After the Initial Crisis Response, How Do We Find Opportunities and Act on Them?
So, we’re a few weeks into this thing. You’ve managed your initial response to the coronavirus crisis. You’ve canceled church services, moved online, deployed virtual small groups, started working remotely, ramped up communication via email and social media… You’re figuring out how to manage the day-to-day.
The crisis is still escalating. “Back to normal” is just a wish. Easter is a few weeks away.
Have you caught your breath yet? We haven’t. We were just talking internally about how it feels like everyone’s workload tripled overnight.
That’s how crisis feels.
Leaders can’t help but look for opportunities in the midst of trials. My team has been amused by my optimism through all of this (I’m not typically the “glass half full” guy). I just sense God’s doing something incredible that we’re only beginning to see. I believe the Church will shine in this season, and will emerge healthier and stronger.
So if you’re a leader and your bent is at all like mine, you’re probably already toying with what your church’s next steps should be, even if it’s too early to start taking them.
In this episode, Amy and I dig a little deeper in this line of thinking,
“How do we, as the Church, redeem this moment for good?”
Dream with us.
In this episode, Amy and I discuss…
- 3 IMMEDIATE opportunities churches need to lean into
- 2 NEAR-TERM opportunities for churches to jump on when things begin returning to “normal”
- 3 LONGER-TERM opportunities for churches who are willing to be forward-thinking
- The latest data on the % of staff at growing and declining churches, and how it informs some key aspects of how churches respond to this crisis
- Shifts you need to make on your church’s homepage asap
- Why you may need to approach staffing differently in the future, or even redeploy staff you have now, to engage a different culture
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We use #unstuckchurch on Twitter, and we start a real-time conversation each Wednesday morning when the episode drops. We’d really love to hear from you during this time:
- How can we be praying for you as a lead and your church?
- What stories can you share of ways churches are responding well during this crisis and focusing on opportunities instead of loss?
Links & Resources from the Episode
- Leading in Crisis
- Coronavirus Response Resources for Pastors
- 30 Day Crisis Response Coaching:
We’re making our team available—virtually—to help you assess what’s important NOW. Sign up + get started today.
- [webinar replay]The Church’s Response to the Coronavirus: What Do We Do Next?
- [webinar replay]The Church’s Response to the Coronavirus: Re-Imagine Easter Gatherings
- 30% off Online Course Open enrollment and store resources
- Church Online Platform from Life.Church Open Network
- For a New Generation by Lee Kricher
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Sean (00:00): Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. With the changes that coronavirus has brought to our daily lives, churches across North America have found themselves changing their ministry strategy almost overnight. With those changes comes a great opportunity to redeem this moment for the better — better clarity, better strategy, and better direction. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy discuss how your church can use this unique opportunity to thrive in the next ministry season. Before you listen, make sure you grab the show notes. You can get them every week in one email along with the resources to go with this week’s conversation and access to the archive, our podcast content. Go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Also, we’re working daily to update our resources and content to equip your church during the coronavirus crisis. Visit our page at theunstuckgroup.com/coronavirus for more information and to sign up for our weekly webinars. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for today’s conversation.
Amy (01:06): Well, first of all, I just wanted to thank everyone that joined us for the live webinar last Thursday. It’s probably no surprise to anyone that it was the largest participation, Tony, that we’ve had for any webinar. Any reflections that you have on what we covered before we jump in today’s conversation?
Tony (01:22): Yeah, I agree. I just wanted to thank everyone who participated. Amy and Lance were insightful as always, Amy, of course. But what impressed me were all the great questions that we received from church leaders, and we’re responding to as many of those questions as we can by providing resources through the webinars and our weekly podcasts. We’re also collecting resources from ministry partners and other churches to address your questions, and you can find all of those resources in one place. They’re all at theunstuckgroup.com/coronavirus, and we’ll of course provide that link in the show notes as well. But the bottom line is we want pastors and church leaders to know we’re for you. We’re investing everything we can to help resource you. And we’re trusting that God’s going to direct our steps during this unique season for all our ministries.
Yeah. Well, speaking of last week’s webinar, we’re going to focus today’s conversation on one of the areas of emphasis that we talked about. And last week, I had asked you to share your thoughts on the opportunities that churches have to redeem at this moment. And you rattled off a list of opportunities, you know, fairly quickly in the webinar, and I thought it might be appropriate, Tony, just to slow down and unpack those a little bit more today in today’s podcast. Are you up for that?
Tony (02:42): Yeah, yeah, yeah. But before we address those specific opportunities, this is all with the assumption that your church has navigated that immediate response to the crisis. And now, almost two weeks into this, I’m guessing there are many churches that may have addressed those immediate needs of staff, your congregation and your communities. And now you’re starting to consider what should we do next to redeem this moment? So I’m good with covering these opportunities, Amy. But as I mentioned on the webinar last week, we’re going to go even further than that. For the foreseeable future, we’re going to have weekly live webinars to address all of the topics that we’re going to be discussing in today’s podcast conversation because we’re using Zoom to host the webinars, though, you’ll need to register each week for these conversations. So please subscribe to our content so that we can keep you posted on the upcoming topics, which will focus on how your church can respond to the coronavirus crisis. In other words, Amy, it’s still may be too fast today in the podcast conversation to hit all of these. But in future webinars, we’re going to unpack each of these topics in depth.
Amy (03:59): Well, with that, let’s dive into these opportunities. And Tony, I’m thinking, let’s look at these opportunities beginning with the immediate opportunities, and then we can get to those more near term and longterm ones in a minute. But as you’ve been assessing, everything that you’ve been thinking about, what do you believe are those immediate opportunities that churches need to lean into?
Tony (04:19): Yeah. So, I want to begin with where we began on the webinar is there is no better time for the church to be for their community. I mean, you should be looking at every opportunity you have now to mobilize your church, to serve others in any way you can, given the constraints of what we’re dealing with as a culture. So here again, I strongly encourage you reach out to your local charities. We’re already hearing from the local charities here in our community, North of Atlanta. They have specific needs that they’re seeing, and it’s because they’re on the ground, on the front line, seeing firsthand needs people have as they’re dealing with this crisis in their lives. So begin there and figure out, rather than reinventing opportunities to help people in this time of crisis, how can we partner with local charities who are already doing it? Secondly, my friend Sean suggested, I think this. Actually no, it was one of the churches. One of the best practices that we uncovered in a recent response over the last couple of weeks is they’re leveraging the Nextdoor app looking for specific ways that people can serve their neighbors during this crisis. So download the Nextdoor app and see if you can start to encourage your neighborhood to continue to work with each other and to take care of each other. And then additionally here an opportunity to be for your community. I understand that the American Red Cross is encountering a blood shortage in this time during this crisis. And so they’re actually looking for churches to partner with because it’s still possible to donate blood even though our communities are having to deal with the crisis. So, number one opportunity for the church that needs to happen right now is to look outside our walls, look beyond Sunday services and figure out how can we in this unique time be for our community? The second immediate step that we need to consider, and churches are just being forced to do this, and I think it’s a good thing, is to look at our strategy for streaming services. And, Amy, you and I had a chance to see some churches try to pull this off in the last couple of weeks. Some, those especially that have been doing this for a while is like we got this. And you could tell. And then there were others that had not given any attention to what their online platform needed to look like. And the best I could describe it is it was like they had MacGyvered some solutions together. That for you young people, you may not understand that term, but they were just kinda putting duct tape over some solutions to make them work. And maybe you needed to do that in the immediate weeks after this crisis started. But the online platform is going to be with us for awhile. In fact, it was actually about 18 months ago, Amy, I think we did some research and looked at the churches that were streaming their services and leveraging video content. And we found that those churches were also seeing attendance growth. And so you might be thinking, well, if we stream our services live, then people won’t show up to our church. But we’re actually seeing the opposite is the case. And I don’t know why that is. I’m assuming from what I’m hearing from churches, they think people are actually checking out their services online before they come to the church to experience the service. And so that may be happening. Regardless of what’s driving that though, we need to bring our best and all that we do as a church, including how we’re leveraging our online platforms. And again, the good news is people have been working on this, and one resource that you may want to check out through Life.Church. They make available for free their church online platform. So that’s one place that if you don’t have a solution in place, you may want to check that out. So that’s the second. And the third kind of dovetails with that is Easter. It’s just a couple of weeks away. And my fear is some churches are still working with the assumption that somehow magically we’re going to be able to gather together in our buildings to celebrate Easter together. That may happen. There may be a miracle that happens between now and then, but I would encourage you strongly to begin to think about how you’re going to reimagine the Easter celebration services and plan for them to be online. And because I think this is so critical for churches to be looking at immediately, this is what our webinar is going to be tomorrow on Thursday. We’re going to be focusing on how we can reimagine our Easter services in an online format. So I’m not going to go into any more detail on that. It’s going to be kind of like a cliffhanger, Amy, we’re going to just leave people guessing what we’re going to talk about in tomorrow’s live webinar.
Amy (09:47): That sounds good. You know, as you’re talking about these now priorities, I have just two comments. One on streaming services. I’ve seen some churches begin to make this shift, but we have to begin thinking about our online service as the main thing. The room isn’t the main thing anymore, and we’re just streaming it. We’ve got to start to think about what camera settings look like, what environments look like. And I’m sure we’re going to be hitting that tomorrow as well. But the other thing I was thinking about, Tony is I would guess churches right now have to retool their websites, don’t they?
Tony (10:21): Absolutely, and because they’re not going to your website today looking for where your church meets. They’re not looking for locations for your church, and they’re not looking for events to sign up for. And so on the main page of your website, it should be very clear. This is where you go for our online services. These are the activities that we’re engaging to help our community. This is how you can connect with people and address their fears and their questions. This is how you can connect with a pastor if you need to connect to somebody for some spiritual counsel, guidance in the season. So the church, we need to revisit how we were using our web strategy and making sure that we’re addressing the questions that people actually have today.
Amy (11:14): So those are the immediate opportunities. Let’s transition. Tony, what are the opportunities we can leverage as we return to normal well air quotes “normal” sometime in the months ahead?
Tony (11:25): Yeah. So these may be more near term opportunities, and some churches may be able to jump on these opportunities sooner rather than later. But this is the time for the church to really consider and clarify, why do we exist? Where is God calling us in the future now that we’ve experienced this interruption, and what’s our strategy going to be to accomplish that? It’s really clarifying our mission, our vision, our strategy. And I hope that this crisis really is a wake-up call for the church. Not to just do church the way we’ve done it, but to go back to those critical questions. Why do we exist? Where is God calling us to go? How are we going to get there? So let me, with that then, kind of give you some guidance related to where your team is right now. For many of you, you’re working remotely for the very first time, and this is good as well because as it relates to mission, vision and strategy, we need to get our team better aligned around that focus as well. And so if I’m you, I’m looking for opportunities to figure out how do I align the individual goals of the folks on my team so that they line up with the overall ministry objectives that we’re trying to accomplish? And the great news is in this season, especially where we’re pulling together to do church differently than we have in the past, there’s going to be a lot more openness to making sure that we’re all pulling in the same direction. And again, this is that time then where you can go back to those foundational questions then and make sure every ministry and every person on your team is aligned with what God’s calling you to accomplish. Beyond that, then I would encourage you to look at some opportunities specific to the tools you’re using to keep your team aligned. And here we’ve been talking about finding some online solutions to help your team collaborate more together, whether that’s Microsoft Teams or Slack or some other tool like that. And then also find project and task management solutions to make sure that your team knows this is what we’re trying to accomplish, this is who’s responsible, this is when we’re going to get it done. We need to have that clarity about what we’re about as a church, especially in these moments of crisis, but that good work you do now is going to carry with you then as you’re starting to move forward then with whatever the vision God has for your church in the future. So that definitely is a near term opportunity. A second one that I’ll highlight here is to begin to shift how you think about your content strategy. In other words, content is no longer just for people who show up for the church. That’s one of the things I love about what we’re going through right now. People can’t show up to experience our content in this season, and it’s forcing churches to think differently about their content strategy. A pastor I was talking with in the past week said, “It feels like we actually have to develop completely new muscle for what we’re doing right now because we’ve never focused on creating content in every area of our ministry and delivering that online.” And he was talking about it in some negative terms, Amy, like this is a challenge, and I’m not sure I’m really ready to lean into this challenge. But I was just jumping up and down inside because I was thinking finally this pastor, this church leader recognizes this is where our culture is. We’re forced to engage this way today, but if they learn how to do this well in this season, it’s going to serve them well as a church once this crisis is behind us. So here I would be encouraging you to think about everything that you do as a church, your entire ministry strategy, your discipleship strategy. How do we not only get our services online, how do we get resources for families, parents, marriages, discipleship resources, leadership development, how do we get that content in a digital format so that people can be sharing it in that format? And then also to think about this, creating content for the people who are already connected to your church and creating content for the community that you’re trying to reach. And this is, I think, the greatest opportunity for the church today. In every other business, including The Unstuck Group for that matter, we recognize for us to build connection with the church leaders that we want to serve, one of the key ways that we get to that place where we can work directly with a church leader and a church is we provide content to address the needs that we see that church leaders have. And as we continue to provide that content and churches continue to look to us, it opens the door for us to have conversations with church leaders, for us to actually engage with them through our consulting process to help them take their next steps as a ministry. The same thing can happen among the people you’re trying to reach in your community. You need to understand what are the needs that they’re wrestling with. But then you can begin to create content and resources to support people that you’re trying to reach. And it’s going to eventually create the opportunity for you to invite that person to take their next steps, not only in connection with your church, but ultimately to take their next steps toward Jesus. So this is an opportunity, a near term opportunity that you have at your church as a result of this crisis. Now, let me say this. The reality is that type of strategy around the content and trying to connect with the people that you’re trying to reach, leveraging digital platforms and things of that nature, you may need to add different people to your staff to do this. And some of you are going to be thinking, well we can’t even afford the current staff that we have. But that’s part of the reason why I want to raise this is I think churches are going to have to approach staffing differently in the future. And some of the things, some of the ministries that we hired for in the past were good for that season when the church was operating like the church operated like in the past. But today is a different day, and we may need different types of staff people to engage a different culture coming out of this crisis and into the future. So those are some thoughts I have, Amy, about some of those near term opportunities for churches.
Amy (18:39): Yeah, I’ll just add one. It’s on a little bit what you were just talking about, but I was talking to a great church today, and they have just aggressively redeployed their staff. So they looked at this content piece like how do we put things out there so people can find us? And they’ve redeployed people who had all different kinds of titles into their social media teams, into their content teams and they even literally changed their job titles already. So it’s really clear to everybody this is your priority right now. This is what you’re working on.
Tony (19:08): Yeah. Related to that, church teams are notorious for spending a lot of time in meetings talking about what they’re going to do in ministry and a lot of time planning events. And one of the encouraging things I’m hearing from churches talking about redeploying staff is now they can’t do any of that event planning. And so they’re connecting directly with people in their church one-on-one. What are your needs? How can we help you? And I’m thinking, gosh, isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? I hate the fact that a crisis got us to this point where we’re shifting from event planning to actually ministering to people. But I think that’s part of the opportunity that we need to consider here when we’re redeploying staff in this season.
Amy (19:56): Yeah. One of the gals on our team, Tony, I don’t know if she shared this, but in her church they’re very multigenerational, and the church has helped the younger families connect with the seniors in their church for check-in calls throughout the week. And I just thought it a beautiful picture of what the church could do.
Tony (20:09): I love that. I love that.
Amy (20:11): All right, well finally, you mentioned that this crisis might shine some light on some longterm opportunities that churches need to consider. So let’s just, wrap it up with that idea.
Tony (20:21): Yeah. So again, some churches may be able to engage in some of these opportunities sooner rather than later. And unfortunately, some churches may be forced to engage some of these opportunities sooner rather than later. But, I have a few of them here that I really think churches need to take an honest assessment of where they are as a result of this crisis and what’s going to be changing and our culture, what’s going to be changing in the way churches connect with people in today’s culture. And so here it is. I’m just going to shoot straight here in this section. This is an opportunity for churches to simplify their ministry strategy, and in this crisis, churches are being forced to simplify, but you need to take that with you after this crisis is behind us. Every bit of research we’ve done around why churches get stuck, one of the primary reasons is they are too complex. The ministry strategy’s too complex. The programming, the events, too complex. The way they make decisions because there are so many people on boards and so many committees, it’s just complex, and the church gets stuck. And this is the opportunity, God’s giving his church the opportunity. Again, it goes back to reassessing why do we really exist and what are we really trying to accomplish? But once you get answers to those foundational questions, the opportunities here for us to remove the complexity, to simplify. And Amy, you know this, when we see churches, as an example, simplifying their discipleship strategy to move from a plethora of programs to a simple path of next steps, it actually helps people become more like Jesus. And it makes churches healthier, and we want that for you. So an example of this is we’re going to be one church. No, we’re really going to be one church rather than multiple, independent churches gathering in the same building with multiple different styles of worship. We’re actually going to be one church and one style of worship, helping people take their next steps toward Christ. So the opportunities there, we need to lean in. And by the way, the data actually shows this. Churches that are in decline are, I think it was twice as likely to have either a traditional worship service, a blended style of worship or multiple styles of worship. Growing churches, on the other hand, have one style of worship, and it’s a more contemporary, modern style of worship. This is that opportunity to simplify. Secondly, the second opportunity is this is your opportunity to right-size your staff and empower volunteers. Again, some of the churches listening are going to be forced to do this, but this is a crisis, and it’s an opportunity for you to take advantage of this moment to really revisit our staffing model, which then obviously impacts the financial model. And the coaching we’ve continued to provide for churches is you really need to be targeting between 45 and 55 of your overall budget towards staff. If you can get less than that, that’s great. That’s a win. But I’m telling you, Amy, the churches that were creeping up closer to 60, 65, 70% or more, they are the churches that are really feeling the pinch right now and immediately having to look at layoffs and things of that nature. So it gets you into a financially healthier position, but the other factor we’re looking at here is overall health of your church, and it’s amazing, but the data again shows us the differences between declining churches and healthy churches, growing churches and by the way, of all different sizes. This is not a big church or a small church conversation, but what our data has shown us is this, is that declining churches have far more staff than growing churches.
Tony (24:40): In fact, it’s 35% more staff. Declining churches have, I’m going to say it again, declining churches have 35% more staff than growing churches. This is the opportunity for you to right size your staff team and empower volunteers to do the ministry. Now, when I hear a stat like that, immediately I go to the chicken and egg question. Does more ministry complexity lead to more staff or does more staff lead to more ministry complexity? They probably feed each other, but I actually think it’s more of the latter. I actually think the more staff we hire, the more events that get planned, the more complex our ministry strategy gets, and some of it is just because honestly it’s staff trying to justify their positions, and I know that’s harsh, but I want to be as as pointed as I can here because we see time and time and time again that churches that staff in a healthy way end up being healthier churches. So that’s the second longer term opportunity. The final one I want to talk about maybe the most difficult one, but it also may be the most important one we discuss in today’s conversation and that’s this. We need to become a church for the next generation. We just can’t continue to do church the way we’ve been doing church, which is in many cases targeted to the older generations with worship that is reflected for those older generations, with a discipleship strategy that’s targeted to those older generations, with environments that are targeted to those older generations. And no, it’s not that we want to push the older generation away from the church. In fact, I think the way you become a church for the next generation is actually the direct opposite. Because what we’re seeing in the churches that are doing this effectively to reach the next generation, you actually have to be a multi-generational church. And Amy, you just alluded to it. I mean it’s, it’s one generation helping the next generation to take their next steps toward Christ. In the last couple of weeks we had a church contact us. We can’t stream our online services because most of our church doesn’t have a computer, and they don’t use the internet. There’s nothing we can do to help that church, Amy. I mean, technology is not going to be the answer there. What’s going to be the answer is for a church like that to decide we have to start reaching the next generation. And that means we have to start making changes. Now I’ll tell you this, usually the answer we see in churches, they think this is gonna work is, we’re just going to hire a young pastor and somehow that’s going to help us reach the next generation. But when they hire the young pastor, they don’t let that pastor change anything. That pastor has to work within the strategies that the church has always been engaging. That’s not going to help you reach the next generation. So you really do have to become a multigenerational church that is focused on reaching young adults, their families for Jesus. And the best resource that I can point you to related to this is a book called For A New Generation by Lee Kricher. Again, we’ll include the link on the show notes, but if this is your church, you need to with your leaders, read through that book together and really take a hard look at where you are today as a church, and ask the question, “Do we want to be a church just for the older generation or do we want to become a church that reaches our kids and our grandkids?” And I just have to believe there are enough believers in Jesus out there that are not going to be satisfied with doing church for a season. And then their kids and grandkids don’t end up having a relationship with Christ and are not connected with the church. I think this is the moment for the church to turn its strategy toward reaching these next generations. And if you’re not up for that, here’s my second suggestion. There are churches in your community that are engaged in that type of strategy, and maybe this crisis is finally getting your church to the place where you recognize we’re not going to be able to make this change on our own and instead we’re going to look for opportunities to merge with other churches that know how to do this. So again, I know that’s very pointed in all three of those: simplifying ministry, right sizing our staff, becoming a church for the next generation. But this is the opportunity. The crisis is forcing the church to realize we can’t continue to do church the way we’ve done church. What is God calling us to do next?
Amy (29:50): And this has been a major disruption as you talked about in the church world and it just seems to be pointing to great timing because I think people will be more open and supportive of change.
Tony (30:01): Absolutely.
Amy (30:02): You should actually just end it there, Tony. But I always ask, so I’m going to ask again. You have any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Tony (30:10): Yeah, so like I said earlier, today’s podcast really is for those churches that have already moved past their immediate response to the coronavirus crisis, and they’re trying to figure out what are our next steps. So again, don’t let a crisis like this go to waste. Redeem this moment, and if you do, I’m confident your ministry will be stronger and in the long run, you’re going to make a greater kingdom impact. Until then, we’ll continue to share content resources and the good news we’re hearing from other churches, and you can find all of that in one place at theunstuckgroup.com/coronavirus.
Sean (30:48): Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. Don’t forget to sign up for our weekly webinars that can equip you to better lead your church through this coronavirus crisis. Go to theunstuckgroup.com/webinar to sign up. If you like what you’re hearing on the podcast, we’d love your help in getting the content out. You can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform, giving us a review and telling your friends about the podcast. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. Until then, stay safe and have a great week.