This has been a strange season to be working in the local church.
Just a few months ago, we all made the pivot to entirely digital and that felt like the biggest change in our history of leading in the local church. At that point, we thought it would only be a few weeks that we would need to be in lockdown. Now we find ourselves facing what seems to be an even more complex season of ministry.
This transition to whatever the next normal looks like is going to be incredibly difficult to navigate. This will likely include some mixed variety of digital services, small group meetings, and some version of large group meetings in our auditoriums.
I love church leaders. I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can be more effective and what we can do to reach more people around us.
Over the last few months, I’ve spent quite a bit of time listening to and chatting with church leaders from across the country. While none of the fears that I write about here have been explicitly expressed by the individual leaders that I spoke with, they do resonate with the conversations that I’ve been having. My challenge to senior leaders today is to find time in the coming weeks to listen carefully to what your leaders are saying and even more carefully to what they’re not saying.
These fears represent some real pain points that our staff are going through in this season as we face what comes next in our churches. So, here are five fears about reopening that your staff may be feeling but aren’t talking to you about.
I don’t like crowds anymore.
This past weekend I was at an Ikea. It was kind of a fun experience lining up outside in a winding queue like I was waiting for my favorite Walt Disney World ride. It was interesting looking at the different types of masks people were wearing. But something hit me when I actually stepped foot inside the Ikea.
This wave of unexpected fear came over me as I stood in the silverware section with maybe 35 to 40 other people milling around me. I didn’t realize that months of being socially isolated had actually made me fearful in crowds. There is no doubt that some staff on your team are worried about coming back, and while we’re cheering that our churches are reopening and are looking forward to 30%, 40%, or maybe even 50% of our community returning to our buildings, there are some staff that will find this to be a fearful or overwhelming experience.
Giving our staff an opportunity to distance themselves from our community as they arrive will be an important part of our reopening plan. Even those affectionate folks among us who used to high five and hug everybody who came through the front door may find themselves with increasing amounts of stress when it comes to growing audience sizes in the coming weeks.
I’m done with church online.
A few weeks ago, I was enjoying a peaceful Sunday morning engaging with our church online while making some pancakes with fresh blueberries. When I came back to the screen to watch what was going on, a deep heaviness suddenly fell over me.
We’ve been celebrating this amazing season of digital ministry, but that’s mostly because we haven’t had any alternative. As senior leaders, we’ve been telling our people that this represents the future. We’ve been communicating how important it is for us to shift all of our ministries to digital and online in order to continue to connect with our people. However, I suspect that many of our staff are just done with church online.
We’re starting to see that this is the case in the broader church, as attendance is dropping and engagement is decreasing. Many of our staff are probably fearful of actually telling us that they are also tired of it, despite the fact that their perspective might actually help us fix the issue.
Let’s create space to address the ways that church online isn’t meeting our needs and what we need to do to change that. If we could talk honestly about what is inadequate about the church online experience now that we’ve all been in it for weeks, we might actually be able push to a deeper level of innovation.
What is it about church online that is so dissatisfactory? How do we change those things for the future waves of this pandemic and also for people who may never enter the doors of our church but are connecting online?
I work in kids’ ministry. We’re opening without my area. What does that mean?
One of the saddest things I’ve seen in this reopening process is that some churches across the country are planning to open without any form of kids’ ministry.
The not so subtle message you’re sending to your kids’ ministry team is what they have suspected all along: kids’ ministry is nothing more than babysitting so that adults can sit freely in the main room.
Over the years, we’ve used language that has caused our kids’ ministry people to be suspicious of whether we might think that kids’ ministry is second best to what’s happening in the adult world. If your church is looking at opening without kids’ ministry, you are making a grievous strategic error.
Kids’ ministry has always cultivated some of the most innovative leaders in the church. Kids’ ministry is a growth engine and is one of the major reasons why growing churches are growing. To reopen a church without kids’ ministry, I would contest, is not actually reopening the church. If you cannot open kids’ ministry, do not reopen your adult ministry. There are many strategic reasons to consider here but think about the damage you’ll be doing to your staff and leaders, not to mention your wider church, if you don’t include kids’ ministry as an important part of your whole.
I’m tired. (Like, really tired.)
I’ll say it again, this has been a very strange season for people who work in the local church. There’s a meme that’s been floating around that says, “How is it that we’re not doing any public meetings or anything at the church building, but our staff are busier than ever before?” That’s very true. I would suspect that in your church, many people haven’t taken any vacation time during these last three months because there hasn’t been anywhere to go or anything to do. On top of that, people have been wondering about the future of their jobs. So the thought of taking time off right now has not made sense.
The problem is we’re heading into a reopening phase that will be more demanding than the phase we just went through. The complexity of ministry is only going to increase in the coming weeks and months, let alone if we find ourselves with a substantial second wave of coronavirus that forces us back into a lockdown scenario.
Your team is tired.
I would strongly recommend that you think through what you’re going to do with vacation time in the coming weeks and months. People need to push back, unplug, and not worry about the live feed or what’s happening in the chat room. One more week to rest, to sleep in, to find some sense of new normal. I understand that this can be difficult in this season, but if we don’t give our people an opportunity to take time off, it will only impact our ministries and our team’s ability to stay healthy in the long run.
I feel a little lost.
This has been a destabilizing season; there’s no doubt about that. There are people on your team today who are not really sure what’s next. The path is unclear. Ministry during normal seasons is already a bit destabilizing and uncomfortable because we’re constantly dealing with people who have real issues and our job is to help them take steps closer to Jesus. The wins are sometimes not entirely evident and the rewards can feel few on a week in week out basis. Our job in this season is to clarify the roles that people need to be filling and the work that we’re asking them to do.
In this season, it’s up to you and me as leaders to give clear direction, even if that means brand new job descriptions and weekly, monthly, and/or quarterly key performance indicators that our teams can push towards. Team members may feel strange raising their hand to say that they feel lost because they might fear that will reflect poorly on their ability to cope in this season. Take time now to get back to the basics around defining the win and clarifying the next steps for your team.
In times of great adversity, the church shines.
There’s no doubt that these weeks and months have been filled with all kinds of adversity. We need to work carefully and closely with our teams to help them weather this season and to pivot well into what’s coming next. There are some resources below to help you with the conversations that you’re going to have in the coming weeks as you flesh out where your people are at and work through your reopening plan: