The Rise of the Coronavirus and the Microchurch

Rob Wegner

The below article was written for Exponential by Rob Wegner.

To dive deeper into the idea of Microchurches check out this Webinar Replay with church planter and author Ralph Moore; pastor, author, and speaker Rob Wegner; and director of the Send Institute Daniel Yang as they discuss how the church today can tap into the micro expressions which may actually fuel greater growth and depth of community. Watch here.


We’ve all been blindsided by the Coronavirus.  

I am one of the leaders of the Kansas City Underground. Last Friday, we had a large group of our leaders headed to Chicago for a DMM (disciple-making movements) Conference. When they landed at 3:00 p.m., they checked their email to discover the conference leadership had emailed this following message: “Conference canceled due to COVID-19.”

Our team leaders, who had more than 40 people with them, prayed and quickly brainstormed a Plan B. Plan B involved grabbing a couple of non-western leaders who have actually led mass disciple-making movements, who were in town for the conference, find a place, and create our own KC Underground DMM mini-conference.  

There was a big challenge: Finding a place for 50 people to meet.

I quickly texted a couple dear friends of mine who lead a megachurch in that neck of the woods. These two men have my utmost respect, as does their church, which has profoundly influenced me. I texted: “I’m not above begging or paying. Can 50 of our leaders meet in your space … like tomorrow? All day?” 

My good friend wrote back: “You know in my heart I want to say, ‘Yes,’ but we just cancelled all events this weekend in our spaces. I’m sorry we can’t. We told the staff and church there will be no events except small groups.”

I responded: “I completely understand.” This is a wise and prudent leadership decision.    

In the coming weeks, with this pandemic, many churches around this country will find that they are no longer able to offer weekend services or any other type of large gathering without putting people at a significant risk. I’ve spent most of my adult life as a pastor in very large churches. I would make the exact same decision if I were in their shoes.

I am no longer on staff at a large church; I serve on the leadership circle of the Kansas City Underground. We are one of the sister movements in the Underground Network, initiated by the Tampa Underground movement. 

At KC Underground, we function with a two-entity structure, a mission agency and a network of microchurches. Our mission agency equips normal folks to be loving missionaries and effective disciple-makers in new contexts. As new disciples are made in a new context, a microchurch emerges. When we have four to six microchurches in a geographic region or affinity group, we network them together in what we call Collectives. Collectives have shared elders, mission, and resources.   

While I was serving as a pastor at a large church in northern Indiana, that leadership team had a few occasions where we had to cancel weekend services due to severe weather. We used to live in what was known as the Snow Belt, where lake effect snow from Lake Michigan could dump 6-8 feet of snow during winter. Worse case scenario: canceling services two weeks in a row. We operated with a minimum of a three-week cushion, so the threat was minimized.  

Churches navigating the coronavirus pandemic are looking at the possibility of not being able to have public services for weeks, maybe months. That’s a sobering situation, which may feel like an existential threat.  

I knew I needed to write a letter to our microchurch leaders and the faithful missionaries in our movement to keep them abreast on our response to this crisis. As I wrote that letter, I realized that the form of church we equip for, the microchurch, is perfectly positioned for this type of culture moment. My letter became less of a warning about what we can’t do anymore, and more of a rally cry for all the things we can do as a movement of microchurches. 

I’d like to share with you what I wrote to them. But first, let me speak a little more broadly on the missiological need for microchurch.  

Now is the moment to leverage micro — like never before.

First of all, our culture demands it. 

We are living in the aftermath of the fragmentation and disintegration of the traditional biological family. Therefore, people are rebuilding their own extended families – tribes and entourages – often built around a focused niche of shared interests. 

The standardizing influence of culture is quickly diminishing. The day when pop culture was homogenous is long gone, never to return. The digital age, the fragmentation of the family, and the mobility of our society has tribalized our culture, creating hundreds of very distinct tribes (pockets of people) in every community. 

The cultural band that we can reach in a weekend service is shrinking simply because of this diversification and tribalization. If a missionary goes to Papua New Guinea where there are 200 different people groups in a small area, he or she cannot set up a church in the middle with a weekend service and expect the people to come. There are way too many cultural barriers (language, tradition, interest, histories, etc.) for them to be able to “come and understand.” One would need dedicated missionaries and simple churches for each of the 200 tribes. 

We suggest that this is the reality of Kansas City and the West. There are still many thousands of people who will resonate with what is offered in the prevailing model. That number is shrinking, not growing. We now require highly contextualized versions of church for every unreached pocket of people. The microchurch provides the laboratory for this missionary work. 

Second of all, this crisis demands it.

This pandemic demonstrates the absolute necessary and power of the microchurch, which provides an adaptability, an embodiment of community and invulnerability that larger, more organized expressions will struggle to realize. 

I’ll end with the letter we sent to the people of the Kansas City Underground, which speaks to these issues of adaptability, embodiment and invulnerability. Most of you reading this are leaders in the prevailing model of church; please don’t receive this as an indictment, but an invitation to consider how you might leverage whatever expression of “micro” you have in the mix.  


The Coronavirus and The Kansas City Underground Church 

The news of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting both our local and global community in profound ways. We know this virus is spread primarily through close contact, and we’re monitoring updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and making our plans accordingly. For many worldwide, this virus is a source of fear and anxiety. As followers of Jesus, we’re clear that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

Together, we look to Jesus in this storm, seeking His healing in us and through us. As we do, we will experience the peace that passes understanding. He is Great, Glorious, Good, and Gracious. Heaven is not surprised by this pandemic. Heaven is not panicked, nor should we be. Jesus is sending us as agents of His healing. 

And while we won’t be operating from a position of fear, we intend to take the necessary precautions so that we can best serve our city in a way that demonstrates our trust in God. This pandemic underscores not only why the KC Underground exists, but also how we are organized. Quite simply, like the early church, we are organized in a way that makes us mostly invulnerable to a pandemic or economic downturn. 

Gatherings, Childcare, and Communion

Churches that utilize weekend services as the primary organizing principle are incredibly vulnerable to this event, where close contact with larger groups creates increased risk for exposure. If we hit high-risk status, where gatherings are being limited to medium sizes (50-250), most prevailing models will ask people to watch online, mostly alone or with immediate family. 

As the KC Underground, we are organized around microchurches networked in the city. Each microchurch is an extended spiritual family, where each individual is known and loved. As microchurch leaders, you can very easily and lovingly monitor the risks involved, and with love invite unwell or exposed members to stay home if necessary. In that case, your microchurch member can engage a microchurch gathering via facetime, zoom or other video platforms. If you need access to this for your microchurch gathering, you can use our organization’s account free of charge as a microchurch leader of the KC Underground. In addition, most of the life of a microchurch happens outside of our weekly gathering. As you do life together, you can personally care for those who are sick or affected in other ways.  

In addition, we offer an equipping gathering to the missionaries and microchurch leaders of the Underground on Sundays from 4-5:30 p.m. The number of leaders gathered is well below the current 250 number mark that high-risk states are using as the safe limit for gatherings. Currently in Kansas City, the mayor has issued a ban on any gatherings larger than 1,000. Worst case scenario, If the number of 50-100 becomes a risk, as that is our usual number of leaders gathered, we can pivot that equipping gathering to an online platform like Zoom, where we can still interact and have conversation from our homes, but still together as a community. You won’t just watch a service but will still be able to interact with the community.  

We will have a larger number for our upcoming Golgatha experience on April 5, and our Easter Celebration on April 12th, as we are inviting the people of our microchurches to these corporate gatherings. Therefore, we will keep you apprised, as we monitor the numbers of cases in our city and any warnings that are issued. At this point, it’s full steam ahead for both of those gatherings. 

In all of our gatherings that involve volunteer childcare, the children’s spaces and classrooms, besides the normal high-level cleaning that takes place frequently, we are additionally committing to wiping down frequently used check-in surfaces, tables, and toys. Hand sanitizer is readily available throughout the building. Also, in this next season, as we observe the sacrament together, we will provide prepacked, individually wrapped communion elements, rather than communal elements.

Giving 

Churches are expecting to see a significant decrease in giving, as the weekly offering in services will be impacted by those who will stay away due to the risk. As the KC Underground, we are a bi-vocational or co-vocational movement. All of God’s people are empowered and equipped to lead to their maximum influence where they live, work, learn, play or among the particular people group they are called to. We have radically decreased the overhead cost of ministry. Our microchurch leaders, like early church, live as missionaries who have careers in the marketplace. The few in our movement who are staff raise support and have a few side hustles.

The KC Underground is an incredibly generous faith community. Virtually 100% of our giving comes in online. We don’t pass an offering basket in the microchurches. Microchurches bear each other’s burdens together, sometimes even financially, and then give above that to the Underground in profound ways via our online giving platform, Tithe.ly. Historian Rodney Stark, in his book The Rise of Christianity, notes that the pandemics that caused social chaos in the Empire in the early days of the church actually fueled both the viral growth of the church and the depth of community in the households of faith, what we call microchurches. As others abandoned family or friends and bunkered down in fear, the households of faith led by ordinary people engaged the sick and the suffering. Their communal love and witness convinced the world that the Good News of Jesus was real and for everyone.  

May this be the story of the KC Underground in these coming days!

Want to learn more about what happened during those pandemics and how the early church flourished in the midst of it? Read here.


When crisis hits, we find out what is essential. If this crisis is forcing the prevailing model to reorganize to prioritize smaller groups, decentralizing power, giving and mission as essential, then, perhaps, micro is the most essential expression of church all the time.  


To dive deeper into the idea of Microchurches check out this Webinar Replay with church planter and author Ralph Moore; pastor, author, and speaker Rob Wegner; and director of the Send Institute Daniel Yang as they discuss how the church today can tap into the micro expressions which may actually fuel greater growth and depth of community. Watch here.

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