5 Ways The Current Crisis Is Accelerating the Arrival of the Future Church



Crisis is an accelerator.

Nobody knows that better than you right now. And the disruption has hit church leaders especially hard.

Crisis forces you to do things you previously thought about doing and put off.

It moves you to do things you’d never thought you’d do (like move to video teaching in some cases).

And it pushes you into massive change you never signed up for.

What’s making it more complicated is that as much as you wish things would just go back to normal, they won’t. At least not exactly as they were.

In this post, I share five ways the current crisis is accelerating the arrival of the future church.

Most if not all of these changes were coming years down the road. It’s just now, they’ve arrived overnight.

This post is part of a crisis leadership series, which you can access for free here:

Crisis Leadership, Christian Leadership and the Corona Virus

How to Lead Through Rapid, Unexpected Change

3 Simple Ways To Make Sure You Don’t Break In the Crisis

Why Motivation Alone Won’t Get Your People (or You) Through This Crisis

Here are 5 ways the current crisis is accelerating the arrival of the future church.

1. Sunday-Focused Churches Will Become Every Day-Focused Churches

Don’t leave an angry comment yet. I love Sundays. I believe in public worship.

And I still think Sundays will have a role in the future. I can’t wait to gather again with people I love and miss.

As many are seeing, in-person gathering is going to come back. It just won’t be the only thing or main thing you do anymore.

As much as most church leaders say that the most important ministry happens outside the walls of the church, we behave like that’s not true.

Until now, most churches have been analog organizations in a digital world.

The closing of church facilities spurred thousands of church leaders to show up online on every imaginable social media platform almost daily.

Not all that digital spaghetti stuck to the wall.

Most leaders got tired of daily messaging.

Others realized daily content is challenging (you have to have a lot to say).

And the initial enthusiasm of viewers waned as the internet settled down into some new rhythm.

BUT…and this is big…the idea that we can go back to Sunday worship with a few midweek (group) meetings and the odd inspiring quote on Instagram is a thing of the past.

The future church (at least future churches that actually reach unchurched people) will no longer be in-person gathering with a smidge of online thrown in.

If people live every day in need of hope and resources to live out their faith (or to find faith) every day, church leaders have to start coming alongside people every day. Like many are doing right now.

That won’t go away when things go back to ‘normal’. There will be a new normal, and it will be a seamless interweaving of the digital and analog, just like life is these days.

Starting now, Sunday-focused churches will become every day-focused churches, because people need to live out their faith every day.

2. Churches Will Staff Online Like It’s Real, Because It Is

For years in this space, we’ve debated and discussed whether online church ‘counts’ because so many argue that online isn’t real.

And for years, I’ve suggested that church leaders asking if online counts is like Sears asking if Amazon counts.

Suddenly that conversation seems more real than ever.

Of course online counts. To be clear: just because real-life counts doesn’t mean online doesn’t, and just because online counts doesn’t mean real-life doesn’t. They BOTH matter.

Here’s the problem: most churches spend somewhere between 90-100% of their staff dollars on in-person experiences: Sunday gatherings, groups, events, community service.

With only a few exceptions, even in large churches, the paucity of resources given to online resources is staggering.

What usually happens is the senior leader gives the website, streaming and social media to a teenage volunteer or to some 20-something staffer who ‘understands that stuff’, tacking it on to his or her already full-time job description. Alternatively, the senior pastor outsources it as a line item in the budget to some third-party service he doesn’t even know the name of (“who does that again for us???”).

Just being real.

Future churches will spend up to 50% of their staffing budget on online ministry because…well, everyone you want to reach and influence is online.

The digital and in-person will flow seamlessly together in the same way that (in a more stable economy and world) you did your

Vacation planning online and showed up to experience it in real life

Car shopping online and showed up in real life to test drive and take delivery

Dating online and showed up in real life to meet the person

Right now churches are scrambling to redeploy their staff because ‘the guy’ or small team who does online is crushed under the weight of it all.

Now is the time to rethink how to redistribute staffing for when things go back to ‘normal’, because normal won’t be the way it was. It will be a new normal.

Churches that reach people in the future will staff online as though it’s real, because it is.

3. Church leaders will realize that digital scales in a way analog doesn’t

Once the dust settles a bit in this crisis, the churches who are leaning into digital rather than just using it as a bandaid until things get back to normal will discover an amazing truth: digital scales in a way analog doesn’t.

This comes from the very simple fact that reaching people digitally is far easier than in real life. Yes, it leads to real-life connections, but it’s easier to start a connection online than in real life.

Not sure digital scales? Well, Instagram had 40 million users when it was purchased by Facebook for $1 billion in 2012. That’s impressive. Even more impressive: they did that with 13 employees.

YouVersion, which launched as an idea a decade ago, has over 400 million installs and is run by a team at a local church.

In a similar way, the leadership content we produce here gets accessed 1.5 million times a month. I work from my home and we have a virtual team of 7 including me.

The point is simply this: you can make a much bigger impact online than you can using analog methods.

Digital scales in a way that analog doesn’t.

And if you’re serious about reaching people, taking digital seriously simply makes sense.

Digital transcends geographic, physical and time barriers in a way that analog doesn’t.

And, if you do it well, digital can point people to real-life experiences: groups, weekend gatherings, personal connections—all of which are necessary and vital to life.

Digital just helps you reach more people more quickly.

If you want to explore the logic behind this more deeply, listen to my conversation with James Emery White on why he shut down all his campuses (except one) to invest instead in digital.

Also, don’t miss my forthcoming interview with Mike Todd from Transformation Church in Tulsa who has mastered this (it releases April 28th).

Subscribe to my leadership podcast for free here.

4. The Church Will Finally See The Internet as a Front Door, Not a Back Door

What’s kept a lot of church leaders from truly embracing online services or an expanded online ministry?

One main thing: worry about a drop in physical attendance. Until now, too many pastors have worried about the internet as a back door.

That’s because until now, most church leaders have kept score by how many people physically attend their church.

I realize numbers matter because people matter, but it’s strange that we value the people we can see physically more than we value the people we can see digitally. That’s doubly strange if people actually matter to God.

Pastors have resisted online ministry, argued video teaching doesn’t work, and failed to invest seriously in anything digital because they’ve been worried it will become a back door through which people walk away.

Well, surprise. Long before the crisis hit, that already happened.

Christians who wanted to check out left years ago because they found online options with other churches, or they just disengaged.

In the early days of online church, the internet functioned as a back door.

Consumer-oriented, disengaged or lazy Christians headed for the back door and traded the drive and the traffic for the comfort of a warm bed or the convenience of a treadmill or commute. If your primary disposition toward church was to consume content, online just gave you a far easier way.

But those Christians are an endangered species.

We’re a decade+ into church online and they’ve drifted off into the background, and honestly for the most part, into Kingdom-irrelevance. You can’t change the world if your only connection with the Kingdom is through your earbuds.

That group has become consumers, not contributors. And you can’t build the future of the church on them. Mission requires engagement and movement. So the back door people are already history.

Ditto with the casual observers who consume and never contribute. There’s no future there, so move along, people.

The future of church online is not with the internet as a back door. The future of the church is the internet as a front door and side door.

Church online will continue to grow as a front door for the curious, the skeptic and the interested. It will be the first stop for almost everyone, and a temporary resting place for people who are a little too afraid to jump in until they muster the courage to jump in through physical attendance.

Your online ministry is also a side door to Christians who, when travel resumes, won’t be there on a given Sunday. Ironically, it will help them stay engaged because you’re equipping them every day, not just on Sundays (see point #1 above).

If you continue to behave like the world doesn’t live online, you’ll miss the very people you’re trying to reach.

The internet is your new front door—not a back door—and it’s a big one.

5. Digital Giving Will Become the New Default

Finally, the crisis is accelerating digital giving.

I realize in a time of uncertainty, talking about giving worries some people.

But two things.

First, Christians should be the most generous people in a time of crisis.

And second, we should be the first to help people with their finances during a crisis.

About a decade ago now, we started moving our church toward digital giving because the culture moved that way. Now, 85% of the giving that comes in at our church comes in online.

The reason this matters is because that’s simply how our culture behaves. I rarely carry cash anymore, and neither do most of the people you lead.  In our culture, cash is used for a minority of purchases and consumer checks have all but disappeared.  Yet in many churches, that’s still how we ask people to give.

Often people want to be generous and want to give, but when you don’t offer digital options you make it almost impossible for them to do so.

If you want to learn more about talking about money in a healthy way in church—in a way that does something for people rather than simply asks for something from people— I wrote about that here.

Digital giving fuels generosity. And this is a time for the church and for Christians to lead with generosity.

What Else Do You See?

While the future is arriving with surprising speed, I’d love to know what else you see.

Scroll down and leave a comment.

5 Ways The Current Crisis Is Accelerating the Arrival of the Future Church


  1. Tduncan on December 16, 2020 at 10:17 am

    If a sermon can be found anywhere, then its pretty clear that the physical church needs to refocus. I would like to see gatherings with a purpose: learn, serve, or celebrate (and you can put Jesus on the end of those). Traditional sunday can continue but the “onliners” “infrequenters” aka next generation, need a place to draw together and even mix with the in person Sunday crowd. But at focused events not just worship, sermon, worship, repeat. Praying i can help my church reinvent itself; the alternative is a slow, but accelerated now, death.

  2. Peter Dyk on December 16, 2020 at 9:05 am

    When we get back together physically for church services, it is time to say goodbye to the increasingly awkward tradition of passing the collection plate. Everyone has been giving digitally, so we should acknowledge that, and keep moving forward.

  3. Ryan on April 3, 2020 at 8:58 am

    My (secret) hope from all this is that it will be the end of the big meeting style, complete with all the big buildings and the big worship and all the trappings that have come along with those meetings, and maybe the church will spread WIDER while being SMALLER locally. That for me would be first prize. I miss the idea of a local church that’s very much integrated into a local community. That idea got killed a long time ago by all the megachurches and all the churches copying that model. Perhaps now we can find a way where both come together – you can have your big reach online, but your actual grass-roots work takes place locally, and groups coming together will be smaller and more intimate. It’s like sites but even smaller; like how the Methodist revival started.

    • Roy Yanke on April 3, 2020 at 9:11 am

      Amen Ryan. You have it right!

  4. Mark on March 26, 2020 at 7:27 am

    Another issue is that people who would like to comment and offer help for the church’s website and digital offering don’t know who is in charge of it. Is it the lay leadership? One (staff) member? Does the person take input or profess to know what is best? You might have people in the church who understand what works and what doesn’t, yet they are never asked if there are dead links, graphics that look like the first days of the net, etc. I realise that you have to put more effort into taking care of the people you have physically but digital is cheap these days and can be used to reach people as well.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 27, 2020 at 4:36 am

      Correct. It’s no longer the mystery or expense it was a while ago, but still worth a good investment. 🙂

  5. Neil Kennedy on March 25, 2020 at 3:41 pm

    Carey, Great article. A gathering of businessmen, Lead Pastors and I launched FivestarMan ten years ago with a message to resurrect authentic (biblical) manhood. I struggled for years on the strategy, finding myself copying what others had done in the past with the same results — failure. Three years ago, I adopted the strategy of Habakkuk, to “write the message clearly on tablets, so that those who are running can carry the correct message to others.” Now, we encourage men daily with TheDailyChampion.com and engage men weekly with http://ChampionU.Life — men are launching groups across North America and Brazil. The strategy of the “tablet” is working to win men.

  6. Glenn Garvin on March 25, 2020 at 1:03 pm

    I also believe, that along with “flattening” the virus curve, we need to flatten the leadership curve. I believe that leadership should be more New Testament in terms of gifting and the big five (pastor, teacher, evangelist, prophet and apostle). BTW those are giftings not titles, right? It should no longer be top-down, king-style leadership – but rather distributed and released leadership. Next gen thrive in that environment. They’ve been waiting for this moment.

    • Seth on March 25, 2020 at 2:04 pm

      Right, the new ministry will be old in that more “lay people” will be doing the work of the church and more “pastors” will be doing what they were originally called to do: equip the saints for the ministry of the church. That is, less prossional clergy pulling off huge productions and more ordinary folks doing extraordinary things for the Kingdom.

    • Josiah on March 25, 2020 at 5:34 pm


  7. David Nelson on March 25, 2020 at 10:07 am

    We have been using Facebook Live for church services since last fall and this past Sunday was the first time we did it to a mostly empty church due to gathering restrictions. Everyone who was online felt connected by making comments and sending emoji’s. Where I struggle as a church leader is how we can give this experience to those in our church who are not connected electronically — like our seniors and those with limited means for connectivity. We are calling, sending mail and praying — but I want to do more. Any suggestions would be welcome. Thanks Carey -excellent blog!

    • David Janz on March 25, 2020 at 10:22 am

      David – that struggle is real! We’re in the same boat here – how can we include the folks who are very minimally – if at all – digitally connected. We’re using all of the means you’ve mentioned, but are still looking for more.

      Carey – any help with this one?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 25, 2020 at 11:27 am

      David I hear what you’re saying. Two ideas. First, a lot of churches (including ours and Life.Church) are making phone calls…good old fashioned phone calls. Second, enlist the kids to help their parents. I hope that helps!

    • Joe Nix on March 30, 2020 at 8:16 am

      We have a ministry in our church that takes our prerecorded message to local senior homes and provides a service for them on another day of the week using the same digital message.
      While this is only a partial solution, it does allow us to get to a part of the church that is unable to meet or use technology.

      • Patricia Meyer-Odell on May 22, 2020 at 4:38 pm

        I used to do this with VHS tapes and it fostered a good relationship. I was really blessed when I visited and we had a reference point.

  8. Govind on March 25, 2020 at 9:48 am

    Unfortunately, where we are there have been restrictions on online giving or giving in general for churches :(. That’s what held us the last few years from going online but now the situation has forced us into doing it but with our physical ability to gather gone, we are currently trying to figure out how to make giving possible. Do pray for us.

    Let’s just say our country is in the MEast and c h u r. CHes dont have as much freedom.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 25, 2020 at 11:27 am

      So glad we can come alongside you and THANK YOU for serving where it’s harder to share.

  9. David Janz on March 25, 2020 at 9:27 am

    Carey, I think you’re right on. It’s a both/and thing, seems to me. Online will not replace the face to face journey – it will add to it and expand it I think. As an almost 58 year old pastor with 36 years of ministry under my belt, I feel sometimes like I’m back in seminary trying to learn it all again, but learn I must if I am to lead well in this digital age. Your resources are very helpful, and I am grateful.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 25, 2020 at 11:28 am

      David, thanks! Age is a state of mind and I love that you’re leaning into the future, not digging into the past!

  10. Daniel on March 25, 2020 at 9:25 am

    Thank you so much for your perspective and insight. Valuable and challenging!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 25, 2020 at 11:29 am

      Thanks Daniel!

  11. Eric in Bakersfield, CA on March 25, 2020 at 9:22 am

    I sent a note to our team this morning to the effect of: “When this is over, many churches will go back to the way they did things before. We can’t be one of those churches.” I love seeing the reach of our message happening to people who, if we wait for them to show up on a Sunday morning, may never darken our physical doorway. Thanks for being a great resource in this.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 25, 2020 at 11:28 am

      I love that note Eric! Yes!

  12. Brian Cunnington on March 25, 2020 at 9:18 am

    I like what David is saying. It changes and expands how we think about interactive community. Following along with what David says we could interact with people around our local community and around the world, the global community. Hearing how a person in South America (etc.) responds to some thoughts from a ‘sermon’ would enrich all of us. Interactive communication would not just be one-way, nor just two-way, but multi-directional — putting new wheels on the notion of ‘priesthood of all believers’.

  13. Ron Wheatley on March 25, 2020 at 8:20 am

    While digital is a valid part of ministry, small group outreach will be the new normal. How we minister to those in our community and neighborhoods will be as Christ ministered. What will we do when the internet goes down or is overloaded? He said follow Him, I will follow Him in my community, and be a vessel to grow the Kingdom.

    Ron W

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 25, 2020 at 8:34 am

      The church will always do people in person well. I’m talking about adding digital. And my guess is people will be highly committed to fixing the internet…not that it’s broken. I really think our fears and worries are misplaced.

      • David Janz on March 25, 2020 at 9:26 am

        Carey, I think you’re right on. It’s a both/and thing, seems to me. Online will not replace the face to face journey – it will add to it and expand it I think. As an almost 58 year old pastor with 36 years of ministry under my belt, I feel sometimes like I’m back in seminary trying to learn it all again, but learn I must if I am to lead well in this digital age. Your resources are very helpful, and I am grateful.

  14. Tim Schmidt on March 25, 2020 at 8:14 am

    Great stuff. Insightful.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 25, 2020 at 8:21 am

      Thanks Tim!

  15. Doug Davis on March 25, 2020 at 7:59 am

    We the church cannot predict when a change will happen or how. But we can respond and reset our strategies and embrace the change with the Gospel of Christ! We labor not in vain, but in the sure and present hope, the Holy Spirit goes with and before us!

  16. Roy on March 25, 2020 at 7:54 am

    This is wrong headed and contrary to the scope of God’s intent in Scripture. God intends for us to actually be human beings in relationship with each other incarnationally, in specific times and places. Your argument that somehow embracing digital church will ramp up evangelism and a more missional approach to life by believers side steps the reality that we will just be trading buildings for screens. Living and acting incarnationally and missionally is a heart issue not a systems issue. Somehow, God thought it was a good idea to send His Son into the world with flesh on, limited and bound by time and space. While I think that tech can be a tool in the toolbox, making it the construction site is counter to God’s intent. Real presence, slow and limited, is still the best and actually results in the fastest and deepest growth. What matters is getting us beyond our consumer mindset- whether in a building or on a screen.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 25, 2020 at 8:19 am

      Roy…thanks for sharing your opinion. I note you left it via computer. And just because you don’t want to follow this route doesn’t inherently mean those who do are wrong. Digital is the people business. I wish more people could see it.

      • Ralph juthman on March 25, 2020 at 9:07 am

        Thanks Carey for putting into words what I have been thinking. You say that online is the new front door. With that in mind, I know some small churches are utilizing church.online such as myself. Some of those churches are editing in videos of worship ministries from larger churches ( with permission). My concern is when people choose to physically visit those churches and instead of Elevation Worship team, its grandma playing an out of tune piano along with uncle ed playing the spoons. They will get turned off and never come back. Would it not be better if a church does not have a worship team, to simply have a message, and keep it concise.

      • TDuncan on March 25, 2020 at 9:11 am

        Always insightful Carey. Digital IS the way more connections will begin from today on. This will get increasingly true as younger generations age. I have college age kids, I see how they engage and connect with others. I just need to convince my church family to pray on this future and trust God to lead us down His good path. BTW our Church elementary school is going on-line next week, pre school to 4th grade!

      • Roy Yanke on March 25, 2020 at 9:14 am

        I have appreciated much of what you have shared, even in this post, so please understand I highly respect you and your point of view. I recognize the value of the tools we have, and want to use them well for the Kingdom. However, they are tools… and cannot substitute for the basic human need for physical proximity and connection. Having used many digital platforms for staying connected with our staff across the country (and others around the world) it is a wonderful option. My main point was that tools and systems will not change our propensity to stay in whatever comfortable bubble we create… building or digital. I just think it is wrong to assume that adopting a digital “presence” will solve that.
        Thanks for what you do.

    • Jesse on March 25, 2020 at 11:13 am

      Roy- The apostle Paul also said that he becomes all things to all people, so that my those means he might save SOME. Don’t miss the point of this post! This is about meeting people where they are, and that’s online. Carey never equated online content to the “construction site,” he called it the front door. There’s a difference.

  17. David on March 25, 2020 at 7:49 am

    In addition to using Zoom for live feeds, I have been sending a devotional thought out each day via my church’s e-mail list during this time of change. Content can be a challenge, but I have discovered that by looking through previously-preached messages, I can take one teaching point and expand on it daily. It allows for new insights and creates a series of thoughts that build on one another. I am thinking about continuing to use this idea. Once we are having worship services in the facility again, I can share thoughts from the Sunday message during the week to drill down deeper.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 25, 2020 at 8:21 am

      Great ideas David!

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