A Map for Emerging from the Pandemic ©

 

As we move through Lent, we are all struggling with issues of re-opening. The WIG remains our mission with an emphasis in discipleship formation through small group ministry, outreach to the community/mission field, and professions of faith/conversion narratives. A quote from Thom Rainer from his book The Post-Quarantine Church reverberates in our Cabinet conversations. 

Get ready to begin the journey. From my perspective, the church is entering the most amazing and exciting days it has seen in decades—maybe even in centuries. Though the path will not always be easy, we can expect future days of great opportunity.” – Thom Rainer, The Post-Quarantine Church

Stories of “WIGing our way to a new future” are resounding throughout the Central Texas Conference. The emerging narratives are a joy to behold. Here’s a sampling of some of the most recent ones that have been shared with me:

  • Rev. Jonathan Millett at Oak Park UMC in Temple reports, “Through Facebook, YouTube, and even a service called ‘PhoneLiveStreaming,’ we found a way for every single person in our church family to stay connected. If that had been all we had accomplished, it would have been worth the time and expense; however, what happened was even more significant. We were lead from ‘the wilderness’ into a new mission field. Next month, as a direct result of our online ministry, we will celebrate multiple professions of faith, baptisms, and families joining our church.”
     

  • Rev. Faiana Funaki

    Rev. Faiana Funaki has been facilitating worship in Tongan at Martin UMC each Sunday at 2 p.m., as well as a women’s bible study, Thursday night prayer meeting, and special events important in the Tongan expression of faith. Three Sundays ago, East District Superintendent Randy Wild relayed, “…we met with a small group outside on the Martin UMC campus to baptize three young children (age 3, 2, 1) and to receive their parents into the membership of the church. This family of five, with one more on the way, came to Martin from the Tongan Latter Day Saints congregation in Euless. The wife is a relative of one of our Tongan members and was invited to join in the online worship when nothing online was available at the LDS church. They became engaged, Faiana nurtured a relationship with them through phone calls and texts, and eventually they began to ask about the differences between the LDS and Methodist churches because they appreciated what they were learning in worship, studies and small groups. There have been many challenging aspects of ministry in the pandemic, but I know it is unlikely we would have reached this family had the only option been to walk into the building of a Methodist church.
     

  • FUMC Mexia has distributed thousands of gallons of water to their neighbors during this time. They have given away 300 flood buckets to assist with clean up following February’s brutal freezing weather and has distributed food that did not require cooking during the days after the winter storm.
     

  • First Waco has distributed 300 flood buckets to the community, in addition to providing First UMC Mexia and Limestone County with more than 1,500 gallons of drinking water.
     

  • Central UMC in Waco acted as the coordination center for the flood buckets coming in from Sager Brown.
     

  • North/West District Area Superintendent Louis Carr shares the following: “Over the past two months, the NW District leadership has worked really hard to put together three different coaching plans and presentations. The plans include ministry to Youth, discipleship and evangelism. Fast forward to the (recent) NW District Pastors meeting. As we all were sharing about how we all are coping with the effects of the winter storm, out of nowhere a pastor mentioned that this is a great opportunity for evangelism to prevail. From this, another pastor was bold enough to ask if they could have help with evangelism and the blessing was that the District Area team was ready to coach and support a fellow clergy in need. Our team is ready as we live in to developing lay and clergy leadership.”

  • Approximately 200 clergy and lay leadership from around the conference participated in the BOTH/AND webinar – a webinar put forth in cooperation with the Fellowship of Local Pastors, The Orders of Elders and Deacons that focused on how churches can and should engage in doing both in-person AND online worship effectively as we emerge from COVID-19.

 
These are but a small sampling of the stories of faith transformation and new growth blossoming as we move toward a new spring in the life of the Church. The Holy Spirit is moving among us in our churches and communities. We are not going back to normal. We are emerging to be better than normal – energized and equipped to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Mapping Our Way Today for an Uncertain Journey Tomorrow
Mike Bonem

In his February Newsletter, Great and Godly Leadership, Mike Bonem (who has served as a consultant in the Central Texas Conference and through The Texas Methodist Foundation) notes the importance of discipleship and community. They form the frame of a map for emerging from the pandemic.

  • Discipleship Many church leaders were dissatisfied with discipleship in their churches pre-COVID. … Consider a two-prong approach: (a) planting seeds of change by asking existing groups to self-evaluate their discipleship effectiveness, and (b) starting new groups with healthy discipleship at their core.

  • Community. Step back and ask, “What kind of community will our people and our neighbors need post-pandemic? What should we offer to address the relational voids and loneliness that many have experienced?”

 
Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director of the Smith Center for Evangelism, Mission, and Church Growth, asks the question: “What can I do now to get ready for what is an uncertain future?”  He provides an exceptionally helpful highway lines in the map for emerging from the pandemic and offers five concrete steps:

  1. Identify who is still on the team – staff, lay leadership, and key influencers. I would connect with these people consistently now and in the next few months and would invite them to pray. I would communicate and involve them in whatever envisioning process that your church is in. I would affirm, appreciate, and involve them. As for any new church start these people will be the key to the success of that start.
     

  2. Identify the church family that has stayed involved. Know who has been attending online, in the parking lot, and in person. Don’t guess. Know. Especially note who has continued to give. This is a key sign they are still connected and will be connected in the future. Communicate with your people as much as possible. Stay connected, show appreciation. Let these people in on the vison and the next steps your church is taking. Don’t assume they know what they need to know. They probably don’t. Communication in this season is more important than ever. Don’t take these people for granted, they too are the key to the success of the new start.
     

  3. Identify the new people that have connected to your church in the COVID-19 season – who is watching Facebook live, who has connected in any of your online platforms, who has visited in the parking lot or in person, who has asked for prayer or been meeting on zoom or otherwise with some of your committed members? Who has joined any of your small groups, zoom or otherwise? Make a running list of these new people. Begin a system of building relationships with them. Prepare them to take next steps now and when church begins to meet in person, this step is not impacted by the pandemic.
     

  4. Identify who has dropped out, meaning they have not been connecting online, in person, or in the parking lot. You will probably also be identifying who has been attending other churches. Some will come back, some won’t. Don’t underestimate the disconnect many will have experienced. People have attended your church for many reasons, many of those reasons are now in the past. They are living on hope. Develop plans to reconnect to them, plans that begin now and ramp up as we get closer to an effective vaccine.
     

  5. Build a team that can assist you in reaching disconnected, new, and any people you are not already reaching. Find a way to create momentum as you start a new church. Don’t expect anything to come back that looked like it did before. Create a new church for a new world. Affirm to any paid staff and volunteers that for many months their main task will be to reach new people, rebuild relationships, and connecting people, etc. Staff will instinctively want to jump back into running a preexisting program.  People must come first in this next season more than ever. Programs, old, new, and transformed will come as they need to. Define evangelism and discipleship and integrate both into next steps and the new church using the creativity and adaptability discovered in this season of loss and opportunity.”

 
Let the word of the Lord speak to us as individuals, congregations, and communities in this exciting time.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2, NRSV)