The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists has declared, “The COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest public health crisis in a hundred years.”1 The consequences of the pandemic on the church and membership have been devastating. Over the past two years, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has lost more than 17,000 members to COVID-19. This includes “at least 773 pastors, retirees, church workers, missionaries, and church leaders.”2 And, by all estimates, this is a conservative number.
But if there is one doctrine that unites us as Christians, it is the death and resurrection of Jesus. His crucifixion has taught us to believe that out of death can come life and that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Rom. 8:28, NIV). The pandemic has triggered great resilience and helped churches change the way they do things. Indeed, churches have addressed challenges by reinventing themselves.
The right question
While the pandemic has been a time of suffering, it has also provided an opportunity to learn how the world has changed and to witness a new world. Church consultant Tony Morgan says churches must ask some questions. While some members and leaders inquire, “When will we be able to return to normal church life?” Morgan says this is the wrong question. We should instead be asking, “How is this situation changing us?” Morgan suggests seven major shifts a church should make. Among them are moves from teaching to equipping, from gathering to connecting, and from attendance to engagement.3
We must quickly learn to deal with this new reality and look for the best opportunities to serve those in need. Thank God, churches have not only fed people but also launched various initiatives to support the mental health of congregants and communities. One such initiative, the Experience God project, offers counseling by phone and receives more than 6,000 calls a month in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Churches are adapting, but we must increase our service to the world and increase our witness and prayers. Indeed, I pray with Paul, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else” (1 Thess. 3:12, NIV).
The right people
The pandemic has severely affected church workers serving as missionaries, many in extremely challenging areas. The most significant challenges have been experienced at the local church level. From online services and hybrid in-person and online services to drive-in services, pastors have been at the forefront of change.
They were brave and bold when facing unexpected crises. A pastor in Belarus caught COVID-19. It was severe. He was hospitalized. His hospital ward was now his church. He ministered to five other people who also had COVID-19. They exercised together, read the Bible together, and prayed together. They recovered their health—and discovered a faith. A pastor in Pakistan installed a loudspeaker on the roof of his house and used it to preach the gospel. In Bangladesh, church workers donated 10 percent of their salaries to support lay members in need.
Despite all these shifts and the increasing role of social media in the life of local churches, face-to-face interactions remain critical and should not be made redundant. Technology has come to stay in the church’s life, but it has not come to replace the life of the church.
The right time
We must continue to find creative ways to bring people together, understanding that people are the main asset and business of the church. Jesus came for people, bled for people, died for people, and will return to take people to heaven.
At the top of each church’s agenda must be a commitment to the Great Commission. God is looking for a people who will stay the course and stay together, “for better, for worse, in sickness, and in health.” This is an awesome time to be a minister. By God’s grace, I am declaring, “Here am I, Lord, send me.” Will you join me? “ ‘And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’ ” (Esther 4:14, ESV).
- General Conference, “Reaffirming the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Response to COVID-19,” Adventist News Network, October 25, 2021.
- Author’s findings reported to the General Conference Executive Committee. See Marcos Paseggi, “GC Secretary’s Report Outlines Adventist Church’s Challenges and Extensive Blessings,” Adventist World, October 10, 2021.
- Tony Morgan, “7 Shifts Churches Need to Make Because of the Coronavirus,” Tony Morgan Live blog, April 15, 2020, https://tony