Like Nehemiah prayerfully inspecting the city walls before calling people to rise up and build, leaders need to be aware of their surroundings, paying special attention to how things are changing.
And they are changing fast.
But as we look to the future, here are some of my thoughts about what has changed and what will keep changing in the post-COVID church.
#1 – You must think beyond Sundays and streaming.
Before COVID, pastors loved to preach that the church was not a building. Now more than ever, our people need to realize that ministry isn’t limited to Sunday and how we show up in culture must move beyond a stream.
In many ways, we have MORE opportunities to reach people – at home, at work, and at non-Sunday times.
Let’s stop creating content exclusively for Sunday or live streams and start creating multi-channel content to use intentionally throughout the week.
#2 – It’s going to be tough to re-engage your volunteers.
There are a lot of volunteers who aren’t ready to come back to serve. Maybe they are at risk. Maybe they are acting in someone’s best interest. Maybe they are risk-averse. It is what it is – and piling on the guilt isn’t going to change their minds. It will just make it worse.
But there are others who have just gotten used to not serving on Sundays. They have created new patterns. You’re going to lovingly have to help them adopt new patterns. And this will challenge your leadership skills more than you can imagine.
Don’t think that everyone who served in your children’s ministry before is ready and willing to come back to the children’s ministry when it’s time.
Some aren’t ready to come back to serve. Others have gotten used to not serving.
Even though this course was created before COVID, the three-step framework in it (recruit – train – pastor) will help you engage and re-engage your volunteer base. You can get it included with membership.
#3 – There’s a new front door.
Your church service used to be the front door, the way most people experienced your church for the first time. This is why “invite a friend” worked so well.
Then, we realized people visited our websites before they ever visited a service, and we made changes there. We shifted the point of our website to be focused on new people and added “plan a visit” language, which was a good step.
But things have shifted again. Now, people first experience your church by what they see and hear on social media. You can influence this, but you don’t control all of it.
So, what do you do? Start by sharing helpful content online and using it to build trust over time. Talk about things that are important to people in your community (not just things that are important to you). Build an audience (and an email list) of people who may not be ready to plan a visit but still want personal and practical guidance.
#4 – It’s time to make (or re-make) a strategic plan.
Leaders love to talk about casting vision as a way to get everyone on the same page.
The problem is that people can agree on the destination but disagree wildly on the process. You see, it’s actually strategy that gets people working together toward the same goal.
And since everything is different now, it’s time to create a good plan. A plan that is short. A plan that is specific. And a plan that has time to work.
#5 – Staff transitions will continue.
Churches will continue to see transitions, some out of financial necessity and others out of opportunity. And nearly everyone working on staff at a church is doing things now that they weren’t hired to do originally.
Keep repurposing people, making sure their actual job responsibilities line up with the current reality. Maybe you need to shift more leaders and volunteers in a digital direction. Maybe you need to intentionally slow down funding some areas or hoping they return to normal. At any rate, embrace change.
All of these transitions will make people tired and could quickly lead to burnout. We have a resource called The Tired Team that will help you create clarity and encourage the people who are working so hard to make the mission happen.
One other quick note on teams that is always true but feels extra relevant: Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems.
#6 – Keep building financial margin.
It’s always wise to have financial margin, and I know you already feel this.
Even if you need to stop doing some things or hold off on an opportunity, margin now will give you more opportunities later.
Most churches should start with 3-6 months of total operating expenses in reserve. Some need more.
#7 – Keep the digital pivots.
Some of the changes you’ve made over the last year should stick around, even as people begin to physically return to church.
Those decisions made out of necessity will turn out to be catalysts for growth in the future.
For example, an online membership class could continue to be a way to get new people connected. It might be better, more efficient, and more accessible to new people. We talked about this on this episode of the Church Fuel Podcast (available on Apple, Spotify, and Stitcher).
Don’t just go back to the old way if the new way works better.
#8 – Don’t make gathering, regathering, or getting back to normal the goal.
The churches that long to go back to the good old days will not lead their people there.
First of all, it was a largely romanticized view of how well things were working in the past. Secondly, it discounts the new direction and new opportunities God may be giving your church.
Regathering in and of itself is a weak goal. Think bigger.
#9 – Be willing to change the model.
No ministry model works forever.
The thing you figured out 20 years ago that made so much sense at the time may have run its course. And while the purpose of your church will stay the same no matter what happens in culture, your current mission, strategy, events, and programs should change with the times.
I’m not a doomsday believer and I’m not prognosticating the end of the church, because God’s church has been around for 2,000 years and nothing will stop it.
I’m not going to let the stats or trends dissuade me from believing the local church is important and the work you do matters. I’m not out here predicting the demise and fall of God’s plan A for spreading the Gospel.
But as things change, we will continue to equip you with strategy, best practices, and insanely practical resources to help you lead.
One of the best places to start is creating a FREE Church Fuel account, where you can access several webinars, resources, and courses to help you lead your church to healthy growth.