I’ve been waiting for that magical Sunday. I bet you have as well. You know what I’m talking about. It’s that Sunday when all the COVID cases are gone, we flip the special switch, everyone comes back, and the church feels like normal again.
That day isn’t coming. Stop trying to pencil it in on the calendar.
I’m not saying that your church won’t grow. I’m not saying that your church won’t reach people. I’m just saying there is never going to be a Sunday where everyone reverts back to old tendencies. COVID has changed much of our landscapes, and the church is one of them.
Our church has done well, but it still dramatically different than before. We have been operating at 20% worship gatherings and mostly Zoom groups. It has been fairly typical of what others have done. What I have heard from numerous pastors is that they have been surprised. Who has connected and how they have connected is not always what was anticipated.
Originally, I thought we’d be back to normal by Easter. Then it was by summer. Surely by the start of school everything would be back to before. I have faced reality – it simply isn’t going to happen. That’s why I want you to reconsider what you are doing. I am.
If your church is going to survive this crisis, you must start thinking of a rebuild and not a restart.
Here are some things to consider.
Since there is no magic button to return, what will you do to rebuild? Maybe these questions can guide your thinking.
- What are you trying to build? Don’t just start stacking stuff to appear busy. What do you really want to see in the church? You might have desired something for a while but lacked the opportunity. Now is the time where people are eager for vision and opportunity, and you can prayerfully provide both.
- Who are we really leading? While you don’t need to give up on your disconnected people, you have to work with those who are really there. Start with those people. Get them going in whatever strategy you are ready to layout for the next few months, and then start figuring out how to connect again with the disconnected folks. Just don’t expect one simple step to have the masses roaring back.
- What is the best way to connect those people at this time? Once you realize who is really with you at this time, determine what is the best way to disciple them during this time. Don’t worry about 2021, 2020 has enough trouble of its own. Given the situation, what is the best way to reach the people for this fall? It provided such focus when I stopped trying to envision the new normal, and I started envisioning what would be the absolute best for the next three months.
- What do you need to simplify? If you’ve been doing so much that you can’t do the most important things well, now is the time to evaluate every dollar, person, resource, building, etc. If you can only do a couple of things, what would you want to do?
- What small successes can you celebrate? I have expressed to our staff that we will adopt a church planter mindset because they dream big, start small, and celebrate tangible wins. If you decide to reopen your preschool and usually had 30 and you only have 3, you are disappointed. If you had 0 and go to 3, you are ecstatic. If 3 turns to 4, you are really moving then. Celebrate who you have, take care of them well, and add as you go.
- How can you restart reasonably with room to grow? We are not planning on providing all the numerous ways to connect as before. Not at first anyway. We will start small, and just like a church planter, when a class or group gets too big, you get some more volunteers, multiply, and keep going. You will not be able to fill or supply the number of volunteers you once had. Start small. Celebrate big.
- How can you change the church’s focus? What this pandemic has taught many of us is to focus on our situation. That isn’t helping anyone. Is there a way that you can turn your church’s focus not inward but outward? What is a tangible way you can reorient or reignite your outreach?
- What is our timeline? I am going to stop talking about when we get to this or return to that. I am thinking about stages. Think quarters. However, you want to break it down. School is starting back, and I am laying out a strategy in the next couple of weeks that only lasts for 3 months. I can’t see that clearly, but I definitely can’t see beyond it.
While I am still overwhelmed at the complexity of leading a church during this time, my mind has grown very focused when I realized this: stop thinking about a restart and start working toward a rebuild. It puts a timetable more manageable. It puts goals actually obtainable.
If a restart is not coming in the days to come, how will you rebuild for the years to come?
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Distinctive Discipleship. He is married to Amanda and the father of two sons and one daughter. Travis graduated from North Greenville University with a B.A. in Christian Studies and earned his M.Div. and D.Min. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, with his doctoral focus on family discipleship.