We interviewed the Pastors of 12 different churches within our Baptist Union to get an insight into how they are travelling since restrictions have been lifted and as they look towards a post covid church. In order to get a feel across all segments, we interviewed Pastors from churches and in all segments – large and small, metro and regional, LOTE/ English speaking / multilingual. We asked 7 questions about where they are now and what the year ahead looks like?
Below is a summary of the insights from the group of churches we received responses from.
Please note: 12 churches were contacted for this article and, therefore, this is not designed to make generalisations, but to show an insight into how just some churches across our union are feeling at this moment in time.
- The majority of churches are in now in the reimagining or rebuilding phase where they are not back to full in person capacity, but are also open to what is ahead are using this time to reimagine what their church expression will look like in the future based on the shifts that have occurred in the last 2 years;
- Half of churches represented have over 60% of their congregation back meeting in person and around a quarter have 80-90% back;
- All but one church will continue to run hybrid church services using online church in some format, some seeing it as a new ‘font door’, some expanding their investment and service style to cater for a fully online audience in addition to their in person audience;
- The vast majority of churches continued their community outreach programmes through COVID and/ or have now recommenced any that had paused;
- Not surprisingly, although pastors and church leadership are hopeful for the future, most (and there were exceptions) are surviving, not thriving and are looking forward to opportunities to rest;
- It is encouraging to see that most churches (pastors and congregations on the whole), although recognising the effects of the last 2 years, are enthused about being back together in community and hopeful about the future and the possibilities that it holds;
- Some churches are sitting and holding, intent to slow down and get the basics right; others are forging ahead.
Read on for more insights.
Thanks to all the Pastors for taking the time to participate in this interview.
If your church is wanting to reimagine or revitalise, our Mission Catalyst Team would love to talk to you and assist you through a congregational mission and vision forum process. For more info click here
Q1 What mode are you in – crisis, recovery, returned to normal, reimagining future? (or other)
Two churches indicated they are returned to normal but the majority of Pastors we interviewed believe their churches are in then reimagining / rebuilding or renewal mode. A couple are definitely still in recovery mode, and even within those churches, certain segments would remain in crisis.
“We are in a rebuilding mode in Bendigo as we emerge from the pandemic with a real focus upon RENEWAL. The past two years has pushed and pulled us in so many different directions and our focus in the coming year is upon making a RENEWED commitment towards loving God, loving others and getting on with the mission of Jesus (being and making disciples) in this world.” Dave Lovell, Bendigo Baptist
“Like everyone we’re probably in all of these modes! But if I had to pick one, I’d say we’re in recovery mode.” Sally Agostino, Southern Cross Community Church
“In January, most of our congregation members had been affected by the virus. By the grace of God, we were able to go through. So, mentally we feel like it is over and not many people talk or are concerned about it.” Gail Moe, Werribee Karen Baptist Church
“Not everything needs to be dismantled. And even while deconstructing and rethinking we need to be caring, connecting, teaching, worshiping, praying, witnessing and serving in the kingdom of God. We have a Members and Supporters Vision gathering this week to listen to each other. Our Church Council and Pastoral Leadership are thinking and praying about the coming seasons. We are walking slowly. We are seeking to ‘hold’ for a while in the discovery & discernment phase before we make firm decisions.” Allan Demond, NewHope Baptist Church
Q2 What stage are you at re church online vs meeting in person? And if you are meeting in person and how long have you been back? And what % of you community is back? Are there some who you think will never return?
It is encouraging to hear that in over half the churches we spoke to, the pastors estimate that, although it has been a slow return due to some hesitancy, 60% or more (and in a quarter of cases, between 80-90%) of attendees have returned. All recognised that there will be some who will never return, but in contrast, many have gained online attendees that were not part of the church prior to COVID.
A couple of churches commented that they have either lost the fringes or the fringe have become even more fringe, for example those who attended once a month may now only attend every two months.
“There is still a percentage of people who are disengaged for various reasons, but we are hopeful that most will return in their own time. Our job is to provide a safe, welcoming and non-judgemental presence.” Malcolm Ward, Naringal
“From early February, we have been meeting in person and about up to 40-50% of congregation have been participating in church activities in person now. We see 10-20% of people are not likely to return to church in person in short or longer term.” Robyn Song, Bentleigh & Korean Baptist Church
“We are a bit unsure of the level of engagement online but here has been stories of anecdotal evidence of impact for online audience.” Paul Crothers, New Peninsula
“80% of members came back for worship but there is still fear and discomfort about being too close together, like we were before the pandemic. Unfortunately, the Church building where we were meeting pre COVID is no longer available and we have started looking for a new place to worship, but because we are still struggling to find somewhere, we have been meeting for worship services at our Pastor’s house.” Pancia Tintuep, Zotung Baptist Church
Q3 Are you still running online church in addition? If so, will it stay forever?
Almost all will churches we spoke to will continue to run church online in addition to their in person services. Several churches spoke of the need to invest in this area even further to develop the platform so that it is catering to the audience more precisely. Some churches, whilst running large online services, are still keen to attract as many people back to the community of in person events. Smaller churches are adapting their service styles to the hybrid model and including some of their online attendees in the service on screen.
“We will continue to run church online into the future because our connection has gone well beyond our local community and embraces people who can’t get to church.” David Hodgens Wodonga District Baptist
“We have always had an online service and during COVID we put more resources into this space, adding service hosts to engage with the congregation. We want to validate the online space and this will continue to grow in the future. We recognise that how people choose to worship is their choice – but our no. 1 messaging is that of community.” Mark Purser, Crossway (Burwood East campus)
“We only livestream intermittently now, primarily because we hire a hall and so livestreaming means taking and setting up equipment every time.” Sally Agostino, Southern Cross Community Church
“We have adopted a both-and approach. During COVID we invested in our video / online capacity (developing skills, improving technology, focusing staff time). The purpose of our online presence is likely to transition in the coming period, but we have an intention to continue an online worship opportunity.” Allan Demond, NewHope Baptist Church
Q4 What’s the pulse in your church? Are people traumatised, fearful, hopeful, enthused or any other emotion?
It is clear that although all of these emotions are being felt by different people (or the same people at different times), the overall sense from our interviews is that of enthusiasm and hope for the future. Across the churches we spoke to we heard there was /is some tiredness and reticence to either return or volunteer, mixed with some fear of the future from a world events perspective, but it seems the overwhelming emotion is joy to be back in community with fellow church members and hope as the church reimagines the future.
“At the first few weeks from returning to physical gathering service, most people were nervous and scared or hesitant to shake hands. First I wondered, if I offer my hand for a handshake, will people respond willingly? And as a pastor If I don’t offer for handshake what other will think of me.” Gail Moe, Werribee Karen Baptist Church
“Fearful because of world events – covid, but now Ukraine and potential war. If wasn’t for that, with regard to the church, they are hopeful about planning for the future.” Paul Huglin, West Preston
“Enthused and hopeful – but some have experienced trauma as a result of covid – there is an awareness of that and we are committed to pastoral care recovery in next 12 months and beyond.” Paul Crothers, New Peninsula
“We are glad to be back… we are happy to see some patterns being re-established and we are open to reshape for the future.” David Hodgens, Wodonga District Baptist Church
Q5 Have you re-engaged / recommenced ministry to/ in your community?
Most churches that we spoke continued their community outreach programmes right through Covid – those that didn’t have largely recommenced or are recommencing community ministries currently. Whist COVID made it difficult to meet together as churches, it does seem to have been a catalyst for community involvement and engagement.
One of our other stories in this issue is about the significant impact that the Whitehorse Churches Care (WCC) organisation, had in the local council area of Whitehorse. WCC is an initiative that Crossway, NewHope, Mitcham and Box Hill Baptist churches are involved in.
“Yes, in fact it was easier to engage the community and engage them earlier, than the worshipping congregation. One of the best things of the past two years was serving the local council’s covid recovery reference group, joining with other local community groups and the local council to share in the recovery process.” Jude Waldron, Armadale Baptist Church
“Throughout Covid, we had a significant ministry to the homeless of the city when other welfare groups were shutting up shop.” Dave Lovell, Bendigo Baptist Church
“Yes, once a month we run Green Wedge Public Lectures instead of our church service. It’s basically an opportunity to get experts along to talk about topics relevant to the local community (mainly environment, mental health and social justice). It’s like a bridge for people to experience church without the religious bits. We are a little community so having 20+ community members along was quite a thrill!” Sally Agostino, Southern Cross Community Church
Q6 How are you (and other pastoral team members / staff) holding up?
The answers to this question didn’t surprise us – church ministry teams have worked so hard during the past 2 years and, as church has recommenced, volunteers to run programmes have been hard to come by or unreliable due to COVID. The general consensus was that Pastors and teams are tired, do not have a lot left in their tanks, are surviving not thriving and looking for opportunities to rest. Having said that, they remain hopeful for the future.
“Very tired. The main spiritual challenge is to remain steady through the storm of emotions that fly around. Another big challenge is always having multiple contingency plans for when volunteers/plans fall through, which is frequent and exhausting. I’m thanking and relying on our ever-loving, constantly-present Alpha and Omega.” Jude Waldron, Armadale Baptist Church
“We are doing well, but the ‘tank’ is low. The challenge will be to find space in the coming 12 months for the necessary rest and renewal.” Allan Demond, NewHope Baptist Church
“We believe we are holding each other well. We had a tough Covid years through together and still trusting the Lord and each other in re-engaging people and re-imagining ministry. However, our youth pastor has resigned recently after having unpaid leave for a few month due to vaccination mandate issue.” Robyn Song, Bentleigh and Korean Baptist Church
Q7 What’s the outlook for the year?
The sentiment across the board is one of hope for the future, whilst acknowledging the effect that the last 2 years has had on people. Some churches are sitting and holding, intent to slow down and get the basics right. Others are forging ahead.
“Positive hopefulness – a recent series, BLESS (with a community angle) has expanded horizons and imaginations. There’s a great sense of the fact that we have to hold our plans lightly – but that’s ok. We’re going to give it a go because if we don’t were languishing and that’s not where we want to be.” Paul Huglin, West Preston
“Positive! Some of the things we did through covid such as our neighbourhood church initiative had such promise that we will revisit them in another form.” David Hodgens Wodonga District Baptist Church
“I can see the year ahead is bright and moving as God’s plan.” Gail Moe, Werribee Karen Baptist Church
“We look forward to getting used to being together and then letting creativity flow again.” Sally Agostino, Southern Cross Community Church
This story is also available in our e-magazine.