Soon, we will be on the other side of the greatest crisis the world has known in our lifetime – a pandemic that has stifled economies; shuttered schools, businesses, and churches; taken the lives of millions; and, though slowing, is by no means done. One of the side-effects of COVID relates to how COVID is clarifying the mission of the church.
As church education leaders, our concerns primarily center on the impact COVID has made on our small group and discipleship ministries. Most of us lead churches that have, at least passively, embraced small groups as their primary strategy to reach, teach, and engage people on mission to serve and share Christ with the world. However, with the changes wrought by COVID, we are left to wonder not only what that world will look like, but to ponder the transformed appearance of the post-pandemic church itself. In this age of uncertainty, we can be assured that to remain true to our sacred calling and engaged with our secular culture, we must learn from this global tragedy and adjust to how ministry might be different in a post-pandemic world.
Quail Springs closed in-person worship and groups at the end of March 2020. Each day was like a hurricane blowing through our ministry lives. With no rhythm or routine, no precedent or plan, we could only react to the debris swirling unrelentingly about us. In the decision-making process, we did our homework, listened to the experts, and sought advice from others before making what we hoped were the best decisions. With cautious faith, the people followed, and only time will reveal the soundness of our judgment.
Early on, our ministry team observed how different people responded to the crisis – engagement, withdrawal, panic, excitement, disappearance, leadership, etc. A pattern emerged revealing that those who responded most favorably were typically those who had previously participated in one of our discipleship ministry relationships. This article will examine some of what we learned from those participants about our discipleship ministry and ways we are thinking differently about how we make disciples who are prepared to meet the ministry challenges and opportunities presented in the post-pandemic era.
Two months into COVID, something happened. Small bands of our people were found to be meeting off campus, praying and studying together, doing ministry, and serving others in their community. At first, we thought they were Connect Groups (Sunday School), but quickly discovered them to be discipleship groups. These D-groups had initially banded together outdoors for fellowship and prayer, but soon expanded to include providing meals, picking up medicine for shut-ins and sharing childcare duties for working moms. Why, when kept from meeting indoors, did they take the ministry outside? One leader explained, “Because we love Jesus and each other. And when we saw the need that we could meet – we knew we had to act!”
Seeing this led ministry staff to commit time and resources to create more opportunities for people to engage in discipleship relationships. To further this goal, the 2021 church theme, A Time to Grow, was initiated. It is an 18-month emphasis on discipleship with each quarter presenting a set of spiritual disciplines to be mastered and opportunities offered to engage in studies and actions that cultivate or demonstrate a spiritual discipline. For support, videos featuring testimonies of people impacted by D-groups are shown regularly in worship services. A Discipleship Portal was created on the church webpage that informs and provides a digital application for joining in a discipleship relationship. Some adult Connect Groups have already begun providing same gender D-groups to group members. Additionally, quarterly Discipleship Information Meetings are offered to help people better understand what discipleship is, what D-groups are, what other discipleship relationships available, and how they can join one. The church has committed to developing or providing discipleship resources and opportunities in a way not previously known. It is as though Quail Springs has entered a discipleship revolution!
What must we do to prepare our people to be effective followers of Christ when the next crisis arises?
Will our post-pandemic discipleship ministry be better than our pre-pandemic one?
How can you release your groups to shine the light of Christ in a world made dark by pandemic and sin?
A new era of ministry is before us; are we up to the challenge?
Let us make a way, not excuses!
Jerry Ross is the Minister of Education at Quail Springs Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, OK. He is also a long-time member of BACE and a current board member.