This pandemic has gone on way too long. The world is frustrated. Medical professionals are tired. Pastors are disappointed. Leaders are exhausted. Many are longing for the way things were.
Even before coronavirus, it’s evident that leading today is just more challenging and more complex than ever before. Add a global pandemic that won’t go away to the mix, and it’s no wonder many leaders are quitting, or at least wondering if they were made to do something else.
Consider this. According to Tim Elmore in his book The Eight Paradoxes of Great Leadership, in 2020, the CEO’s of Disney, Hulu, IBM, LinkedIn, UberEats, MGM, Lockheed Martin, Nestle, Volkswagen, Mastercard, T-Mobile, Harley-Davidson, Victoria’s Secret, and Bed Bath and Beyond) stepped down. And that was just the first quarter of 2020!
Momentum has only picked up since then. The year 2021 is now known as the year of the Great Resignation, or the Big Quit, as more employees voluntarily resigned from their jobs statistically than ever before.
Will 2022 be any different? Doubtful.
In terms of the church, statistics are at alarming all-time extreme rates. Barna’s latest study shows that 38% of pastors have considered quitting full-time ministry in the past year. Additionally, their research shows that only 35% of America’s pastors rated themselves healthy in their overall well-being. Considering that we typically rank ourselves higher than the actual truth, it’s likely that number could be even lower.
When you see all that has happened in the wake of this now 2-year struggle, it’s easy to dismiss that anything good can come from any of this. But, God often brings good out of unique and unfamiliar places. Remember, Jesus grew up in Nazareth. Nobody from Nazareth had ever done anything notable, which is why Nathanael questioned, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” So, can anything good in the church come out of the pandemic?”
I believe there are four helpful practices that many churches employed in the early days of the pandemic that I don’t think we should ever stop! So, here they are. What practices would you add to this list? Is there something your church did that you found effective? Please contribute to the conversation by adding it to the comments below.
Making Phone Calls to Everyone in the Church
When the nation went into quarantine, and we couldn’t see one another, how do you know how to lead your church? Many churches jumped to something that might be considered old-fashioned: phone calls. While some pastors made it a point to connect with everyone in their church database, other churches split up the duties between staff and leadership. Personally, I remember making a series of phone calls to connect with those in our church.
You might be saying, “Well, I thought people don’t pick up the phone anymore.” And you are right. Not many did. But those that didn’t, I was able to leave a one-minute voicemail praying for them and acknowledging that we were here for them if needs arose.
Those I did connect with led to very worthwhile check-ins:
- Several powerful prayer moments ensued
- A few physical needs were identified that we could attempt to meet
- Encouragement was given not only from us to them but them to us as well
- Gratitude was expressed that someone in church leadership thought about them and prayed for them.
From a practical standpoint, this practice helped church leadership understand how our people were feeling and doing. It allowed us to understand some legitimate concerns or fears that they were experiencing, which in turn, allowed us to be able to shepherd our people to what was relevant in their lives.
What would it look like in your church for phone calls to happen regularly to those in your church?
Acquiring Real-Time Data
The personal one-on-one touch with the phone calls proved a big winner. One other practice that many churches employed, including ours, was a regular survey of those in our church. Thanks to Barna’s Church Pulse Weekly, we quickly sent out surveys to gather objective data about how our collective church was doing.
In times of significant disruption or when leading change, it’s imperative to let the objective data do your talking. Indeed, in our ministries, we need to leave room for God to give us each a fresh understanding of how to lead, but I have found it is tough to argue with data.
When people’s opinions are so different regarding divisive topics, the people in our church need to see that their opinions are not the only ones. By sharing accurate data and differing views on some key points, it allowed the people in our church to have unity despite the complexity.
Also, by understanding the pulse of our collective church, we could separate what we were hearing on the national news with our data of what was truly happening in our church. Sometimes it matched almost to the number, but it was very different at other times. By seeing the data, it allowed church leadership to pick specific sermon topics or ideas that were far more relevant to our situation.
What would it look like for your church to acquire real-time data regularly from those in the church?
Asking Better Questions about How to Lead our Church
Proverbs 16:9 says that man plans, but ultimately God directs our steps.
As leaders, we all felt this in the early days of the pandemic. Then, we have been reminded of it repeatedly in the past two years. On Monday, there were times when our team would come up with a plan that we felt was rock-solid. By Tuesday, the world changed, and the plan was no longer good. It felt like a significant waste of time. So, then, we’d go back to the drawing board.
Again and again and again.
I genuinely believe in honoring, valuing, and respecting team members, which is why planning ahead is imperative. Having our plans laid out in advance creates more flexibility for our teams. But one of the unintended negative consequences I have found is that when you work and plan so far ahead, it can actually make your team less flexible for the spur-of-the-moment things God calls your church to do.
One of the benefits of this major disruption is that it allowed us to see that God is in charge. While each week was exhausting, it also strangely felt right. There was a continual reliance not on our plans but God and His plans. As a result, we were asking better questions frequently:
- God, what do your people need from us this week?
- God, how can we serve our people this week?
- God, what message do the people need to hear?
We weren’t asking each other these questions. But, instead, we were seeking God because we had no clue. We weren’t, and we still aren’t, in control, by the way.
I’ll admit it. It’s scary to operate like this every week, but the more we did it, the more trust and reliance we had on the God who promised to lead our church. A second benefit of operating in this fashion is we could be highly relevant to what was going on in the lives of those in our church.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t plan your annual calendar. Please do it. It’s wise. But ensure that you regularly ask God the right questions, and don’t be afraid to go off-script.
Innovating Like Crazy
Even though many churches were not ready for an ongoing season like this, churches quickly learned to pivot. I was so impressed by the plethora of churches that had jumped online to offer church within days or weeks. So many churches also learned how to engage with social media like never before and run virtual meetings and even a small group ministry through Zoom.
After all was said and done, some of our innovations worked well. Others didn’t.
The collective church needed a time like this to speed up the current reality that we live in today. The world had changed dramatically way before 2020 with the rise of the Internet, social media, and overall online presence. But, sadly, the church as a whole was way behind.
Now that we are two years into it, there are still many opinions on what the church should be doing online. I get it. No matter how much you try to make the online church the same as the in-person church experience, it isn’t. It can’t be. It’s different. And that’s okay.
But, if I have one thought to offer in the realm of church online, it’s this: I am convinced what we need from the church online is more and not less. People are “living” today with more than 7 hours of digital content consumed each day. We cannot remove ourselves from where people are. So, what will it look like? What should it look like?
I have no idea. But let’s keep exploring. Let’s keep innovating and trying new stuff and seeing what works. And let’s do it now.
Because while we are trying to catch up, there’s this whole new thing called the Metaverse coming. And pretty soon, the church will need to be there too.
What new practices has your church learned in the pandemic that you will carry on into the future?