3 Steps to Help Your Church Succeed

The first Sunday without in-person services was surreal. All of our pastors sat in front of the church to greet those who had missed the email announcement. Our services had moved online for the time being due to COVID-19. We saw 20 people or so that morning, but for the most part, it felt like a ghost town.

At that point, we all thought this would last for 6 weeks, maybe 2 months at the most. In the back of our minds was the possibility that this would be long term, but no one was talking about that. We figured for 6 weeks we could hold on. We adopted a few new strategies to make the most of virtual ministry and stay connected with our congregation, but in reality, our focus was on week 7 (we hoped) when we would be back together on campus.

When week 6 passed and shelter-in-place orders got extended, we started to realize this wouldn't be over as quickly as we had hoped. When week 10 passed and the orders got extended indefinitely, we realized that this was our new normal for the foreseeable future. We needed a new strategy to help us thrive.

It can be a daunting task, especially since many indicators show that even when in-person gatherings resume, church attendance will not go back to what it once was (which had been steadily declining anyway). But there are a few steps you can take to start moving in the right direction.

1. Accept that this is the new normal

If this pandemic was only going to last 6 weeks, hunkering down and hoping to hold on until the end would have been a decent strategy. But now that we know this is going to be much longer, we can't just bury our heads in the sand and hope for the best.

We need to shift from hoping our churches survive to planning for how they will thrive.

Streaming services online and then going into survival mode was a natural response for most churches. This isn't the strategy, though, that is going to help your church thrive. Once you accept that this is the new normal, there are some questions you can ask your leadership team that will help you start to understand your path forward.

  • If we were a church plant getting ready to launch in this environment, how would we approach it?
  • What new opportunities does this season present to us?
  • If we knew that a year from now, our in-person attendance would be 50% of our pre-COVID number, how would we prepare for that?
  • Is there a ministry or program we used to invest significant time and resources into that we now realize wasn't having a proportionate impact?

2. Incarnational ministry is the new model

You've probably preached dozens of sermons about the incarnation from the opening chapters of John's Gospel. Jesus left heaven and moved into the neighborhood to live out and proclaim the Good News. Somewhere along the way, though, churches started inviting people to come to them instead of going out to the people. As Sundays have become less sacred and going to church has fallen down the list of priorities, inviting people to your building isn't enough anymore (COVID or not).

It's time to get back to our roots and do ministry like Jesus did. It's time to meet people where they spend their time.

If we want to meet people where they're at, we need to meet them online.

Meeting people online means more than just posting updates to your website and streaming or posting your services. Both of those are broadcast activities. They are simply a way for you to say something and hope people are listening.

Doing ministry digitally means creating space for engagement and interaction. It's about a two-way flow of information and dialogue. Would you be satisfied if a person came to your church, listened to your message, and then left each week without ever saying a word to another person? Probably not. Yet that's what many church's online activities end up doing.

Whether you choose to engage through Facebook, Instagram, or some other platform, digital ministry is about creating relationships that lead to spiritual transformation.

3. Evaluate your budget and your staff

This is the hardest step to take, but if you are really going to accept that this is the new normal, it's a necessary one. Many churches have already had to let go of some staff and trim their budgets. But what are you planning to do in the future? Are you hoping your giving will pick back up so you can get back to "normal" as soon as possible? Or are you evaluating your budget (staffing included) to fit a new reality?

In the past, digital ministry and communication was an afterthought for many churches, and most were able to get away with it. That simply isn't going to be the case in 2020 and beyond.

The world around us has been changing and this pandemic is giving us the opportunity to adapt to it.

Imagine being an English speaking congregation while the cities around you begin consistently speaking a different language. If you wanted your church to thrive, you'd probably start speaking that language!

In a similar sense, the "language" of the people around us has changed. It's time to start speaking that language so we can engage our communities with the Gospel. The way you allocate your budget and build your staff is an important place to start.

If you were going to take digital ministry seriously, what staff position(s) would you need to create or redefine? What kind of operating budget would this new ministry need?

Rather than reinstating your old budget as soon as you can, start thinking about new ways to allocate that money for a new reality.

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Beyond Seminary