The churches that do survive will most likely be those that adapt to change and that are ‘outsider-focused’ – those that can respond to the current needs of their neighbouring communities.
Never in living memory have local communities needed so much help, damaged as they are by domestic and financial stresses, social isolation and worries about an uncertain future. Never have local churches been so well positioned to make a difference within their neighbourhoods in bringing succor and support.
Research in the United Kingdom indicated that last year 6 per cent of British adults regularly attended church. During this lockdown, 25 per cent of the adult British population have watched or listened to a religious service. I am certain that the figures in Australia will be similar, and if so, people are looking for spiritual meaning and guidance during this crisis.
I read with interest recently about how the world coped with the Spanish Flu pandemic at the end of the First World War, and I believe that there are lessons we can learn from history. During that time many activities around the world were moved outdoors, including criminal courts and religious services, because disease doesn’t spread so easily in open air. Why shouldn’t churches in Australia worship outside more often where people from their neighbourhoods can observe services, and perhaps be more willing to join in?
We have all had to shelter in place, withdrawing into the security of our homes. Now that restrictions are starting to lift, I urge churches to think positively about how they should adapt to survive and develop to become ‘outsider-focused’.
Hard as it will be, churches should take this crisis as a positive call to action.
Ian Hamilton is director of Arcuate Architecture.
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