Monday, March 29, 2021

Hidden Opportunities for the Post-COVID Church

COVID has proved to be super disruptive for churches. But most pastors I’ve spoken with have found it less disruptive than anticipated. Groups continue to meet. Funds are still coming in. People are still engaged. The mission is moving forward.

The last year has resulted in lots of heartache and controversy for church leaders. But it has also resulted in opportunity. I see five hidden opportunities the most of our churches can benefit from if they seize the moment:

#1: Remote engagement has been normalized. 

Before COVID, if a family was sick or went on vacation, they went a week disengaged from their church. Not anymore. Every week since COVID hit, we see families engage remotely when they aren’t able to be in-person. Their kids are video-chatting with our KidStep director, teens are zooming with their small group, Mom and Dad are connecting with their church on social media, and the whole family is watching the online service. And all this feels totally normal. We have to hold on to remote engagement in the new normal!

#2: Offering plates are taboo. 

A year ago I was in panic mode. I assumed that asking every donor to immediately pivot to online giving would crash our budget. Boy was I wrong. Twelve months later, offering plates are taboo; nobody wants to touch those things! Plus, online giving is guest-friendly, allows us to better track funds, and makes giving far more consistent. I hope we never bring the plates back.

#3: Building-centric thinking doesn’t work anymore. 

We’ve all said it a million times: “The church is a people, not a building.” But then our environments and initiatives said the opposite. I'm not suggesting that using a church facility for ministry is a bad thing. Buildings are an incredible resource! But the church must go beyond the walls of their building to fulfill the mission. That’s become easier than ever now.

#4: Missional thinking trumps “invite people to church” thinking. 

In 2019, it was easy to equate evangelism with inviting people to church. The major hurdle, though, is that unchurched people can feel pretty uncomfortable in a worship service. But a positive shift happened in 2020. When we couldn’t invite people to the building, we started inviting people into our backyards! And Christians everywhere flocked to the community, served in food banks, sewed masks for neighbors, chalked Bible verses on their driveway, and so forth. This is a trend that we need to encourage.

#5: Outdated practices will die easy. 

Every church leader knows that it’s way easier to start a new program or practice than it is to kill an outdated one. But COVID forced us to cancel stuff, change stuff, and try new stuff. I predict that irrelevant programs will have a hard time getting back off the ground. I predict that traditional relics, like printed bulletins, have seen their end. If you’ve ever thought “I wish we could just stop offering that” or “I’ve always wanted to try this,” now is your chance.

I’m not trying to make light of the hardship our world has faced in this pandemic; the cons have outweighed the pros. But our churches will be stronger if we adapt and innovate coming out of this season. Let's embrace the hidden opportunities in front of us!

Monday, March 15, 2021

The Biggest Lesson I've Learned about Leading a Church during COVID

As we surpass one year of COVID mitigation in the United States, there are many lessons I’ve learned about leadership. But this is the biggest one by far:
Communication is key.

Early on, my team and I were decision-making machines. The smallest things had to be planned and nuanced. Everything had to be done differently. We had to learn new ways of doing every basic little thing. I’m so grateful for my coworkers and our Communication Team.

Looking back, I don’t regret any of the decisions we made. But I do wish I had communicated better. I defaulted to only communicating what we were doing instead of what we were thinking. I've learned at this point that people want to know your process, the options that are being debated, and their questions answered; in other words, they want to know what their leaders are thinking. Publicly sharing what you’re thinking about is risky - you could end up eating your words. But not sharing what you’re thinking is more risky.

When you only share what you're doing, and not what you’re thinking, people assume. They assume you are doing nothing. They assume you are making changes they won’t like. They assume you are living in fear. They assume you are caving to left-wing agendas. They assume all kinds of things!

But when you share what you are thinking about - those brainstorming and problem-solving sessions that happen behind closed doors - it establishes trust. When you explain your process for making decisions, listeners become less defensive. When you explain the reasons for not doing it one way, and the reasons you are doing it another way, listeners are more understanding. When you invite people into your space, that space that exists between a rock and a hard place, listeners empathize with you. Most importantly, you create buy-in. Listeners begin to think “I don’t know where that guy’s going, but he sounds like the kind of guy I want to go with. I think I can trust him.”

Here’s what our team has started doing. First, we created a regular rhythm of communication. Every week on social media or other platforms we share updates. Second, we answer the questions that we know or anticipate people are asking. Third, we cast vision for new things we want to try and why we want to try them.

Don’t make the mistake of silence. Before you know what’s next, communicate where your team is leaning. Err on the side of over-communicating. You may feel like you are repeating yourself, but your congregation will need to be briefed more than once. And don’t merely communicate the plan; communicate how you are planning the plan.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Loud Minority


What is the Loud Minority? It’s that small cohort of people in your church that becomes entangled and enraged about something that doesn’t really matter. But to them, that something matters a whole lot.

The Loud Minority is well-intentioned. They have a good heart. They want to see the church do the right thing. But they have become distracted from the mission, and instead have latched their attention on a minor issue.

Every church has a Loud Minority. And they can become instantly enthralled in the most random of issues: church aesthetics, minor doctrines, mask-wearing, politics, personnel changes, small funds, or programs that died off years ago. And the worst part is that fixing their issue doesn’t solve anything, because they always find another minor thing to be upset about!

The Apostle Paul dealt with the Loud Minority too. And most likely, the problems you are dealing with can’t even shake a stick at the pettiness he put up with. Just read his letters; he was constantly dealing with the most petty, unimportant things.

People who were enraged that new Christ-followers weren’t being circumcised (Acts 15:1-5). 
People who were offended when others ate the wrong kind of meat (Romans 14:2-3). 
People who refused to share a room with persons of another culture (Galatians 2:11-14). 
People disputing that women who took off their head coverings during worship were arousing (1 Corinthians 11:13-16). 
People who thought the pastor shouldn’t be compensated for gospel work (1 Corinthians 9:3-12).

Oh, and let’s not forget the most awkward HR conversation in all of church history. Imagine the day Paul sat down with his pastoral protege, Timothy, and asked him to be circumcised so he wouldn’t offend the Loud Minority (Acts 16:3).

We can learn some lessons about how to deal with the Loud Minority from Paul’s career. He warns us to be discerning enough to recognize whether a complaint is important or just the barking of “dogs” (Philippians 2:3). He urges us leaders to be patient with them (1 Thessalonians 5:14), “putting up” with them while “making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3). He instructs us to walk in love, going out of our way to avoid offending someone’s personal conscience (Romans 14:15-21).

But he also tells us this: never allow the Loud Minority to distract you from the mission. The Loud Minority “has an unhealthy interest in controversies and verbal disputes,” and we are instructed to “keep away from all that.” (1 Timothy 6:4,11)

Remember this when the Loud Minority is in your ear: they are the minority. Most of your stakeholders have your back. The worst thing you can do when the Loud Minority is barking is to take your eyes off of the mission. Do this, and maybe the Loud Minority will decide to join the Missional Majority.

“But reject foolish and ignorant controversies, because you know they breed infighting. And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth and they will come to their senses and escape the devil’s trap where they are held captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:23–26, NET)

Monday, November 2, 2020

Six COVID-Friendly Ways to Meet as a Small Group

Chances are COVID-19 has disrupted the “community life” of your group. It’s hard enough getting everyone together with busy schedules and family commitments; now you are having to figure out how to mitigate the spread of a deadly virus too! 

It’s also highly likely your group has been going in circles discussing everyone’s comfort level with meeting physically. I hope you are doing something to stop the potential spread of COVID-19 as you meet. Perhaps you’ve been meeting outdoors. That’s a great option! But now that the weather is cooling around the country, and daylight is fleeting earlier in the evening, this option is fleeting.

As you discuss meeting options with your group, here are six COVID-mindful ways to meet:

1. “Outdoor Meeting” model. This option is best, doctors tell us. But as said above the cooling weather and fleeting daylight may force your group to find a different model.

2. “Half Group” model. Few of us have a living room large enough accommodate social distancing for our entire group. Expanding our home isn’t a feasible option, but shrinking the size of people meeting is. There are a couple different ways to do this. One way is to have the men gather one week, then women the next. This works well for groups with children, as the kids can stay home with the parent not attending that week. Another way to do this is by randomly breaking the group into two and meeting in different homes, then switching people around the next meeting.

3. “Reserve a Room” model. Our church allows small groups to reserve a larger room in the church building. If this is an option for you, that would allow your group members to spread out and social distance.

4. “Double Date” model. One of the groups at our church has six couples with young children. For a season they didn’t meet altogether; instead they went on “double dates” separately (usually in their own homes over dinner). For every group meeting, a couple was paired with different couple. Here's the key: instead of just hanging out they planned very intentional conversation about their relationships, spiritual walk, and daily life.

5. “Hybrid Model” model. Your group members may be at different comfort levels. Some may be very open to meeting physically, while others are very hesitant getting together. This could potentially drive the group apart if certain group members are consistently sitting out. In the “hybrid model,” a group alternates with meeting in-person with meeting virtually. This way the group can maintain face-to-face interaction and still keep more cautious members in the group.

6. “Video Chat” model. Many groups have started meeting virtually rather than in-person to avoid spreading COVID-19. There are several options available, including Zoom, Google Meet, FaceTime, and Skype.

Be sure to discuss these options, and any other creative solutions you come up with, with the rest of your group. Consensus and healthy discussion is key to keeping your group connected during a very disruptive time.