Shifting Gears Helps Indianapolis Ministry Gain Traction in Pandemic Paradigm
By Stephanie Collins
In the last few months, churches and pastors have faced great challenges as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Some churches have chosen to stay solely online, while others have opened their doors again. Other pastors have found the challenge of this pandemic invigorating, while still more have found it completely draining. Josh Wagner, pastor of United City Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, has felt the tension of these uniquely unprecedented times. He has used them, however, to learn ways to address the situation and the needs around the church.
Wagner admitted that he felt the “rat race” when asked what he learned as a pastor trying to pivot in the middle of a pandemic. The pressure of trying to start new things and create new content for social media when the pandemic first started was a major pivot. He also described this period of uncertainty as a time that has helped him grow deeper in his identity in Christ. “The Lord has helped me work through comparison and he has also helped me realize I’m not behind. He’s helped me hone and focus my ministry by asking the question, Who am I pastoring in this tiring season?”
Wagner acknowledged this season has helped him discover what God has uniquely put inside of him that helps his ministry, specifically in the context to which he is called. He has seen COVID-19 as a blessing, stating that “it has helped refine us; our congregation. It has shown us how to focus and define our mission even more clearly. Our pursuit is to make disciples of Jesus. We are now asking radical questions like, Is the Sunday-centric model of ministry the best way to reach people for Jesus in our current context and culture?”
United City Church has experienced a lot of “micro-shifts,” as Pastor Josh described it. The main point of transformation for United City has been the focus of growing everyone into the likeness of Christ. Their small group model used to be focused on those who were already believers. Now, Wagner says their United City Communities (as they are termed) focus on reaching the lost. Their model is really transforming into neighborhood ministries.
The idea of these neighborhood groups is that, once a month, a UCC member hosts a party for neighbors to join them for food and fun. During another gathering in the same month, there are non-threatening spiritual components for the groups. UCC is now committed to focusing their Sunday experience on those who are already believers, while their United City Communities focus on reaching the lost.
This shift came out of answering the question, How do we connect with people who are from God and the marginalized? Wagner stated, “Before COVID, like many churches, our focus was to grow Sunday mornings.” Now, UCC’s focus is to reach people in Indianapolis for Jesus—before they ever step into a Sunday morning experience.
This may seem like a radical shift for many churches and pastors, Wagner reflected; however, we live in an ever-growing radical time. Pastors like Josh Wagner and churches like United City are on a path to change this world for Jesus—at any cost!
Stephanie Collins is the NextGen and online campus pastor of Madison Park Church of God in Anderson, Indiana. She loves helping people realize that they are loved no matter what.
Learn more about the response of Church of God Ministries to the coronavirus (COVID-19), including resources for you and your church, at www.jesusisthesubject.org/theway.
*Feature (top) photo: makeshift video recording studio for UCC’s online services.