Commissioned to Feed God’s Sheep

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19, NKJV)

In a scripture known as the Great Commission, Jesus instructed his disciples to go into the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20). Making disciples, both then and now, must involve nourishing the people in the myriad ways they need to be fed. In the 21st century, feeding God’s people might involve preparing them to stand strong against the forces of oppression or racism or, equipping them to promote the kind of justice that Jesus taught. Nourishment might include a steady diet of encouragement for the least, the last, and the lost. Caring for God’s people might further involve providing them with places where they can escape the madness going on all around them. Or it might involve simply praying for them. No matter how you fine tune it, God’s people are hungry for spiritual food, and we, as 21st-century disciples and ministerial leaders, are responsible for feeding them. We are called to deliver the good news in novel ways, remaining starkly awake to the reality that one size no longer fits all (if it ever did!).

Altering styles and preferences for worship or expressing spirituality in different ways may be in order. Let’s face it, given the declining attendance in brick-and-mortar mainstream churches, doing church might necessarily entail exploring options through the Internet as a way of influencing the broadest possible audience.

Reed, J. R., & Reed, L. C. (2020). Cyber outreach: How to develop and evaluate your digital ministries. Center Street Publishing: Chicago, IL

Paradigm Shifts in the Post-pandemic Church

“I’m about to do a new thing… .Do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19)

Paradigms of the church have shifted over time. “During the late ’40s and ’50s, a growing church followed a growing population into the exploding suburbs. However, church growth was more of a sociological than a religious phenomenon. Going to church was what respectable people did, and associating with the right church was the way to get ahead”(Wilson, 1996). In the ‘60s, things changed with the emergence of a secularized baby boom population, many of whom represented a “newly affluent middle class.” Instead of attending church on Sundays, boomers opted for recreational activities. Canadian and American research studies showed that “most citizens still believed in God and still counted on the church for liturgical observances of life’s transitions. They were not angry with the church, but felt no need to be part of a sustained Christian community” (Wilson, 1996). Wilson noted that “in the ’70s and ’80s, at least in the Episcopal Church, we [the church] began to see some recovery.” But the perceived recovery did not stem the decline. By the 2000s, millennials reported they had no belief in absolute standards for right and wrong, as many of them continued to leave the church (Pew Research Forum, 2010). According to many sources, the church as we have known it in the past is in a state of decline (Jones, 2021).

A new question arises: What does it mean to be the church (the body of Christ) when the brick-and-mortar institution is in a state of decline? Historically, people have associated “the church” with buildings, offices, organizational arrangements, budgets, ministry, leaders, theology, doctrine and visibility (Pillay, 2020). Churches have changed since the beginning of the pandemic, and many former parishioners have no intention of going back to the old ways of doing things (Adamy, 2021). It just might be time to try something new. The 21st-century church is in a good position to spread the gospel in the digital space.

References

Adamy, J. (2021, 11/12). Churches changed during the pandemic and many aren’t going back. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/church-pandemic-covid-online-11636728162

Jones, J. M. (March 29, 2021). U.S. church membership falls below majority for the first time. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx

Pew Research Forum. (2010). Religion among the millennials. Retrieved from https://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2010/02/millennials-report.pdf

Pillay, J. (2020, 10/6). COVID-19 shows the need to make church more flexible. Transformation: An International Journal of Holistic Mission Studies. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0265378820963156

Reed, J. R., & Reed, L. C. (2020). Cyber outreach: How to develop and evaluate your digital ministries. Center Street Publishing: Chicago, IL

Wilson, C. R. (1996). Sustaining the new small church. Anglican Theological Review, 78(4), 549.