My thoughts on Thom Rainer’s ‘the Post-Quarantine Church’

I was recently gifted Rainer’s current book entitled ‘the Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation’.  

In little over an hour I was finished. Like his earlier works (Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Becoming a Welcoming Church, and I am a Church Member), this volume is very easy to read and digest. In just over one hundred pages Rainer outlines some very good thoughts that will help pastors and church leaders never return to the pre-quarantine normal.

As founder and CEO of Church Answers, Rainer and his team took it upon themselves to connect with and listen to thousands of church leaders in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The end result was put into ink and published so that churches and leaders can continue to focus on mission and eliminate needless busyness.  

Here’s how.

In very simple terms, Rainer calls leaders to re-think mindsets concerning buildings and bodies.  

First, churches must not simply re-think how people will be welcomed into the building, but they need to ask: how can our building best serve those who currently do not attend?  In the past churches welcomed the community for ‘well-planned, seasonal events’, but now churches need to ask how they can creatively find ways to reach people who are not currently being reached. 

Second, churches must continue reaching out into the digital world to find areas where a few things can be done well.  Churches must not be lured into the temptation of ‘digital busyness’ or not confuse a new busyness with effectives.  Ask how your church is able to best connect with the non-Christian in your community, and keep doing that.  

Third, churches would do well to focus on geographic boundaries rather than denominational lines.  Rainer says that neighbourhood churches were originally started in a community for the community.  The neighbourhood church had a clear purpose and mission: minister to those in your immediate vicinity.

Fourth, prayer needs to be about people praying.  Generally prayer rooms in church buildings remain empty and are often unused.  By utilizing technology and people, prayer ministries can effectively happen anywhere at anytime.

Fifth, referring back to the first challenge, churches will need to rethink their building facility in pretty much every way.  By beginning with a ‘blank slate’, churches have been given the opportunity to serve their community and form partnerships with groups and agencies like never before.  

Last, churches must always think strategically so that lasting change will occur.  A pandemic knee-jerk reaction will not suffice.  Ministry objectives, committee budgets, job descriptions and ministry portfolios will all need to be re-evaluated so that the church can be positioned to achieve success in the post-quarantine world. 

Rainer concludes by listing nine key changes for the newly formed post-quarantined church.  Many of these keys reinforce the earlier six urgent opportunities.  

While reading through this newest book on the church, I was reminded of Rainer’s earlier work Simple Church and Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church.  Rainer does reference Simple Church in this publication, and his referral to the early Jerusalem church is reminiscent of Warren’s focus.

The references to the early church are not many, but when they do appear, Rainer is looking only at the Jerusalem church from the very beginning of the book of Acts.  In fact, he references concepts from Acts 2:42-47.  But here’s the thing, the book of Acts seems to emphasize a different location and church other than Jerusalem in its pages.  In other words, a better example could have been made from the church in Antioch.

History tells us that Antioch was the first great city in which Christianity gained a footing.  It was here where the believers were first referred to as ‘Christians’ (Acts 11:26).  It was also in Antioch where the church launched the very first world-wide mission and missionary.  Remember Paul anyone?  

Through the ministry of Paul and Barnabas, the Antioch church displayed concern for people they had never met. It was in Antioch that the church sent out missionaries towards Cyprus, the mainland of Asia Minor, and elsewhere. In fact, Antioch became such an innovative and impacting ‘church’ that the Jerusalem church sent leaders down to Antioch to see what was happening. Oh, and one more thing, the Spirit of God was doing something new in Antioch.

Luke tells us that Antioch was experiencing the moving of God’s Spirit in ways that Jerusalem was not. In Antioch, people were operating with identified spirit-gifts. In Antioch, the church was communally recognizing and sending out workers to impact the nations. In Antioch there was unity between Jews and Gentiles. You can read about in Acts 13.

Also, it was in Antioch that humanitarian aide was organized and sent to those impacted by a famine.  I guess you could say that Antioch modelled a positive response when crisis hit.  

NT Wright summarizes the response from Antioch amidst the impending famine crisis:

So what do the Antioch Jesus-followers say? They do not say either ‘This must be a sign that the Lord is coming back soon!’ or ‘This must mean that we have sinned and need to repent’ – or even ‘this will give us a great opportunity to tell the wider world that everyone has sinned and needs to repent’. Nor do they start a blame-game, looking around at the civic authorities in Syria, or the wider region, or even the Roman empire, to see whose ill-treatment of the eco-system, or whose tampering with food distribution networks, might have contributed to this dangerous situation. They ask three simple questions: Who is going to be at special risk when this happens? What can we do to help? And who shall we send?

Wright, N. T.. God and the Pandemic (pp. 31-32). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. 

Luke tells us that, each of the disciples, according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brothers who lived in Judea. They did this, sending it to the elders by means of Barnabas and Saul.  (Acts 11:29-30)

So perhaps Antioch would be a better example if we are looking for an outward-focused, innovative, and neighbour minded church for our post-quarantine world.

Having said that, I highly recommend Rainer to all church leaders and pastors alike.  He has some really good things to say in easily understood ways.  He does offer practical guidelines and effective principals for churches to think through and implement.  

However, I personally found this edition to not bring an awareness to the Spirit’s creative, innovative and mobilizing work inside the people of God to be the ‘church’.  We cannot miss the primacy that Luke brings to the work of the Spirit in the life of the church.  This is somewhere Rainer does not go.  

Perhaps this is why I am focused on creating a leadership structure that is prioritized on the gifts of the Spirit. Perhaps this is also why I am developing a leadership curriculum so that other churches and leaders can help align their people with the needs of their community. Perhaps this is why we need the church to recalibrate.

More to come …

Maranatha!

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