Cockroaches and the Coronavirus

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Would you ever have thought that in two weeks’ time, we went from business (Church) as usual, to less than 10 percent of all American churches having an in-person Sunday service?

  • Feb 27 — What a bummer for those folks over there in China. I hope it doesn’t get over here.
  • March 1 — Wow, this thing is spreading, but I’m sure our government has plans to keep keep us safe.
  • March 2 — I think I’ll wash my hands a bit more often.
  • March 3 — I’m not watching the news today.
  • March 4 — Wow, they have people trapped off the coast of San Fran in Quarantine.
  • March 5 — I Google ‘pandemic’ and it’s not comforting.
  • March 11 — I wake up to a text from a friend, “What is happening?” I turn on the news and the NBA has cancelled the season!
  • March 12 — Oh Crap! The Players championship is cancelled…then the Masters is postponed. Then I cancel our cruise to Alaska in May.
  • March 13 — Facebook posts about how thousands of churches are trying to figure out how to hold Sunday gatherings via internet because it’s impossible to have large gatherings and keep people safe at the same time.
  • March 14 — The eve of the first Sunday where tens of thousands of churches stopped public gatherings.
  • March 15 — The Free Market Church officially, unconsciously, ubiquitously starts and the world and the church will never be the same.

Would you ever have thought that in one weekend, 100 percent of the church leaders in our country were wondering if their ministries, their churched, their livelihoods, their methodologies, and their physical lives could stand up to this heat?

Like the 103-degree fever that lets you know you’re in trouble, the heat from this virus has exposed our collective ecclesial frameworks and has found them wanting. Like chaff that burns up to reveal, so this crisis has revealed that Sunday-centric, paid-pastor-led churches cannot adequately handle the scope of human needs or the searching for hope the world ‘out there’ is looking for.

Did God start this virus? Probably not, but in His great mercy he is giving it a length of leash required to force us to decentralize this movement we call Christianity. The Church just changed. It’s not a debatable issue anymore. It will never be the same.

Are all churches struggling? No, in fact if we understand and believe as reports tell us that half of the American Church has already been decentralized into house churches, then only half the Church is struggling. “Where is the Missional movement?,” so many have asked over the past five years. Well, the real answer is that the missional church, with decentralized form, is alive and well. Like cockroaches to the coronavirus, we know how to navigate and even prosper among the rubble. We already know how to live off the meager scraps. We are everywhere and we’re healthier now than ever before.

That morning, on March 15, I drove over to a home where one of our faith communities was gathering. We didn’t give any instructions, no one had to prepare much to say; we ate, talked, and then eventually moved into a living room and shared our hearts, read scripture, encouraged one another, talked about how we could serve our town, and then we prayed. No money necessary, no stress, no planning and very little leadership required. And it was beautiful and something I look forward to next week if we’re allowed to gather at all.

Then we rinse and repeat — just like we’ve been doing for the last two years since we moved to this new city.

But this story is not new to us. We’ve been living this way for almost 20 years now. We burned the ship of consumer-focused, Sunday-centric Christianity almost a quarter century ago and now our own adult children who live within six blocks of us are leading the same type of life and church as they grew up in. They continue it because they know no other form of church.

But what about the lagging 50 percent — what about the existing church? Most of my work as a consultant is working with these. They are led by good-hearted, kind, sincere and humble leaders who have been asking:

  • How do we move away from Consumer Church to real disciples?
  • How do we change our small groups into true missionary communities?
  • How do we move from needing so much money to needing far less?
  • What role do I play as an equipper instead of as a doer for everyone?
  • What are the new ways to sustain some funding that will hold a movement together?
  • And what does it mean to gather God’s people anymore? Is it central? Or is there something else?

These are the honest questions and you’ll notice in the coming days people offering simple answers to get back on track. Don’t waste your time. God is asking us to ask the bigger questions and He’s asking us to make bigger shifts than we’ve ever made before.

If I’m honest, I haven’t had much hope for the church to make the transition because I know people will always take the path of least resistance. Thus they will only be as creative as they need to be. They will only make the sacrifices necessary to barely move the dial forward.

But on Sunday, the 15th of March, everyone had to face the music even if it wasn’t even playing anymore in our sanctuaries. That day the church stopped on a dime but time will tell if it turned on a dime. Regardless, it lost trillions of dimes and the loss of money will be the single most powerful inertia of true change. Creativity is always born of some real misery and in the first week I heard so many great new stories.

On March 17, I was fortunate to be on a webinar with New York City pastors and planters and encouraged to hear a pastor of a 300-person congregation move it from Sunday-centric to 12 neighborhood communities in just four months’ time. Others were mega church pastors sharing how they creatively crafted, downloaded, webinar hosted, or live streamed their services. I heard of people who used Stephen Colbert’s or Jimmy Fallon’s methods of doing a teaching from their bathtub, or churches picking 10 percent of their church homes for spontaneous breakfast churches. I also heard many say, like us, “Nothing really different happened on that day. We’ve been doing church like this for years.”

Creativity in so many forms released because small tweaks, or minor adjustments wouldn’t pay the piper or pay the bills anymore. People were moved into radically new forms, new experiences, new tensions, and thus new growth.

On the opposite of this creative inertia was a glaring and painful painful example I found on Facebook. It was a photo of a well-known Bible teacher sitting in his empty sanctuary that for 50 years had been one of Americas greatest ‘teaching’ centers with himself as one of the most prolific Bible teachers clearly showing that his theology and ecclesiology were completely void of any creative missiology. Where others had used their platform or video production team to alert their congregation to newer forms, this prominent leader used his platform and video team to solicit funds from onlookers, church attenders, and long standing patrons of his single-form, Sunday-form, preaching-form church.

I was befuddled. Had this leader never seen the church in any other form? Had he and his leadership never read about the courageous missionary movements that got the Gospel to you and I? Has he never heard that even before March 15 there are as many people who gather in homes for ‘church’ as there are people who gather in mega churches? Did he think that everyone else gets paid to preach and so it is okay for him to ask for money to keep preaching?

And so here lies the great opportunity that many will miss. Here lies the lie we’ve been sold, the bill of goods that no longer cashes at the bank. Here we are forced to pick a side. We can either try to prop up church as usual or we can lean into the frigid winds of change. We can circle the wagons, ride it out, and hope we can reload Sunday-only church or we can release, send, equip, and encourage a decentralized movement of missionary cockroaches! We can either keep NOT inspiring the world or we can finally be the counter culture, deeply embedded change agents, that salt, light, and a city on a hill require.

We need a new thought! We need to settle one issue.

Here it is:

Church is a Free Market!

It shouldn’t cost anything at all. In Matthew 16 Jesus gives us the FREE keys to the kingdom. In Acts 1 & 2 we are given the free ministry of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. The rest of the book of Acts we are given the substructure, or frameworks of ecclesial gatherings (home) which also are free of charge. Then in Ephesians 4 we understand that God has FREELY given us gifts that hold the church together, propel us into mission and he calls that maturity.

So if the kingdom DNA is free, the church environments are free, the ministries and gifts are free, then maybe CHURCH should be a Free Market Church.

Join Exponential for the second episode of Frontlines, featuring Hugh Halter, on Monday, August 13 at 2:00 p.m. ET, and co-hosted by Peyton Jones and Daniel Hill.

Hugh Halter has authored The Tangible Kingdom, FLESH, and other missional resources. He helps direct the Free Market Church, supporting and consulting church leaders in marketplace mission. You can find him at for help. Hugh also directs marketplace church planting at Northern Seminary as well as V3 Church Planting Network. 

We are better together!

“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
John 17:22-23

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