Rethinking the role of church in community

Covid took a wrecking ball to so many of the pillars, routines and truths that had come to define life as we knew it. As we continue to pick through the rubble left behind, it’s quite interesting what’s left standing.

They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. When churches shut their doors in March 2020, it wasn’t just the hymns and the sermons that came to an end. All those lunch clubs, drop-in centres, groups for new parents, and youth clubs that quietly got on with bringing people together ceased too.

Much of society hadn’t given a second thought to the activities that tick along in the background. But when we experienced the reality of social isolation for ourselves, there was a revelation that all those ‘nice things’ churches do are in fact the essential to the fabric of our society.

Indeed, researchers from the University of York described the silent support provided by our churches as the “invisible infrastructure of care, support and socialisation” that sticks society together.

Thinking outside the church

Of course, while the doors were bolted, the church was forced into the community. As churches delivered shopping, medication, and phone support, we found ourselves rubbing shoulders with those we’d perhaps not seen as natural comrades.

We began working with GP surgeries, local authorities, schools, and other faith groups. Difference became insignificant as we rallied for a common cause. What’s interesting though, is that the appetite for collaboration has continued even as Covid has waned.

Reports from the all-party parliamentary group on faith and society found that “An overwhelming majority of participating councils and local authorities – some 76% – stated that they were keen for new partnerships with faith communities to continue into a post-Covid19 policy landscape.”

Perfect storm of challenges

But let’s address the elephant in the room. Covid may be a memory, but we’re facing what is quite possibly the worst winter in living memory. As energy and food costs go through the roof, Trussell Trust are already reporting a 50% increase in demand from their foodbanks – and most of us are yet to turn on the heating.

At a time when demand for support is on the increase, churches are also having to tighten their belts. The government’s newly announced plans to cut energy bills for churches and other public buildings will help – but not a lot. Especially when cash-strapped congregations are reprioritising their budgets.

Then there’s the question of people power. During Covid, we benefitted from an army of furloughed staff and those looking to play their part. But when lockdown ended and staff returned to work, an older generation who once formed the backbone of our volunteer networks didn’t.

Rethinking our approach

In light of these fresh challenges, we need to rethink our approach – yet again. The adrenalin that got many of us through the Covid crisis won’t see us through this one. Stressed-out church leaders are leaving their positions like never before – we need to find a way to share the burden beyond the church walls.

In this season, we would do well to remember that we are called to be yeast – a vital, but not preeminent ingredient in the recipe of life. In short – we don’t have to do it all ourselves.

Covid has taught us that we can collaborate, we can get out of the building, and we can be confident in our role in society. Perhaps in this new season, we can throw off the superhero cloak and journey together with our communities.

  1. Work in collaboration. Let others take the lead and ask for help.
  2. Cut out activities and focus on what you are called to do.
  3. Set boundaries and do things with but not for others.
  4. Get out of the building and signpost people to support you can’t provide.