Tim Keller: Churches will be challenged to 'do more with less' in aftermath of COVID-19

Tim Keller, retired pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, speaks to Q Conference host Gabe Lyons.
Tim Keller, retired pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, speaks to Q Conference host Gabe Lyons. | Q Conference

In the aftermath of COVID-19, churches nationwide will need to learn how to “do more with less” and sacrifice programs and other luxuries to help those in need, pastor and author Tim Keller has said. 

During a recent interview with Gabe Lyons at the annual Q 2020 Virtual Summit, Keller, the 69-year-old retired pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, said the coronavirus pandemic is “more like 9/11 than unlike," as the two tragedies were unprecedented and resulted in “multidimensional damage,” both social and economic. 

“Christian institutions are going to be faced with needing to do more with less,” he predicted, explaining that after 9/11 Redeemer Church had 25 percent more people and 25 percent less income. 

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“The number of people and the needs massively expanded, [but] because people lost their jobs and left the city and all that, income was having a huge shortfall,” he said. “It’s exactly the same thing [now]: All the churches I know are saying, ‘We have to do more with less. We have far more needs and we have less resources to do it.’ And so it means not only a new approach to stewardship but also thinking about what you spend your money on.”

Keller, who serves as the chairman of Redeemer City to City, which has helped start more than 500 churches in dozens of the most influential cities in the world, said that between the lockdown and a COVID-19 vaccine becoming available, there’s going to be an “interim period.”

“I don't know what it looks like,” he admitted. “All I can tell you is, it'll take two things: It will take innovative thinking ... there's got to be more networking and talking.”

“The second thing is, you always lead through sacrifice,” Keller continued. “The church in general is going to have to spend more or less money on itself — that is, its own programs — and more money on the people of need. And the only way to do that is to cut things that you're doing right now.”

“Does it mean sacrificing part of your salary as a way of making sure that you're able to meet needs in your community? I don't know,” he continued. “But leadership happens through innovation and sacrifice, always. And we're going to have to do both of these in the next year or two.”

New York is the epicenter of the country’s COVID-19 outbreak, with the overall death toll standing at 12,067 and 158,000 confirmed cases as of Monday afternoon. 

A statewide Siena College survey released Monday found that 46 percent of city's residents known someone who has died of complications from COVID-19, as do 36 percent of suburbanites and 13 percent of upstaters. In all, about one-third of voters statewide know someone who has died.

Additionally, the economic toll also has been devastating, with 32 percent of respondents saying they or someone in their households has been laid off because of the pandemic.

Keller said the virus has “rattled” human pride and caused people to become anxious, adding that every time a tragedy has occurred in NYC, “there are about 10 or 20 percent more people willing to listen to a Gospel presentation.”

“That's all. It's temporary, it goes away, frankly, with good times,” he said. “But you actually do have about 10 or 20 percent more ears, and you just really need to be more confident to get out there and say things, you really should.”

“There are people at Redeemer right now that became Christians right after 911 because they showed up in church because they were scared, and they just felt like they needed a connection,” Keller added.

Still, the speaker and author said he isn’t optimistic about culture permanently changing as a result of the virus, stressing that Christians will still need to “find new ways of formulating Christian truth in a way that both connects to the culture but doesn't compromise with it.”

In a previous interview with The Christian Post, Keller said the coronavirus is doing what 9/11 did to the state: presenting a unique opportunity for Christians to serve as a beacon of hope amid darkness. 

“At the national level, I don’t have much hope,” he admitted. “Politicians are trying to pin the other side with the blame for the virus and it’s discouraging. They’re trying to score points so that when the pandemic begins to ease, they look good.”

“But at the local level, that’s probably not going to happen. Everyone is going to say, ‘OK, how do we deal with the devastation in our communities?’ And that’s where I think, if Christians are willing to get out there and be Good Samaritans and say, ‘How do we work with people of different races and religions and just try to love them and how can we join hands?’ we will have less polarization and a real opportunity to witness.” 

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