Coming out of Covid, most church leaders are wrestling with how to do ministry in a new world. Covid changed everything, and it happened in a time that was already tumultuous—Black Lives Matter, the transgender debate, abortion rights, economic upheaval, etc. To say we live in a chaotic time may be the understatement of the year!
And that presents real challenges for church leaders. Some things we have done should continue; some need to change. And this is a great time to figure out which is which.
Here are five things that leaders need to recognize and press into in this new season:
One of the biggest and most obvious impacts of the last season is the longing for community that it brought to the surface. Whether you agree with lockdowns and other steps that were taken or not, what is clear is that people have recognized the importance of community and relationships.
In light of that, every church needs to make the fostering of community a high priority. Create lots of opportunities for people to get connected. Small groups, pot lucks, fun nights—the more the better. And bang the drum on people getting involved.
One of our stated values as a church is to “love others deeply.” What we talk about is the importance of loving each other shallowly. Loving deeply comes as we build relationships with people. Loving shallow means showing up, taking the first steps to get to know people, etc. You can’t love deep without loving shallow first!
That normalizes the process of getting to know people and allows people to plug in without feeling like outsiders. It’s part of making it easy for new people to participate. People are coming to church looking for community, hungry for connection. We need to make that as easy as possible by giving them lots of options.
We now have regular pot lucks and encourage our small groups to have a meal. We pay for childcare for small groups so parents can participate more easily. We try to identify, and remove, anything that would hinder people from taking their first steps to getting connected.
People are questioning authority more than ever before. Whether it’s the CDC or a local church leader, being an “expert” doesn’t carry the weight it once did. People are now looking for authenticity even more than expertise.
For church leaders, that should be right up our alley. Taking time to share honestly about our own questions and struggles builds trust. I am always amazed that people get more out of my “failure stories” than my success stories. It enables them to feel like there is hope for them. Weave those stories into sermons; take time when you are talking with people to share your story. That doesn’t mean confess every sin, but do let people in. Let them know you feel, or have felt, what they do.
Don’t waste a crisis
That idea was popularized a while back by a political strategist, but it applies to the church. People expect things to change, and are open to it.
Take time to think through your goals and strategies, clarifying and fine-tuning them. If you need to change things (and you do!), this is the time to do it. Get rid of obsolete programs or ministries that are unfruitful. Clarify your purpose as a church and streamline what you are doing to align with your purpose. Start new ministries that are focused on current needs.
Don’t try to do everything you were doing before. People will usually understand when you say that you can only do a few things—that you can only do the things that are absolutely necessary. You can’t re-start everything at once, so you need to focus your energies.
The #1 job of a leader is to define reality. That means giving people a framework for how to think about what is happening in their world. Is Covid God’s judgment on a sinful world? Is this preparation for an end-times revival? Is it a call to prayer? How do I think about what is happening and how do I respond to it? I suspect different church leaders would answer those questions differently. However you answer them, you need to define reality for your people. That doesn’t mean you can answer every question—sometimes it is OK to say “I don’t know.” But you do need to answer some!
For example, we don’t try to explain to people why everything is happening that is happening. But we do recognize that tumultuous times often present opportunities for ministry and sharing the gospel. That gives people a way to think about what is in front of them and how they should respond.
Make a difference
A lot of people can see that the world is hurting, and they want to do something, but they don’t know what. Find ways to enable people to make a difference. Start ministries that meet real needs. Partner with ministries that need more resources. Renew your emphasis on supporting missionaries. One of the best things any leader can do for their people is to provide them with opportunities to make a difference.
Don’t waste a crisis! If we adjust what we are doing in light of what people need and are looking for, our impact can be greater than it ever was.
Dave Frederick is a church planter and pastor, and publisher of Leaders Book Summaries and Conservative Book Summaries. He’s passionate about helping leaders reach their potential and seeing the church have the impact God intends it to have. Dave and his wife live in the Wheaton, IL and are enjoying adjusting to being empty-nesters.