The leader of EV Church, Andrew Heard, give us some of their reflections on how the COVID-19 restrictions have impacted on their church life and leadership, as well as any encouragement they might give other leaders.
EV Church, in Erina NSW, was identified as one of the healthiest churches in Australia, from the 2016 NCLS results. They took part in the Enliven Churches Project by NCLS Research, in 2019 to discover how they enliven their ministry and mission.
Since then, much of church and community life has been disrupted by social isolation measures. So in 2021 Andrew gives us an update- sharing his experiences, learnings and wisdom in leading his church through the COVID-19 pandemic.
- How have the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions impacted your church’s health and vitality?
One of the challenges with Covid and restrictions is the ability tor really know what’s happening with people. So I don’t think we will really know the impact until we start to come back out. The reality is that seeing each other in person at services and groups has always meant that we can ‘connect’ very easily and with just a few words encourage and support. Now our engagement with each other requires much more intentionality. This can be very good. But it creates an intensity that can sometimes work against healthy relationships. Only some kinds of people cope.
In terms of impact, our rule of thumb is that this is hurting the fringe more than the core. Our core has lots of good supports in place, and most seem to be managing reasonably well. They are all tired – especially parents with young kids. But they are in small groups, they have leaders around them that know them and are in touch. It is the fringe, the people who are already drifting, or who were only just poking their heads in before lock down; these are the ones we’re most worried about.
2. How has your leadership team responded, reshaped or reacted to the ‘new normal’ churches now find themselves in?
We’ve adopted four big priorities that are shaping our response. By God’s strength we’re working towards ensuring:
1. No-one is ‘left behind’.
2. Everyone takes some spiritual growth steps during this time.
3. The pastoral team end the year in a healthy place.
4. we’re well position to reopen with good evangelistic energy for the summer period.
With each priority we’ve developed a series of actions to achieve (under God) those desired outcomes. Our pastoral leadership is focusing on working those actions, prayerfully.
This is while we’re still paying attention to our core concerns of reaching the community with the gospel and maturing the saints.
3. What encouragement, wisdom or learning would you pass on to other church leaders in these unprecedented times?
There are some very great positives that may come out of this time. This of course depends on God’s grace at work among us, but it is possible our churches will come out of this time with deeper convictions about the importance of ‘in person’ meetings.
They are far more than just efficient ways to deliver information, and far more than merely inspiring ‘worship’ experiences with a crowd. They are unique ways in which embodied humans engage with each other for our mutual edification. That is, there is a subtle and often unseen experience that happens as we gather in person week by week – we have lots of small interactions which are far more profound than many may have appreciated (something about not knowing what we’ve got until its gone). It’s impossible to replace these informal ‘bumps’ with each other over zoom, or by a phone call. Identifying the power of what we have lost with the loss of ‘in person’ services will be an important ‘learning’.
Our prayer is that it will empower a better return and a more intentional engagement when we return.
Also, this is a unique opportunity to ratchet up the ‘one to one’ walk, talk, text engagement. If our churches use this time to pay close attention to personal follow up of each other we will have built into our ministries a dynamic that will serve us well for years to come.
So a tough time, but much potential good may come from it.
Added to this is the potential that many Australians may learn to face our mortality and insubstantiality for the first time. We might see God work great revival among us. We pray so.