Lessons from 2020: How churches are innovating during the pandemic

In CPR Connects by Anna GolladayLeave a Comment

by Anna Hall, Director of Research & Development – Email Anna

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19, NIV)

A church in Rwanda used WhatsApp to connect with members and a money transfer app to process congregational giving. A church in Togo made fabric face masks for every member and began delivering food to those in need in the community. Members of a church in Scotland  picked up food and medicine for those who couldn’t go to stores and focused outreach on those who lived alone. Here in the U.S., churches began pen pal programs, offered guided instruction on technology, used conference calls and organized parking lot worship to serve those with low technology skills or limited connectivity. A pastor of Hispanic Ministry at an Episcopal congregation outside Atlanta served as interpreter and application assistant when families needed to connect with government or nonprofit assistance with food, medicine, rent and other basic needs. 

What do all of these approaches to ministry have in common?

  1. They were innovative – churches had to try doing a new thing
  2. They were hyperlocal – even in this time of distancing, churches derived their new strategies from the needs of their members and nearby neighbors
  3. They were both ancient and modern – apps were important, but also direct care for neighbors through visiting, sewing, and providing food. 

Innovation has now become commonplace in churches, after years of stasis or “church as usual.” Churches innovated in both the delivery of ministry through increasingly digital methods and in the ministry priorities guiding their work together. The research organization Barna found that by Easter 2020, 82% of pastors reported that their congregation had already made changes to their methods of ministry. By January 2021, 70% of Protestant pastors reported changing ministry priorities in their congregations in the last year. Even very early in the pandemic, almost half of pastors surveyed reported that they have seen their congregation grow the most in technological innovation during the crisis.

Tabitha Kapic, of the Chalmers Center at Covenant College, points to covid-related innovation as a potential model for ongoing innovation in the church, beyond these pandemic years. She suggests that churches might use the principles of Design Thinking to continue their innovation and responsiveness as we eventually return to more ordinary times.  

Design Thinking, according to Mihee Kim-Kort, begins with empathy and deep listening, in the congregation and the larger community. From there, a prototype is developed and launched, with the understanding that early ideas or designs might fail. In that failure is precisely where we find learning and growth. In short, for your congregation to be part of the new things God is doing in the world, failure is not only recommended but required! 

During the pandemic, you may have been more willing than ever to try and fail at different methods of ministry simply because we were all swimming in a new sea together. It is retaining that flexibility and willingness to risk that will carry your congregation boldly into what lies beyond this pandemic. Rather than returning to “church as usual,” how can your congregation keep taking risks in the years to come?

[two possible response invitations]

We’d love to hear how your congregation is innovating! Send us a message with a story of something new your church is doing. 


If you are ready to dream and vision about post-pandemic innovation in your congregation, Convergence coaches, consultants, and online instructors are here for you to support you in designing innovation, learning from that process, and navigating the challenging waters of church in this age. Reach out to us if you would like help thinking about what “doing a new thing” might look like for your church in 2021. 


Global Church Innovation: How the Pandemic is Changing the Church and Why It’s OK | byFaith

COVID-19: Black churches employ innovation to worship during a pandemic | New York Amsterdam News: The new Black view

Looking Beyond The Church Walls: A Priest Finds New Ways to Serve During COVID-19 – Episcopal Diocese of AtlantaLooking Beyond The Church Walls: A Priest Finds New Ways to Serve During COVID-19 – Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

Church Leaders Share Their Plans for (Digital) Easter 2020 – Barna Group

New Barna Surveys Check in on Pastors During COVID-19 Crisis – Barna Group

ChurchPulse Weekly Conversations: Jeanne Stevens on Innovative Church – Barna Group

Mihee Kim-Kort: How can the design process help churches think creatively and attract young people? | Faith and Leadership

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