As 2020 comes to an end and we look forward to a better year ahead, I wanted to take a look at our most popular conversation from the year.
In April, I wrote an article on why I think this disruption of our “church as usual” ministry strategies is actually going to strengthen the church’s mission. Within just a few days, that article hit the top 10 of all-time most-read articles on this site and became our most listened to conversation of 2020 on the podcast.
So whether you’re listening to this for the first time or need a refresher on the strategic shifts you want to make in 2021, I hope this conversation is encouraging and helps provide a roadmap for your year ahead.
So, in this episode, Amy joins me for a conversation digging into the 7 shifts churches need to make due to the pandemic. We discussed:
- 7 shifts our churches have to make to effectively carry out our mission now and in 2021
- How we can reset our strategy to make disciples rather than consumers
- How people will volunteer, discover their gifts, and use them in new ways in the future
- How churches shift from counting attendance to measuring online engagement and digital disciple-making
Leader Conversation Guide
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Let Us Know on Social Media
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
- The Unstuck Church Report Q3 2020: How Churches are Embracing Digital Ministry Strategies
- Designing Your Digital Ministry Strategy
- 7 Shifts The Church Needs to Make Because of the Coronavirus
- Programs, Path, and Healthy Church Growth
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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. You’ve probably heard it a thousand times by now. We’re living in an unprecedented time, and as we look to the future, no one will be an expert on where we’re going. But we can look back at recent trends that have now begun to accelerate and make some informed assumptions about where ministry is heading. This week on the podcast, Tony and Amy share seven shifts that churches need to make because of the coronavirus. But before you listen, make sure you subscribe to get the show notes. You’ll get resources for this week’s conversation along with access to our podcast resource archive. Just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for today’s conversation.
Amy (00:50): Well, Tony, this week you wrote an article that outlines the seven shifts that churches are going to need to make as a result of the current crisis that we’re all in. And in the article you said, “Many pastors are asking the wrong question. They’re asking when do you think we’ll be able to reopen our churches?” And why is that the wrong question?
Tony (01:08): That is the wrong question. And the reason why it’s the wrong question is what we’re experiencing right now, it’s going to be with us for awhile. It’s going to take some time before we can get back to doing church the way we used to do church. And actually that leads to the right question, which is, what we’re experiencing today, how’s that going to change us? How’s that going to change the people that we’re trying to reach, the culture around us? And then how does that then need to change the church, our strategy, in order to accomplish what God has for us? And so, we really do need to shift our focus and as a result of that, instead of worrying about when our churches are going to reopen, begin to think today about what are the changes we need to make in order to change to the new reality we’re experiencing as churches.
Amy (02:05): Right. All right, well we’re going to work through these seven shifts, and hopefully get even more senior leaders in our churches thinking about how to redeem this time and lead their teams to begin thinking and acting differently. So let’s go with the first one. It’s the obvious one, but the first shift is moving from analog to digital. Talk about that.
Tony (02:24): Yes. So it is obvious, however, this digital way of doing church, it’s not just for Sunday morning. And I think that’s the biggest thing we need to realize is number one, digital is with us, is going to be with us beyond this crisis. And then secondly, we need to, as churches, be looking at our digital strategy beyond just streaming the Sunday morning services too. And so really think about everything that you’re doing, everyone you’re engaging with, every next step you’re encouraging people to take rather than us using our physical locations to engage people, connect people, we need to look at how we’re offering that on digital platforms. And frankly, Amy, I just don’t think churches have been thinking in those terms in the past. And I’m glad that we’re experiencing this crisis for the one reason that every other entity has already made the shift to digital strategy. And now the church is finally catching up, and we are going to have to develop new strategies to accomplish this. And then we’re also going to probably need to think about our structure and staffing around this new strategy for us to be able to have the impact we need to be having moving forward.
Amy (03:46): You know, this shift actually reminded me of a podcast we did a couple of years ago when Tiffany, our marketing director, was on and she was all about content marketing if you remember that. And Tony, you know, half our staff is on the digital side of what we do. And it’s because our desire is that stuck pastors will find us. And so in a sense now I think about that with the church. People are out there, they’re not going to buildings, but what content in a digital format do we have to start putting out there so that stuck people, lost people, can actually find their way to Christ.
Tony (04:21): That’s right.
Amy (04:21): All right, well during the webinar some participants had questions on this next shift, which is from teaching to equipping. Talk about that. And can you give a specific example of the difference between the two?
Tony (04:33): Yeah, so teaching is important, but just about every environment and program that churches have offered in the past was designed to teach people using just one-way communication. And rather than doing that, we need to begin equipping people with the tools and resources they need so that they, on their own, can engage God’s word. They can practice spiritual disciplines. They can live out God’s mission for their lives. And so rather than just teaching components, I really do think this is more about tools and resources. And then also, obviously, connecting people relationally so that there’s a coach, a mentor, or in church world we call it a disciple maker, that they’re engaging with in order to take these next steps. Whether we want to admit it or not, if every environment we create leans on this teaching/one-way communication, then we’re actually teaching people to be consumers rather than to actually engage personally the next steps they need to be taking in their spiritual journeys. And so again, I would not have wished this crisis on anyone, but I do think it’s a great opportunity for our churches to be thinking about how we approached discipleship in the past and how we need to engage maybe a different way of looking at discipleship going forward so that people aren’t just leaning on teachers to grow in their faith, but they’re actually, they have tools and resources to begin to engage that journey on their own.
Amy (06:17): It’s just going to be fascinating to look back 12 months from now, on just the tremendous shift in this area in particular that you’re talking about.
Tony (06:26): That’s right. Yeah. I mean, it’s not a win for us just to get people attending our services. We want them to become followers of Jesus. And part of that is them making a decision to follow Jesus. But after that, we want them to be discipled. We want them to grow spiritually so that they can engage the mission that God has for their lives. And so, again, it’s just going to require us to look at that whole discipleship process differently.
Amy (06:55): Yep. Yep. All right. Well, the third shift you kind of just started talking about it is from gathering to connecting. Talk about that.
Tony (07:03): Yeah, so even before the crisis, people had less and less time to gather at the church. And churches were not winning by adding more and more events to their calendars. And even more so after the crisis, people will understand the need for friendship and community. I mean, I was thinking it’s kinda like home, what do they call that when they have prisoners that stay at their home detention? Home arrest. That’s what it feels like right now, Amy. I mean, it’s a solitary confinement and isolation and that’s punishment. And God designed us to need one another. And after weeks and months of social distancing, people are going to be more aware of their need for others in their lives. They don’t want to be alone. And so the big shift that we’re going to have to make as from gathering at the church to connecting relationally, and this is the beauty of what we’re experiencing and have experienced for many years through social media. But now we’re starting to see, we can actually go deeper, even in digital platforms, when we connect with people through Zoom and other online types of tools like that, where it’s not just about sharing all the good stuff that’s happening in our lives. We can actually dive deeper into our relational connections, and people are going to be craving that coming out of this. And oh boy, once we can get back to actually face-to-face connection, that’s going to be a good thing. But until then, I do think as churches we have the opportunity to be thinking about, in the past we just scheduled events. Now going forward, how do we connect people to other people so that they can continue to take their next steps toward Christ?
Amy (08:56): Yeah. And normally I’d ask a best practice right here, but we just have to admit we don’t really know what the best practices are yet for helping people connect. But I was thinking about the power of being able to check out church if you’re not following Christ, right? You don’t have to go to a building, you can safely just kind of peek in and see what’s happening. I think digital groups might actually be a nice stepping stone, you know, into real community as well. You know, they’re getting a safe way to try it and start to build some friendships. So.
Tony (09:26): Yeah, and I don’t know about you, Amy. I mean part of it has to do with everything is shut down right now, but we’ve actually had better participation in our small group online than we did when we were meeting in our living rooms. And I don’t know if that trend will continue, but it’s a good indication that we can maintain and continue to develop relationship even though we’re not meeting face-to-face.
Amy (09:51): That’s right. That’s right. All right, well shift number four. This one created some chatter on the chat feature during the webinar. And that’s shifting from global to local, and what’s the heart behind this shift, Tony?
Tony (10:05): Yeah. You know, because this is the antithesis of everything that people have been telling us in the past. You know, everybody was trying to get us to think more globally. And so I mentioned on the webinar and I’m just going to come right out and say it here again. I think churches have been wasting too much time and money sending people to the far, distant parts of our globe on mission trips. And, that’s not to say that’s not important. As I mentioned on the webinar, I’ve been on international mission trips. They were transforming for me. My sister was a longterm missionary in Cambodia. So, missions is still important to me personally and certainly having an impact for the kingdom. However, I think we need to pay more attention to the mission field for where God has placed our church.
Tony (11:04): And honestly, I think it’s easier almost to spend money and time to send people to Africa or to Asia. And sometimes it is to think about our strategy for reaching the people across the street from us. And I’m hoping that part of what comes out of this crisis is recognizing God we can’t get on an airplane right now, and we can’t go to those other places, but we do have people in our community right across the street from us. And if as churches we can be more intentional about investing time and resources in that ministry strategy, I think in the end that’s going to be a kingdom win for our churches as well.
Amy (11:52): Yeah, I like the way I’ve heard you say it, and it’s probably repeating myself when something sticks with me, I like to say it a lot, but your challenge for pastors to think about themselves as missionaries, not pastors. I mean we are pastors. We need shepherds. We need all those gifts, but church leaders need to be looking at themselves as missionaries where God’s placed their church.
Tony (12:13): That’s absolutely right. And so whatever your missions team looks like right now, I hope in the future they’re really concerned about your missions effort in your community. I really hope that shift starts to take place.
Amy (12:29): All right, we’re headed towards the last three. Shift number five is a shift from spending to generosity. What do you mean by that?
Tony (12:36): Yeah, and it all begins with paying closer attention to how we’re investing the limited resources that we have. Amy, this is especially the case with our staffing investments. In fact, we knew even before this crisis, that declining churches have 35% more staff than growing churches. You heard me correctly there. Declining churches were spending more money on staff, quite a bit more money, than healthy, thriving churches. And so, what we know as a result of this crisis, is giving is also down in churches. And so as churches, we’re going to be forced to reduce expenditures on things like staffing, facilities. And as a result of that, when we begin to make some decisions, like that regarding how we’re spending our money and getting more frugal about how we’re investing our resources, I think that’s going to create more opportunities for us to be generous and partner with local agencies and other churches even to address the spiritual, physical and mental health needs in our communities. And so, I do, I think it’s an opportunity for us to move from overspending to more generosity, targeted generosity, with the people we’re trying to reach in our communities.
Amy (13:59): You know, I think another byproduct of that, Tony, is going to be, I’ve been thinking about serving a lot lately, and we had a lot of “the body” engaged in greeting people, seating people, that type of stuff. And if we don’t have a gathering, I love the question, “how do people discover their gifts and use them?” And they’re going to have to use them in all new ways, which means we’re going to need to have leaders that are really equipping leaders and that fits with what you’re talking about from lessening the spending because you’re going to need to have people on your team who can engage the body in the ministry of the church.
Tony (14:33): That’s right. That’s right. And you know, someone I think asked, maybe one of the questions that came in during the webinar, you know, “we used to have hundreds, thousands of volunteers serving at our church. How do people volunteer now going forward if we’re not able to even meet in our church buildings?” And I love that question because it forces us then to actually think about the people in our lives that we can still be serving. And even now, that for us is our neighbors. And what I’ve noticed is when we respond to help our neighbors, we usually respond out of the wiring, the gifting that God has put into us as believers in Jesus. And again, the picture of the church actually being able to be the church in the lives of our neighbors, our coworkers, the people that eventually we’ll be able to share life with again, that’s a good picture to think about us mobilizing all of that giftedness that God put into us to really impact the lives of the people that he has around us as well.
Amy (15:45): And so maybe one of the shifts is from volunteering to serving.
Tony (15:49): There you go. There you go. Amy, I should have had you on the webinar talking about the shifts yesterday.
Amy (15:56): Well, many of the shifts, that you covered so far really are shifts that you’ve been talking about for years. And as I heard you and the other thought leaders say in the past few weeks, this crisis accelerated the demand for these shifts. And I’ve heard it say we jumped 10 years in the past month on the speed of that change. And this next shift is no exception, which is to move from complexity to simplicity. So unpack that one.
Tony (16:22): You’ve heard me talk about this before, apparently.
Amy (16:28): Maybe a few times.
Tony (16:28): Yeah. So, it’s encouraging for me because even during this crisis, we’re hearing stories from churches that realized they had to simplify. They couldn’t continue to offer the elaborate programming and schedule of events and things like that that they were doing before the crisis hit. And that’s a good thing because we’ve known from previous research that keeping people busy with church activities doesn’t actually help them become like Jesus. And so complexity is something that we need to wrap our arms around. We need to get more focus. We need to get more simple. In fact, what we’ve seen at The Unstuck Group in the past is complexity is actually one of the more obvious signs the church has begun to experience decline on the church lifecycle. The more that they’re trying to do, it’s actually an indication that they’ve either plateaued or started to decline. And so I really do hope this is kind of a wake up call for you to engage some of those pruning conversations that we’ve talked about in the past, Amy, to try to simplify what we’re doing as a church to really get back to the essentials. There’s a lot of conversation now about essential services in our society, and for churches, it’s the foundation of why we exist as a church. And again, I think he’s placed your church in a specific mission field and so you need to pay attention to where has God placed your church, who are we trying to reach as a church, how do we respond to the needs to spiritual, the physical, the mental health needs, the people in the mission field and almost beginning from scratch with what is the strategy that’s going to help us reach more people and help more people take their next steps toward Christ? And the simple guidance here is the more focused you can be, the greater impact you’re going to have. And we’ve seen that play out time and time again with the churches we’ve served through the last many years.
Amy (18:45): Yeah, and we covered that well, I think, on the podcast, I mean on the webinar, and so if people missed it, that emphasis on the how, that’s what has to change right now. It needs to be changed and adapted to this new reality.
Tony (18:58): That’s right.
Amy (18:59): Alright, last shift, number seven, is the challenge to shift from counting attendance or now viewers to counting engagement, and Tony, how do churches do that?
Tony (19:09): Yeah, and again, this is a trend that we were seeing well before the coronavirus impacted us. However, my fear is that we’ll easily shift from thinking about attendance as the win to thinking about the number of people who view our online services as the win. And I just want to remind you the obvious, making disciples of Jesus is our win. And we want people to connect to the body of Christ so that they have a chance to hear the gospel message, to respond to that message and then to take their next steps toward Jesus. That’s what we want to see happening. And so, again, I’ve already noticed this even with large churches, Amy, over the last several weeks, they’ve kind of ignored new people watching their services online.
Amy (20:02): I’ve noticed that, too.
Tony (20:04): And so, I mean, we just need to get back to the basics again here and remind ourselves that we should be expecting new people every Sunday, even on our online services. And we need to think about, more intentionally, the language that we’re using in our services. Are you welcoming first time guests? Are you making it easy and obvious about the first steps you want those guests to be taking? You need to have a strategy for new people that are showing up, even on our online services. And you need to make it easy for people to connect with your churches and then take their next steps toward Christ. And so it’s all the stuff were talking about when we were meeting physically in our church buildings. But, all of a sudden, even the most savvy churches out there, I think just kind of forgot, oh, wait a second. We need to have a strategy for the new people who are showing up. And so, again, this is just a challenge to go back to basics. We want to make disciples of Jesus. And if we’re going to do that, not only do we need to present the gospel, but we need to make it obvious and easy for people to take their next steps once they engage with our services online.
Amy (21:20): You know, can I just add a challenge, Tony? I would challenge, pastors and leaders out there to actually go watch your online service now. Go to the website, you know, assess how easy it is to find it, what’s the messaging? And sometimes we habituate,, and so we can’t see what we can’t see anymore because we’re so used to it. Hopefully every pastor out there has some people in his or her life who don’t know Jesus. Go through it with them, invite them to kind of watch one of the online services, bring some fresh eyes to the experience. Because we don’t go to those churches, so when we kind of shop around and take a look at what churches are doing, we have a nice antenna up because we don’t know the habits, but we’ve got to have some level of assessment, how they’re addressing those things you’re talking about with new people.
Tony (22:09): Yeah. And let me just even go a step further in this conversation, Amy, whether we want to admit it or not, in the future we’re probably going to have more people visiting our church online than we will in our church buildings. And that’s why I think it’s really critical that we not just think of what we’re doing online right now as a temporary solution until we can get back to normal church, we need to really be paying attention to what we’re doing in this moment because this is a picture of what church is going to look like going forward. And so if you’re thinking, we can just get buying now and then go back to normal. There’s not going to be go back to normal anymore. It’s like wanting to go back to Egypt. We’re not going to be able to go back there. There was a promise land ahead of us, and we’re getting a picture of what that promise land looks like. And we really need to take this moment to lean in and figure out, not just what our strategy looks like during the coronavirus, but what does our strategy as a church need to look like for the future, for the new future that we’re experiencing as a church, as we try to reach people for Jesus.
Amy (23:25): Yeah, really good. All right, Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Tony (23:30): No, just that one of my teammates said it this morning. There are no experts right now, and isn’t that a good thing? And we’re all on the same playing field. We’re all trying to figure this out together. But, we really do have a sense, based on what we’ve experienced in the past, of how this crisis is accelerating some of these shifts that churches need to make. And if you want some one-on-one coaching to help you make these changes in your church, The Unstuck Group, we want to serve you, we want to serve your church. And so if you’re interested in learning about how we can help you make these changes that we’ve talked about in today’s conversation, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at theunstuckgroup.com.
Sean (24:22): Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If this podcast has been helpful to you in any way, we would love your help in getting the content out. You can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform. You can give us a review there, and you can tell your friends and other leaders about the podcast. Next week, we’re going to be back with another brand new episode. So until then, we hope you have a great week.