I wrote previously about some of the positives I see coming for the church from the pandemic. Also, I listed three questions I think the church needs to be asking as we head back into our new realities. As I’ve continued studying where we are as a church and what our next steps are, I think we have some unique challenges as we head towards reentry.
In fact, I see seven of them. I’d welcome you to share more with me and any creative ways you are or will address them. If you haven’t thought about them I would encourage that.
7 Challenges for Church Reentry
Pent-up reentry desire.
I did a survey of our entire church recently. One question was, “Hypothetically, if we were allowed to have a church service this weekend would you be likely to attend?” We have no plans to do so and, at this point don’t have permission to, but we were curious to gauge interest. Forty-five percent indicated they would attend – no questions asked. (And we have a large senior population who mostly said no. That certainly made that number lower for the younger crowds.) While I’m glad people want to come back to church, frankly we can’t accommodate that right now. We aren’t yet prepared and that will take some planning.
Tension of viewpoints.
Equally true to the desire for reentry is the vast difference of opinion in most of our churches. There are some church members who are ready to whatever we asked them to do. Full in-service programming? They’re back instantly. Hugging at the door. Go for it. And that might be a stretch, but I saw someone this week in passing and the first thing they did was extend their hand for a handshake. (I’m waiting for our next grandchild. I didn’t accept the offer.)
Online quality and creativity.
This is a big one. I realize online is here to stay. It was important before this pandemic, but it’s even more important now. But most teams have put an extraordinary amount of time into their online offerings. Even if your church had very little online presence, the amount of time you’ve spent in the last couple months probably doubles that. When we come out of this crisis something tells me people are going to expect the same level of excellence and creativity. The demands aren’t going to diminish quickly – if ever. A few churches have been doing this online well for years, but I’m not sure most of us are prepared for that.
I don’t know that our experience mirrors everyone, but our staff has worked harder than ever the last couple of months. I don’t think we are alone. Several pastors have recently told me they are simply tired. They’ve not had a true day off in weeks. We can’t keep this pace up forever. It’s time to listen to Jethro’s encouragement to Moses and engage more volunteers. (And that could be a good thing and something we’ve needed to do all along.)
Onboarding new people.
I may be wrong on this one, but I think there are people watching online who will be interested in what the church has to offer going forward. I think the churches who will do best coming out of this will be the churches the community saw as loving them best. If that’s been your church then your positioned well to begin introducing people to in-person opportunities in the months ahead. While that is an awesome opportunity I think we need to consider if we have systems and processes in place to welcome them properly – even as some form of social distancing continues.
Discipling people online.
It hit me hard a few weeks into this pandemic. Our most engaged people had become our least engaged. Again, we have a large senior population. Pre-COVID-19 they were in church every time the doors were open. They did everything we offered. All of them gathered for worship and many were in multiple Bible studies. They served and were faithful in giving.
Our Easter service was a huge success. The creative team did an amazing job. It was five weeks into the shutdown and some seniors starting hearing about it. They reached out to see how they could view the service. Then it hit me. Our most engaged were now the least engaged. It confirmed for me that if we are going to do “online church” then we must figure out how to fully engage people online. And seniors are just one example of that.
Making bigger churches think small.
It almost seems easier to be a smaller church these days. Certainly, as we head towards reentry smaller churches can get back to full attendance faster. Large churches are going to have to really discover ways to get smaller until we can gather in larger groups. I think, if strategically done, this “smalling down” might be a good thing for all churches. And could have positive long-term ramifications.
I don’t have all the solutions to these challenges. (and I hate to bring a challenge without a resolution). We are working on them, but it’s harder to face a challenge you don’t see. My hope is this post gets you thinking with me.