COVID-19 Church Response: Phase Two
In a previous post, I wrote about an initial plan for the church to consider in their response to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and its impact on the local church. Now that we have moved past the initial phase (the easiest phase), I thought I would write a follow-up post as we prepare to enter into phase two of this.
Church, please listen, this is our moment!
Online Pivot Next Steps
- Another Impending Pivot – In the last week or two, churches have made an important pivot to exclusive online services and gatherings. Good work, Church! Let this be a reminder to us of how fast we can change when needed. There are more pivots ahead. One of them any day. If you have moved your services to some form of online offering (pre-recorded or live-feed), there is an impeding pivot you need to consider and prepare for. To “flatten the curve,” your jurisdiction will soon move to limit public gatherings to no more than 2-5 people (churches included). Any medium to large size church is going to face a problem (they often take 10-20 people to produce their live-feed). How will you pivot your online services to this reality? Be thinking of this asap because this change is coming and coming soon!
- Embrace Experimentation as Open Source – This is an exciting season for people with entrepreneurial giftings and inclinations. But one thing I have noticed about myself and others with this inclination is that we are also prone to competitiveness. This is a danger to the Kingdom! As we explore and settle into our new online ministry landscape and build ministry structures for this new frontier, let’s share our designs, successes and failures. This is not the time to hold trade secrets but the time to free trade ideas. I am learning so much from my friend about ideas, ways of approaching problems, things that worked, things that failed, etc. This is the season for cooperation over competition.
- Create a Rhythm – Now that you have moved all your ministries online and have done some experimentation, I would argue that it is time to establish a sustainable rhythm for your church. When we launched our online ministries, we went fast and hard. This was intentional in our part (we wanted our people to know that even though we couldn’t meet physically, the church was still there for them), but now that we are launched, we are in a season of establishing a sustainable rhythm.
- Where is the Laity? – If you are like the church I lead, we launched our new ministry structure fast and did so as a staff team (it allowed for this), but the next step is to empower our volunteers (many of whom have more time than ever before) to take leadership in this area. If our online presence reduces the role of volunteers, we have failed. We failed because it is not our job as pastors (Ephesians 4:12) and also because it doesn’t leverage the democratizing power of the internet.
- Reject Comparisons – If you are like me, you would have started to compare yourself and your church to others on Sunday. We are all on display and it can be demoralizing. This is a fool’s game! The bad news is that there is always someone who is a better communicator than you, a church with better production value than you, a church with better music than you, etc. The good news is that people, especially in this season of COVID-19, don’t care! They know you, trust you and I believe this is the season of the shepherd pastor as opposed to the CEO pastor. Therefore, do your best, avoid unnecessary barriers or distractions for people but, also, reject the need to compete with others and embrace the posture of the servant-hearted pastor who loves and cares for his/her sheep. People will follow you if you do!
- Celebrate Success – As you move online, you can begin to be demoralized. We have great expectations and reality can have a way of confronting that. For example, you host an online prayer meeting and only two people join. You are disappointed, expecting more, but forgetting that you didn’t do that ministry before and, in reality, you just had three people gather for prayer that wouldn’t have before. In addition, be honest about success, the matrixes have changed, and online analytics are confusing and deceptive (Not all video “views” are considered equal). You are not comparing apples to apples, but apples to pomegranates, and pomegranates are a complicated fruit.
- Find Your Bearings – The first phase of COVID-19 has been a season of so many pivots I’m starting to feel dizzy. As is the case with any dizziness, stop, fix your eyes on the constant (Jesus), and find your balance again. Remember: “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8)
- Embrace Critical Reflection – In the coming days, I will be writing more about online ministry and the potential and perils it creates. This is actually my area of academic specialty and I have written extensively about it (see my book, “Age of Kings: Pursuing God’s Heart in a Social Media World” as an example). I want to offer myself as a resource in the coming days to help us process this shift and all it will become (it has consequences and opportunities few people are considering as they implement with pragmatic panic).
If you have not worked on a building care system for your church to meet the COVID-19 pandemic, you need to be. Drop what you are doing and get on this today! In the coming weeks, people in your church and in your community will begin to get sick (and some will die) and your usual system and process for caring will buckle under the stress. This is our moment, church, don’t think you will be able to casually walk into it, prepare and plan and do it today! As an example, at Westlife, we have recently built two arms of care (congregation and community) that mirror each other but are scalable and robust enough to grow as need escalates. Additionally, as you plan for this, consider the community God has placed your church in. As a result, be open to the ideas of others and the leading of the Spirit and find creative and contextual ways to love and serve the community God has placed your church in. Your context needs to be considered, but if you are relying on your existing systems to handle this, I plead with you to reconsider and get to work recruiting, planning and structuring care to meet the impending need.
This is a challenge for every leader and this season will be one of the hardest to lead through. The need will vastly exceed your resources! Going to online services and the massive hit to the economy will impact your budget, you will need to plan and act accordingly by triaging financial resources. If you are not preparing for this, you need to be. How can you reallocate resources and be prepared to make tough decisions?
Additionally, how will you triage human resources of volunteers and staff? Some of them will get sick and do you have a plan for that? You will also, statistically speaking, get sick at some point. How will your church respond? This should force every church to have some kind of leadership succession plan. This is not a drill. I am not being alarmist here. You need to consider how you will lead your church and manage the limited resource at our disposal for their use in this time of extreme need.
Once your systems are in place, take intentional rest before the wave of COVID-19 infection hits in the coming days. In the church I serve, our staff have been working long hours to prepare for the next phase of this pandemic and, as part of our response plan, over the next week or two will intentionally and strategically be taking needed rest to care for themselves and their families before we escalate care to meet the impending need.
I have said this to many of my friends and I want to communicate it here. For many reasons (the least of which are mentioned above), this will be the toughest pastoral season of your ministry career. Let’s be ready. This is our moment. That can seem overwhelming, but God’s promises are true. The need is great, but our God is greater. Let’s go leaders, it is time to lead our churches, pick up our spiritual armour and storm the gates of hell with faith, hope and love!