We are still uncertain as to when we can begin in-person worship services before COVID-19. Some churches are still only online; others are meeting in outdoor spaces; some are meeting in person with typically nowhere near their attendance. (I often hear 30 to 40% of previous attendance) We are in a waiting game hoping a vaccine will help us restore some semblance of the Church before the pandemic. Church will not pick up where we left off. You know the reasons why? The theme of everyone being in the middle of becoming a new church start is no longer just a possibility; for most churches, it is inevitable.
What can I do now to get ready for what is an uncertain future?
- 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. I 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 that start's success.
- Identify the church family that has stayed involved. Know who has been attending online, in the parking lot, and in-person. Don't guess. 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 vision and the next steps your Church is taking. Please don't assume they know what they need to know. They probably don't. Communication in this season is more important than ever. Please don't take these people for granted; they, too, are the key to the new start's success.
- 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 the next steps now, and when in-person Church begins to meet, this step is not impacted by the pandemic.
- Identify who has dropped out, meaning they have not been connecting online, in person, or 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.
Build a team that can help you reach 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 into the next steps and the new Church using the creativity and adaptability discovered in this season of loss and opportunity.
My hope is that each of our churches will pray for a miracle, look for the miracle, and experience the miracle that God has in store for churches that are faithful to the vision of making disciples. God's miracles almost always begin with the people whose lives He is working in and through.
Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director
Center for Evangelism, Mission & Church Growth