generations: the assassination of President John Kennedy, the Challenger disaster and, more recently, 9/11.
“Now we have a new event: COVID-19,” said Bailey, pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Ranburne. “The pandemic isn’t just a moment, but it is indeed a change agent. We face a new reality.”
He led a session entitled, “Moving Forward: A Post-COVID Conversation,” during Pinnacle Alabama, Aug. 6-7 at Shocco Springs Conference Center, one of a number of presenters at the conference for church leaders.
Bailey shared research suggesting churches are now at 60-70 percent of their pre-pandemic attendance, but the latest information about the Delta variant has created further unrest.
‘Intentional and purposeful’
“[He] said simplicity will be vitally important as we move forward,” Bailey noted. “Anything we do must be intentional and purposeful. We must streamline our church schedules for what is essential.”
Bailey suggested leaders need to “turn the church inside out.”
“In our church we’ve begun to ask members to come and pray at our altar once each month specifically for the unsaved they know,” he said. “I propose an emphasis each month, such as family, friends, neighbors and the like. We also sponsored a Freedom Fest this summer with fireworks and hot dogs for the community.”
Though people feel freer to return to in-person worship, Bailey noted, an online presence will continue to be necessary as one of the “hooks we have in the water.”
“We must have digital proficiency, though, of course, many of us struggled to get on board last year,” he acknowledged. “Digital is now the ‘front door’ people walk through, and we’ve had people come to our church who found us first online.”
Bailey added he’s begun to greet online worshippers with phrases such as, “Thank you for inviting us into your house. Now we invite you into His house.”
He also is thinking about shortening the morning online service, including only one music selection and the sermon.
“I think most viewers don’t stay with us for a full hour, so this is one idea we’ve had,” Bailey said.
During discussion following Bailey’s presentation, one attendee used the legal term, “due diligence,” to describe how churches must follow guidelines through the pandemic.
“We do everything we can do to make people safe,” he said.
Another attendee said his church had decreed “no handshakes or hugs in August” during uncertainty over the Delta variant.
Topper Reid of Unlimited Partnerships (unlimitedpartnerships.org) agreed with the research about those who have dropped out of church.
“Lifeway says we’ve lost 33 percent during this time,” he noted. “Lifeway also tells us that 88% of our churches have had at least one COVID diagnosis, and about 30% have had at least one death. And we’ve seen an increase in the use of alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms.”
Reid said the gospel is “the game-changer.”
“The first line in the old Royal Ambassadors pledge is, ‘I will be a well-informed, responsible follower of Christ,’” he remembered. “This continues to be a great model. We must build relationships with others in our lives and share Christ. He’s the only hope.
Cody Hale of Iron City Baptist Church in Anniston, led “Disciple-Making Takes Commitment,” saying that assignment is God’s plan to bring His Kingdom into the world.
He contrasted Mt. Rushmore with the Grand Canyon.
“Mt. Rushmore was created over 14 years with dynamite, but the Grand Canyon was created by God over many generations with erosion,” Hale said. “Disciple-making is actually God’s process for taking away our impurities. I sometimes say that I’ve moved from ‘Evangelism Explosion’ to ‘Discipleship Erosion!’” he said with a laugh.
Hale admitted parts of the Christian mission contain “grittiness.”
“J.I. Packer wrote about the ‘Puritan principles’,” Hale said. “The Puritans taught that ministry is powerful, painful and useful. The Christian life and mission can be discouraging at times as we ‘share life’ with others, but it is worthy of your life and mine.
“We can see what God is doing and it brings joy.”
Daniel Edmonds, director of the office of Sunday School and discipleship for the Alabama State Board of Missions, said he wanted to offer Pinnacle this year since it wasn’t an in-person event in 2020.
“I thought if we had 200, rather than the 500 we’ve had before, we’d be successful,” Edmonds said. “Training is essential, and we’re trying to learn to be nimble and flexible. We’ve had some discussion about making the event a hybrid in the future.”
Steve Layton, SBOM lead strategist for groups, said another innovation at this year’s Pinnacle was “outposts,” or conversation groups, in more intimate settings.
“These discussion groups have given attendees a more relaxed and informal setting to talk about individual concerns,” he explained. “We think these have been a helpful addition to our schedule.”
Layton said video materials are available at pinnaclealabama.org, and selected videos from the Shocco Springs event will be posted soon.
He noted his office is available to partner with individuals or groups of church leaders to “come to you” and answer questions about disciple-making.
Both Edmonds and Layton can be reached at 800-264-1225.