Imagining the Post-Pandemic Church

Heidi A. Campbell, who keynoted a summit on church digital transformation at SPU last May, has published a fourth book on how the pandemic has accelerated the technological transformation of religious groups.

This new book with Troy Shepherd—What Should Post-Pandemic Religion Look Like?: Ten Trends Religious Groups Need to Understand to Survive and Thrive in the Next Decade (2021, available from—offers ten lessons from the three books she previously complied in 2020: The Distanced Church, Religion in Quarantine, and Digital Ecclesiology.

Collectively, these books highlight challenges as well as constructive shifts in religious practice and thought. “For religious groups, the new normal’ means there may never be a full return to the business of religion as it once was, i.e., event dependent, offline only, and fixed to one location. Here, we highlight ten lessons shared in the conclusions of these eBooks and expand on what they mean and the implications they have for religion in a post-pandemic reality.”

Here are the 10 trends, each of which comes with “a point to ponder”:

  1. Religious leaders are being forced to reconcile their concerns about technology with the clear benefits provided by the Internet during this time.

A POINT TO PONDER: Consider the difference in what it means to be “mission minded” vs “traditional focused” when it comes to ministry. How can you still focus on your mission, while being creative in how you incorporate technology?

  1. Experimenting with worship online revealed the power of technology that many religious groups were unaware of before.

A POINT TO PONDER: Digital culture has embraced the notion of a “sharing economy,” yet religious groups have struggled to grasp collaboration or shared access and resources with other religious groups. What would a “sharing economy” look like if religious groups shared resources or offered support to each other?

  1. Mediated worship online begs the question “How much of religion is, or needs to be, embodied?”

A POINT TO PONDER: If true religion should be the observance of practices ground in our values, instead of just prescribing to a list of rules, could an online mediated platform provide a new negotiation as to what a faith relationship truly means and looks like in one’s daily life?

  1. Social distancing practices and the creation of online worship services spotlight what religious groups actually see as their core beliefs and defining practices.

A POINT TO PONDER: Spend some time calculating the number of volunteer hours spent each week maintaining the weekly event, the programs, and the maintenance of a location. Could those weekly hours be better spent volunteering and serving in your local community, reaching the lost, the forgotten, and those who are truly struggling?

  1. Religious communities that are flexible and willing to innovate during this time are better positions to foster resilience in the long run.

A POINT TO PONDER: While the pandemic may have shown religious groups the importance of a streamlined event, the event cannot be the whole product. As a faith group’s perspective begins to change to meet the idea of pivoting and changing their model to reflect their mission, what seems impossible becomes just an obstacle. How might obstacles be more easily overcome when priorities and perspectives are aligned?

  1. The digital innovations made during a time of national quarantine should continue past the crisis, just in a different way. Lessons learned about how to reach out and leverage tech for ministry are vital to incorporate in a dynamic, changing world.

A POINT TO PONDER: Instead of asking the question: What is a digital ministry? Let’s ask the question: Aren’t all religious followers engaged at some level with doing ministry while incorporating the digital? Religious leaders who can embrace thinking about their ministry as a combination of digital and embodied will be modeling only what most other non-religious organizations have been required to do and be over the last two decades.

  1. The COVID-19 crisis has called for a reexamination on what makes something a faith “community” or church. Can a digital church or temple be seen as a true expression of religion?

A POINT TO PONDER: The word church has two separate definitions in culture today: one being a place, the other being a group. Religious identity should never be place dependent and should always be group dependent. Consider what religion + relationship = faith community might look like. Like the quote above, is the church willing to “self-disrupt” to create new opportunities and ways of doing religion?

  1. Moving Church online represents a shift in how religious groups see the relationship between the online and offline.

A POINT TO PONDER: Our current human reality is a combination of offline and online experiences. Religion is no different. So, the question becomes, how can a religious organization help facilitate the online into their offline practices, and vice versa? The possibilities are literally endless.

  1. Leaders must rethink how they understand and treat interactions between digital media and the Church.

A POINT TO PONDER: The future of religion relies not on the technology itself, but on the religious groups’ missional mindset. How might creatively using technology further the Church and its people’s religious calling?

  1. Remember vulnerable populations in Church when going digital.

A POINT TO PONDER: When a religious group is focused outward, towards those who may be struggling, are less educated, or are limited by available resources, etc., the opportunity for growth and relationship increases dramatically, giving merit to the mission of one’s faith. Without a religious group being outward focused, it will tend to resist outsiders of a different faith or social background, and treat less favorably those whom their mission seeks to engage.

The book concludes: “Religious groups and leaders that allow themselves to imagine and try out new forms of gathering, relationship building, and community engagement will not only adapt more easily to the conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic but will create a platform for their faith community that enables them to prepare for and respond to future change.”


Excellent Michael! Thanks so much for this.

I’ll be boosting it on Twitter this evening (when people are most likely to have time to read, reflect, and hopefully respond!)