Exhausted by the back-and-forth of shutting down and reopening, navigating in-person and online services, and modifying everything in your church to avoid spreading disease?
Though it’s easy to see the downsides of 2020, what if God could use these changes to shift us toward more effective, long-term ministry in the digital future?
- What if online services expanded our reach more than we could imagine for God’s kingdom?
- What if shorter services meant a more approachable guest experience?
- What if fewer volunteers meant we could be more intentional with the volunteers we do have?
The shut-downs we’ve faced – and continue to face – may just be a miraculous part of the work God is doing to pivot the Church to be broader, simpler, and more effective post-quarantine. That is if we’re willing to pivot.
From Wanting to “Get Back to Normal” to Innovating for the Future
In his podcast interview with Dr. Thom Rainer, Carey Nieuwhof, pastor and church leadership mentor, explains how life is different as a result of COVID-19: “Home is the new hub.” People are now doing school, fitness, food, entertainment, shopping, and church at home, and this is not likely to stop any time soon. People have become accustomed to 45-minute church services instead of 5-hour Sunday commitments. They have adapted to their new schedules and select relationships, and they are not coming back the same.
Nieuwhof believes: “Getting back to normal is not the best strategy. For the future, churches need innovation, creativity, and optimism.”
But, even though people have changed, the fundamentals of church do not change. People still need to hear the Word of God preached. They still need to be involved in the Body of Christ. They still need to serve and love and be loved in healthy, vibrant community. These things are non-negotiable. But, how we do this is going to look different going forward.
Instead of asking “How do we get these people back into the building?”, perhaps a better question to be asking is “How can I bring what I’m doing to where the people are?” While filling our buildings can be one tangible measure of our church’s impact, our highest goal is to help people grow spiritually, glorify their Savior, and love those around them… from anywhere.
According to Barna Research, 30% of people are ready to come back to church. But, for the other 70% of people who are now adjusted to this new way of life or who have major health concerns, their entire concept of church has been shattered and reconstructed. Though it can be overwhelming to think of continuing to offer online services indefinitely, we will miss a huge ministry opportunity to a huge group of people, if we deny digital instead of embracing it. Digital truly does take our ministry broader.
Nieuwhof explained in his article in Outreach Magazine: “The crisis is accelerating both your opportunities and your need to change.”
As we pivot our services and ministries to thrive post-quarantine, here are some areas to consider:
The Online Guest Experience
Guest experience advocate, Greg Atkinson, encourages churches to create a welcoming online environment, remembering that many people in online congregations cannot come and connect at the church’s physical location. Yet, they still want to be a part of the church. To ensure they feel welcomed, Atkinson suggests:
- Everyone who speaks on the video should introduce him/herself, every time.
- Speakers acknowledge and interact with the online audience frequently throughout the sermon – inviting them to use the chat function often.
- People can receive prayer/care – either by submitting a request or by praying with a prayer partner in a chat room through your online church platform.
- If the church is taking communion, mention it at the beginning of the service so that people have time to grab supplies at home, so that they can partake along with everyone else.
- Include stories often and review points often to make it easier to follow the sermon.
- Talk about what you are doing at your building, so that they feel like they are a part of what’s happening, even if they cannot attend
Perhaps the best thing about quarantine is how it has forced churches to develop a robust digital presence. This has opened the doors for churches to reach farther than they ever could have before, and it’s not something we should be in a rush to get rid of. Instead, our investment in quality digital church services may just be the best way we connect seekers both near and far into God’s family in a post-quarantine era!
The In-Person Guest Experience
For churches that are able to host in-person gatherings, guest experience is equally important. But, what does hospitality look like in a post-quarantine era? Atkinson believes that, for many churches, hospitality means:
- The greeting team wears masks to be sensitive to every guest’s needs/fears.
- Greeters and ushers hold hand held signs to welcome without handshaking.
- Churches publish information about cleaning standards (new air filters, foggers, sanitizing procedures) both online and in the bulletin, so people feel comfortable.
- Offerings are stationed or passed by ushers, so that people do not touch the collection plates/buckets/bags.
- Communion comes in single-serving, pre-sealed packets.
- Children’s ministry is offered, and parents are reassured about the safety and cleanliness of kids’ spaces.
By being sensitive to the concerns of those who come in-person, your church is helping people to relax so they can receive God’s word and feel His love through the family of God present at your building. These changes are for now, but maintaining this level of intentional hospitality will equip your church for better long-term guest ministry.
Optional Ways for People to Connect
For churches that are receiving requests for more, offering options may be the best solution. Larry Osborne, Pastor of North Coast Church in Vista, California, explains,
“Rather than reopening, what we did is we added an option… on Sunday night, after the Saturday and Sunday services have been online, at our various campuses we have a full, outdoor worship set. The campus pastor does a devo of anywhere from 10-15 minutes, and we offer it as an option, along with watch parties, watching it at home online, etc., and what that meant was that we weren’t having a reopening that sucked. But, we were scratching the itch of those who said, ‘I just need to be at church.’… There’s not just two legs: an Internet leg and a reopening leg. There’s a third one of offering something as an option…”
This may mean:
- Offering outdoor services, indoor services, and online services, so that everyone has an option.
- Opening multiple small venues throughout your community.
- Equipping volunteer leaders to host watch parties or other small to medium gatherings.
- Offering online small groups, hybrid small groups, and in-person small groups, and encouraging people to re-engage with the community.
These shutdowns have done a beautiful thing in driving churches to use creative and unconventional means to reach their communities. This is the kind of thinking the church needs going forward. Osborne and the North Coast Church staff believe, “A bunch of little things together creates something massive.” Instead of doing one big service, churches can offer various types of gatherings and groups to meet the needs of their congregation. What if one of these little things were the key to reaching your neighbors post-quarantine?
Navigating A Way Forward
Our job is to use the opportunities and resources available to us, combined with innovation, wisdom, and faith, to meet the needs of our communities in a time when they were desperate for connection and God’s love.
So the question is – Where does your church need to pivot, so your ministry can be broader, simpler, and more effective post-quarantine?