Background to the Study
Coronavirus disease (also called COVID-19, 2019-nCov, 2019 Novel Coronavirus) – an infectious disease caused by a new virus that had not been previously identified in humans and causes respiratory illness (like the flu) with symptoms such as a cough, fever and in more severe cases, pneumonia2 – started around December 2019 in Wuhan, China. It ravaged the world unabated in the year 2020 as the pandemic spread like wild fire to every part of the world within months of its outbreak. As parts of efforts to curtail its spread, churches and other public places were locked down in the late March 2020. When this took place, little did the church leaders and other people know that it would take months for churches in particular and other public places in general to be opened again for large gathering. Church leaders with the cooperation of their church members started looking for alternative ways of worship and doing other church activities.
Much remain to be said about the Covid-19 pandemic, but it is clear that one aspect of society that has been hardest-hit is the Church. Congregations were not allowed to meet in person for many months at a time, and when they did, strict protocols had to be complied with. This severely affected the functioning of churches, in many instances leaving the congregation in financial difficulty. With this “scrambling to protect what we have” mindset unfolding in congregations, church growth for many has been relegated to much lower on the list of core focus areas.
Church growth mostly consist of two parts: growing the church in numbers through personal Evangelism and outreach projects, and secondly spiritual growth of existing and new members through discipleship. At WordSpread we are connected to many churches in South Africa and since recently also across Africa in countries like Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. We therefore follow a process of continuous interaction focused on research and assessment of the trending issues affecting church growth. It is clear from the feedback that Covid-19 affected congregations in different ways, at different stages of the pandemic, with many still suffering from issues like lockdown regulations and its impact on gatherings and other church activities.
“as much as 25% – have no strategy at all to start with Evangelism again after the pandemic recedes”
From research, however, it is clear that many churches – as much as 25% – have no strategy at all to start with Evangelism again after the pandemic recedes. Some indicate that it will recommence during the second part of 2021, but half of all churches at least say they will start again once Covid policy allow. Not a single church reported that they had continued unhindered with Evangelism during the last 12 months, with activity at most churches being affected in some or other way – in some congregations the number of participants reduced, and 20% reported outreaches came to a complete standstill.
Apart from the effect of lockdown regulations, the other major role player in limiting Evangelism activities is the funding thereof. Without regular services, opportunities to receive offerings and tithes reduced, resulting in churches funding only inward facing activities and overhead expenditure. 50% of congregations state that outreach activities are funded from tithes and offerings. One quarter of them involve businesses to fund church growth activities, which again experienced a dry-up of funds. Only churches that require church members to pay registration fees or similar receipts were in a position to continue Evangelisation drives.
“more than 40% of pastors still does not believe in a structured personal Evangelism model”
What is also interesting is that more than 40% of pastors still does not believe in a structured personal Evangelism model, but are sure that members are able to effectively share the Gospel. Just a third of churches seem to apply a formal model, with another quarter prefering team based outreaches.
Exciting feedback is however that churches that upped their Evangelism drive during the past twelve months had seen many souls come to salvation. Some congregations saw as many as 10 people accept Christ.
With regards to Spiritual growth of members through discipleship, interesting feedback was received from church leaders. A statistic that surprised us at WordSpread is that 70% of pastors believe that their members have been equipped to the point that they know very well what the Great Commission requires from Christians. This differs from research by Barna, which indicates that very few Christians have any idea what the Great Commission is.
The sad truth is that many churches have no formal discipleship model, through which existing and new members get taught from the Bible on specific topics and in a structured format. To most pastors basic discipleship means attending church services – often only once a week. That lack of formal Bible schooling result in Christians not understanding the most basic aspects of what they profess to believe. It also leads to the scourge of “prosperity preaching” growing. In the instances where churches do apply some form of structured discipling, more than 40% focus on the new life in Christ after salvation. Very few spend time on the Old Testament, with some selecting to rather focus on “other important topics” like sexuality, work ethic, personal finances and tithing. It is exciting though to notice that some congregations – often the ones where WordSpread had the opportunity to present its Ignite! course – include equipping members in how to share their testimonies with others.
It is clear that church growth will continue to be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic for a long while to come. With that said, more than ever before, now is the time for churches and congregations to assess the effectiveness of their church growth model. Whatever such a model looks like, it should at least cater for membership growth through personal Evangelism and also basic discipleship, in order to provide for Spiritual growth.
Statement Of The Problem
Against the backdrop that the lockdown of churches and other public places have prevented pastors from performing their pastoral ministry in the traditional ways through physical contacts, churches had to find other means of holding their church activities, and pastors had to explore alternative means of performing their pastoral ministry. Therefore, this paper is an attempt to find out the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown and how the church can move forward, especially how pastors can be more effective in their pastoral ministry, after the churches are re-opened for congregational gatherings.