I’ve been in some inspiring Zoom meetings recently–which appears to be the new norm. (If you haven’t experienced Zoom, it’s a software program that allows a few people or thousands to “meet on-line” in real time.)
Last week one gathering involved 300 mission leaders. Another four-hour session brought sixty youth ministry heads together. Then pastors and Christian leaders hooked up in my hometown.
Finally, we celebrated the National Day of Prayer on May 7 via Internet streaming which united millions of followers of Christ in virtual worship and prayer.
Is it time to re-set the Church by “zooming” back to the Book of Acts?
Zooming Back to the Book of Acts
The current pandemic has certainly changed the world, though that depends on where you live.
In 52% of U.S. counties (1630 out of 3007) there have been zero deaths. In another 447 counties (14%) there was one death. In some 443 counties (14%) there were 2-5 deaths (including Kitsap County, Washington where I live). So, in eighty percent of the counties of the USA, there were 5 or less deaths.
On the other hand, over half of all coronavirus deaths happened in five states–New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois and California. Most fatalities took place in the Northeast corridor between Philadelphia and Boston–a region connected by rail and the most densely populated region of the country. Thus, Covid-19 remains primarily an urban problem–which is true of most historic pandemics.
(For a wise perspective on balancing safety and human freedom read the following article by Kimberley Fletcher of Mom’s for America.)
Other than small businesses, the 350,000 churches in America might have taken the biggest hit from the lock down. Most closed weeks ago and the future is questionable in various states–especially larger gatherings. My home church saw its first closures since 1888.
Then, we began streaming–and “attendance” blossomed.
Many years ago, I heard evangelist Nate Krupp state: “Jesus will come back for a Church like He left.“
Nate recently shared some further insights. He believes God is re-setting the Church through the pandemic. If we listen carefully and follow the Savior’s lead, we just might re-kindle the power, structures, and growth (including the dynamic messiness) of the Early Church.
We’re going back to the book of Acts—and that’s a good thing.
Here are some “words” that I’m hearing (akin to the messages to the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3):
- Pruning – Tom Bloomer of Youth With A Mission believes that God is pruning the Church to prepare us for mature and substantial growth. This is always God’s way in times of hardship.
- Breakthrough – In 2013, God spoke to Loren Cunningham that 2020 would be a year of great breakthrough in global missions. He believes this will be fulfilled through the global pandemic.
- Killing sacred cows – Many church leaders believe the “re-set” means we must eliminate any old programs and emphases that are “status quo” to make way for “new wine in new wine skins.”
- Innovation – It is time to re-think our personal lives, businesses and doing church. What new methods must we use to reach people? What structures must we birth to bring in the spiritual harvest?
- Discipleship – Discipleship stands paramount to the Church’s future growth and its lack remains the primary reason for our demise. One-on-one, small group, and intentional discipling/mentoring are keys to the future. Pastoral gifts must multiply.
- Smaller is better – As governments clamp down on larger gatherings, we must pivot to home churches, small groups, and many creative networks of God’s people.
- Prepare for tribulation and persecution – Pastors in America are being jailed, fined, and persecuted by civic leaders who trample First Amendment rights under the guise of safety and national emergencies. This fight for freedom has just begun.
God is also strongly encouraging the Church to use 21st century technology (like Zoom) to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). We’ve used the Internet for global evangelism. Now we must harness it for worldwide discipleship.
Nick Hall of Pulse Ministry led a recent on-line evangelistic event where an estimated 1.7 million people from 167 countries tuned in and over 100,000 people put their faith in Jesus after hearing the Good News.
Hall explained, “We were literally getting smartphone photos from all over the world–from Nigeria to India and China–of families gathering in their living rooms around 18-inch cathode-ray TVs, laptops, and HD screens watching our services. The doors to our church buildings may have been closed, but the church has not closed. We are living through a Great Quarantine Revival, and I think God is just getting started.”
David Jeremiah, founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries says his on-line viewership has skyrocketed. “The church is alive and well and may be more responsive than I can remember except for the possible exception of 9/11. What we’ve learned from all of this is God doesn’t need a building for there to be a church.”
On Easter Sunday, over 90,000 people tuned in to Jeremiah’s online worship service. “I’m preaching to more people than I have ever preached to in my life,” he said, adding that after the service, he gave viewers the opportunity to receive Christ. Over 600 people clicked on that button. “I’ve been doing this for over fifty years. I’m all over media, and I’ve never had anything like that happen…this is a new and different thing that God is doing. It’s unprecedented.”
Megachurch Pastor Greg Laurie says even young people are starting to embrace the Gospel during this time: “Last week, we had over a million people tune in for church. These are people literally from all around the world from every age and background who are missing church. So, to the best of our ability, we are bringing church to them. What’s more, hundreds of thousands of them are people between the ages of 18 and 34.”
Ever since the shutdown began, Laurie’s viewership among young people has increased 235%, Laurie said. “Could it be that simply by responding to something no one saw coming, we’ve unwittingly stumbled into part of God’s answer to a generational riddle?” At the end of one message, Laurie asked people to pray and ask Jesus Christ to come into their lives. At last count, over 31,000 have responded. Laurie said. “You’ve heard of ‘life imitating art.’ Well, this is virtual reality becoming actual reality.”
Nate Krupp shares some good prescriptions for a revitalized Church in the 2020’s:
1. There is only one Church in (name of city/area), composed of those walking with Jesus. We must think differently and view ourselves as a large family (as they did in Acts).
2. The terms “Body of Christ” and the “Kingdom of God,” should be used more frequently instead of hiding behind our parochial/denominational walls.
3. Most congregations must change to survive (new wine in new wine skins).
4. We need to pray 2 Chronicles 7:14 and pray for a heaven-sent revival.
5. All believers should use their gifts to glorify God, serve one another, and lead others to Christ.
6. Home churches and the “neighborhood Church” will thrive in our changing climate.
God is using the pandemic in many ways to prune us, bring spiritual breakthroughs, and force innovation. We must embrace new technologies, change some structures and prepare for persecution and great harvest.
It’s time for a Church re-set.
Jesus wants to return for a Church like He left.
The Church in the book of Acts was tasked by God to find their way in the new world created by Jesus’ death and resurrection. They became prayerful, united, based in homes, innovative and experienced revival-–which Charles Finney described as “a new beginning of obedience to God.”
Zoom us back Holy Spirit.