In a relatively short time, American society has gone from a people trying our best not to spread COVID-19 to a nation in shock over the horrific encounter of Derek Chauvin and George Floyd. Many acknowledge that the situation was brewing beneath the surface for some time, and the scene in Minneapolis simply was the match that ignited what we have now. Regardless of your political views or even your views on systemic racism, the US is not close to a revolution - we are there.
Look at some facts. The map below (USA Today) shows cities and towns which have had protests (peaceful or not) and states where the National Guard has been activated. Various places throughout the country are seriously considering dismantling their police forces, with New York City having already diverted funds away from its own NYPD. It does not feel to me like this current crisis will blow over (and I'm not saying it should or shouldn't). Ordinarily, these things, when on this scale, end either with a dictator crushing the rebellion or an overhaul of the way a society is constituted and governed.
As a spiritual leader shepherding your congregation during a revolution, here are some reminders and encouragements. There truly has never been a better time to be a pastor, because we have the answers for which so many are genuinely searching.
By now, it should be universally accepted that no one can know precisely when churches will be permitted to reopen their doors to groups of more than 10 people. Critics may criticize for any number of reasons, but this should not be one of them. Also, even with the uniqueness of the COVID-19 situation, any time we deal with uncertainty on this scale, we do well to prepare for as many different scenarios as possible. That said, I am grateful for the work others have done to forecast trends and ideas of where the Church may be post-coronavirus. Having done some of my own research, I'd like to add a few thoughts for church leaders to consider.
The 80% rule (or 70% rule) will probably become the 50% rule (not the 60% rule). You understand your worship space feels full at about 70-80% capacity. Some predict that post-coronavirus this percentage will fall to 60%. Based on researching policies at AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas and others, 50% appears more likely. This has implications for churches who are designing buildings. If we build what we had previously designed, we will basically lose 60 usable seats if 50% is the new normal. It also has implications for mobile churches. Depending on how your rental agreements are structured, you may have to rent more ballrooms, or more classrooms, and this could drive up your costs.
"Public Health Officials" hold the trigger. Not much is said about how we will know when we can resume gatherings, probably because we are at the mercy of the government. The NBA, NHL, and other entities identify "public health officials" as having sole authority about when things reopen. For churches, this is significant, because we appear to have mixed feelings as to our level of willingness to comply with what these officials hand down. Let us factor in the reality that these officials are not just cancelling public worship, but also any gathering of any real size. This is a good talking point for conversations with members. It is essentially out of our hands.
People will give toward this but not that. Some are postulating how giving will be affected by COVID-19, just in broad terms of how much it will decrease. Admitting that none of us know anything about the future here for sure, it feels that giving could hold steady, decrease less than expected, or even increase depending on priorities. Layoffs, reduced hours, and basically having less residual income will change things. It feels like people will likely prioritize ministry (difference-making) with immediate fruit, community involvement, personnel (who are making a difference, loving, and serving), missions, and technology over brick-and-mortar, utilities, property upkeep, and so on. This will have budgeting implications.
I will save my other thoughts on future trends for a later post. Hope this helps! If you have a sense of where things are going for churches after COVID-19, please feel free to share it in the comments.
One gift Sir Isaac Newton gave the world was his Law of Inertia (sometimes called Newton's First Law or Law of Motion) - namely that objects at rest tend to stay at rest and objects in motion tend to stay in motion (unless acted upon by an unbalanced force).
When it comes to church attendance, it was challenging to get people to come to church before the Coronavirus disease. Our church would have 63% of its "active members" in public worship any given week; but it was a different 63% every week. We found that the national trend of people attending 1-2 times per month was true in our church. That was before the virus. Now that we have been unable to gather for two consecutive Sundays, anticipating at least a third, what will that mean for us coming back together?
As church leaders, we need to be prepared to lead from the expectation that Newton's Law of Inertia applies here. If we do not initiate an outside force acting upon our people, then those who are no longer in motion (i.e. they no longer attend) will continue not being in motion, even after we are cleared to resume public gatherings.
What should that "outside force" be? Here are some ideas.
I will pray for you and your church as you put together intentional plans for coming back together. If you come across an idea for keeping everyone together that seems helpful, please put it in the comments below.
I was privileged to grow up under the ministry of probably the greatest visionary I have ever personally known. His name was Dr. Bradley Price, and he came to Northside Baptist in Charlotte in 1990. The Charlotte Observer reported on our big days at Northside, where 8,000 people would gather for the Spirit of Christmas service and receive a hot-cooked free meal. Through my experiences with Dr. Price as a child, a youth, one called to ministry, and then a ministry intern, glory to God, I caught from him the passion for and ability to dream, to crystallize a vision, and to inspire others to see the dream also.
I just sort of thought everyone had that same passion and ability. One day, I was sitting in a circle of pastors, and we were picking each other's brains for ideas and supporting one another in prayer. One of my pastoral brothers asked, "Can anyone help me develop a vision for my church? I've never been taught how to do that." If a pink elephant had jumped up on the desk, I may not have been more surprised. I just thought everyone knew this.
Over the years, I have come to learn that the ability to "see" a vision for an organization, for a church, for a people, for a community and region, is something that is caught. Sure, you can go out and buy Andy Stanley's book and others, but translating principles into practice is easier said than done. Therefore, when it comes to recruiting and identifying leaders, and also hiring staff, look for those who demonstrate the ability to dream, to cast vision, and to build consensus around the dream. I'm blessed that my Assistant Pastor has this ability, and, Lord willing, the successful candidate for the next pastoral position we fill will have it also.
Not long ago, I was speaking with a minister whose organization is thinking about buying our church property which is for sale. As we talked together, it struck me. This man has the ability to develop a vision. It had been a long while since I had talked with someone in ministry with that ability, and it was so refreshing. Such people are cut out of a little bit different cloth, it seems. And if you have this ability, mentor others, so that they can catch it also.
Pastor Billy Shaw is a full-time pastor, husband, and father with a passion for helping other pastors.