Using a mission filter to thrive during a pandemic

October 29th, 2020

What if COVID-19 is a hinge point for your church? Why a hinge point? On a door or gate, the hinge is two halves joined at the hinge point making the door useful to its purpose. The power of a hinge is at the connection point. Without the connection, the hinge doesn't work. 

Can COVID-19 be a hinge point for the church? What will the church do at this powerful connection between pre-pandemic and post-pandemic? The potency of a mission filter applied at the hinge point can empower the church to not only survive the coronavirus but thrive by accomplishing its mission during the pandemic. 

A mission filter is a self-monitoring tool that gives leaders the ability to test their systems for engaging and serving people beyond their walls. A mission filter benefits any size church whose aim is to live close to their stated mission even when crisis hits. Much like dredging gold from a mountain stream, the mission filter would separate and sift the paydirt potential, gold-rich materials from the much weightier gold found in the gold box.

The church’s mission remains the same — to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. But the execution of that mission has looked different during the global health crisis and will likely continue to be different after the crisis has passed. You cannot always do in a crisis what you were doing before. What will your church look like post-pandemic? The crisis demands something different from us — to double-down on the mission. It comes down to a binary choice. Do you want to be a pre-COVID church that refuses to see the opportunities for mission created by the pandemic or a post-COVID church that views the crisis as an opportunity to revitalize its mission? 

A mission filter can more readily identify harmful practices and attitudes we harbored during pre-COVID. Non-mission activities can be as contagious as a virus, particularly the infectious non-mission busyness pervasive in our churches. Evaluating church ministries through the lens of a mission filter can allow these contagions to be captured and filtered so the mission guides forward-thinking adaptation and change. The mission remains bold and robust. 

For folks hoping to return to the way things were before the crisis, there is no evidence of learning or any lessons that were revealed during the crisis. This kind of thinking requires little or no leadership at all. Sometimes we can be lucky and figure out why.

Maybe we have been asking the wrong questions during this pandemic. Pre-pandemic, we relied on one-hour weekly in-person worship and in-person small groups. We have repeatedly asked, “When are we going back to in-person services? When can we have Sunday School or small groups?” Those are the wrong questions to ask. 

Some have found gratitude in this season of COVID-19. Others have discovered the lessons of generosity and patience. But what about the mission? The lessons of gratitude, generosity and patience point to the mission of the church at the awakening of the crisis.

Using a mission filter focuses the leaders’ attention on the mission and eliminates the desires of the people in the organization to do the minimum. It accentuates the aspiration, the chance to make a difference instead. Isn’t that what has happened in many instances during the COVID-19 crisis? 

Why is a mission filter so critical for the church at the hinge point of the pandemic? The mission will be the same. The execution of the mission may be different. If a mission filter is needed, it is needed even more in a crisis. Any imagination and innovation of doing things is oiling the hinge so that we don't become rusty and lose our usefulness for the mission. A mission statement is not enough. Churches need the honing process that the mission filter can provide. The mission filter preserves, protects and embraces the mission of making disciples by filtering the “why” of core decisions, core goals and core activities. This author wrote possible mission filter statements or questions for the following mission statements from churches. These serve as examples to demonstrate what the mission filter looks like in “real life.”


Leading toward a new normal requires leaders to broaden the scope of their leadership early on during a crisis like COVID-19. What good is it for a church or an organization to have a neatly stated mission statement when the system is teeming with distractions and retractions instead of solid decision-making? No organization can match the powerful combination of being laser-focused on the mission and a volunteer capacity that sends every idea, every distraction, every retraction, through a filter before a decision is made to be executed. Then, the mission thrives because good ideas and bad ideas are mission filtered to be consistent with the “why” of your church or organization. The more we can do to protect the mission or the “why,” the more we can promote the good news we have for future generations.


This article is adapted from a forthcoming book, The Mission Filter by Barry E. Winders Copyright © 2020 Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without written permission from the publisher.

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