By now, you probably realize we’re in the middle of a major shift in the way we do church. Most of you likely canceled your in-person worship gatherings, at least for a few weeks, and have shifted to on online only model.
Good for you for being flexible and allowing God to work through you in an entirely new methodology.
But, I wonder how many of you have truly made the mental shift to the new reality.
Church, as we know it, has changed. Forever.
As one friend of mine said, “We’ve just entered a shift in the church the likes of which we haven’t seen since the invention of the printing press and individually-accessible bibles.”
You might be tempted to think that we will return to normal in a few weeks or a few months.
We will return to normal; but, it will be a new normal.
People are likely going to be hesitant, at best, to return to large church gatherings. Whether you agree with the change in mentality or not, how you respond will determine the future success of your local church.
I’m encouraging you to lean in to this new reality. View it as an opportunity. View it as a renewed calling by God to reach people in a way you might’ve never dreamed or imagined was possible.
A New Way to View Church
For years now we’ve been tinkering with the idea of church being more than just about the weekend gathering. We’ve attempted to leverage social channels to encourage people throughout the week. We’ve pushed people from Sunday School to in-home small group gatherings. We’ve arranged community outreach events and weekday serving opportunities. Women’s bible studies, men’s breakfasts, mid-week youth group meetings, etc.
However, most of these activities were created with the mindset of the weekend experience still being the primary activity and on-ramp.
We must shift our thinking.
If you think you are going to be able to get through this global paradigm shift by pointing a camera at your stage and sending your same old 90-minute church service out over video, I fear you’re badly mistaken.
Church is now going to be something that is home-based. I’m not referring to house-churches here (at least not in the way we traditionally think of house churches), but rather churches that are family-centric (and keep in mind that families come in all shapes and sizes).
The role of the church is going to be become a trusted partner, to help facilitate at-home worship for families.
How will the church help the mothers and fathers, for example, lead worship services in their homes? What resources can we provide to make this easy and fulfilling?
A New Way to Pastor
Not only is the weekend gathering no longer going to be the primary activity of the church, but the role of the pastor is also going to need to change radically.
Instead of being the spiritual leader, clergy will need to shift to being mentors or guides. You will truly need to be a personal shepherd, leading people in your congregation in how to self-administer their own worship services, their own sacraments, etc.
I’m not suggesting that the communal aspect of church life is gone. But I am suggesting it is going to look a lot different.
A Few Thoughts
In light of the new reality, what are some practical steps you can take in leading your congregation? Here are a few things to think about:
Lean In To Your Communications & Tech Staff
If you have staff (or volunteers) that are good at digital communications, now more than ever is the time to lean in to their expertise.
You can no longer view the communications department as a support ministry. They’re now the primary means for you to reach your congregation and your community.
Listen to them. They probably have ideas that they’ve been ruminating on for years that can help you navigate these new waters.
Think About Equipping Individual Worshipping Units
Your primary goal should be to help fathers and mothers to lead their families in worship. You should be thinking about how to help singles lead themselves and their friends in worship. And you should be thinking about this from the framework of them doing it without you.
This might hurt your ego, but it’s no longer feasible for you to be the central figure in leading your people through a worship experience.
Perhaps this means sending a devotional and a YouTube worship video to your people every day to use in a personal/family daily worship service.
Perhaps it means recording a weekly (short! because it’s on video now) sermon video that families can watch together.
Perhaps it means we finally start providing practical resources to people for spiritual growth rather than lofty and philosophical concepts. What if, for example, you send out a PDF of “Topics That Lead to Spiritual Conversations on the Way to Soccer Practice.”
Dream About What Virtual Community Looks Like
Here’s a reality: younger generations are already doing community online. My 16-year-old is a master at authentically connecting with his peers through technology. It’s time for all of the rest of us to figure out what this means for Godly community.
This is probably going to be much messier than traditional small groups meeting over Zoom (an idea I’ve seen floating around the past few days).
It’s probably going to be much more one-off and Snap-chat-like (I’m not advocating the use of Snapchat in this statement).
It’s probably going to require pastors to spend much less time (hours!) in your office doing sermon prep and much more time doing one-on-one discipleship. And that discipleship is probably going to look a lot like 140 character direct messages.
Can you imagine, for example, what it would take for you to deliver your “sermon” each week, all throughout the week, in short Instagram direct messages? Instead of one 30-minute sermon, what if you did fifteen two-minute sermons throughout the week?
Prepare to Reallocate Your Budget
If social networks are going to be one of the primary means of doing church, you’d better prepare to reallocate your budget.
Social is a pay-to-play game nowadays.
If you want to reach large quantities of people (even reaching them individually or in smaller groups at a time), you’re going to need to put money toward it.
Fortunately, likely gone are the days where fancy production, big buildings, and high-expenditure items are needed, so there should be plenty of money to reallocate.
Get Creative About Outreach & Serving
With the new worldview, likely comes a new way of looking at serving and outreach.
Instead of large serving events and big creative outreaches (who is going to be ready to come to a giant Easter Egg Drop when there’s Coronavirus edginess?) begin re-imagining how you can equip your people to serve their neighbors. How can small groups of people in your church come together to serve their communities?
What resources can you provide, what guidance can you give, and how can you motivate people to serve?
We are already seeing how people get insulative, isolative, and self-absorbed (toilet paper, anyone?) during troubling times like this. God’s people have a unique opportunity to be light if they’re properly led and motivated.
Think radically about how your people can be servants and think radically about how you can lead them to serve.
A Few More Practical Tips
Here are a few more random, practical tips in no particular order:
- If you’re going to deliver a sermon over video, sit down in a chair next to a fireplace (or equivalent setting). This will make your video feel much less “preachy” and more conversational and warmer.
- Make sure you have good audio. Even if you are just livestreaming to Facebook or YouTube with your phone, good audio removes a lot of distractions. People forgive glitchy video, but they’ll often abandon bad audio. Now would be a good time to jump on Amazon and pick up a good mic for your phone.
- Go shorter. I can’t emphasize this enough. People are used to watching short videos online. Your 60 to 90-minute traditional sermon is going to be less effective than a short yet profound word from God.
- Talk to Your People. This week, have as personal of a conversation with as many of your people as possible. Even if you are an introvert, your top priority this week should be to talk to as many people at as personal a level as possible. If you have 150 people or less in your congregation, pick up the phone and call every family. If you have a larger congregation, talk to key leaders and volunteers in person and send a personal-feeling email to the rest.
Just check in with people. Remind them that God is in control. Pray with them. Comfort them. Let them know that church is going to be changing (at least for a while) but you’re still there for them.
- Think About Other Mediums Beyond Video. Nearly everything I’ve seen this past week was about “how do we get our church’s service online via video stream.” And that’s good, we were in a bit of a panic to get things up and running. But now it’s time to think outside the box.
How else, beyond video, can you minister to your people? Is it by emailing a daily devotional? Is it by providing PDF discussion sheets? Is it by getting folks to sign up for a daily text message encouragement? Is it by leveraging snail mail? How can you use everyday social media differently as a ministry tool?
- Don’t Forget To Tell The Story. In the midst of all this change, God is still going to do an amazing work in your church. Don’t forget to keep your antennae out for stories of how He is at work, and find new and creative ways to tell those stories.
- Get Interactive. Leverage text messaging, chat or messenger tools, etc. to allow people to interact with you during live streaming. A lot of church communication has been one direction (from pulpit to the pew) in the past. But now is a great opportunity to change church from a one-way speech to a two (or more) way conversation.
This might be scary for some of you. The thought of having a sermon interrupted by an off-the-wall question might make you cringe. But this is the new way; it’s time to embrace it.
God isn’t surprised by a world pandemic. He’s not surprised by this shift in how we do church. Our God is doing a new thing.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)
Let’s all lean into the new, embrace it, and show the world that the church is ready to lead.