I read that to say “nobody likes change” isn’t accurate. What nobody likes is change that someone else forces upon them. Most people like change that they get to choose for themselves. People like to change their furniture, change their hairstyle, or “change” out an old car for a new model. It’s the lack of choice in the face of change that we often resist, but sometimes there’s no resisting.
As pastors and churches, the COVID-19 pandemic forced immediate changes upon us, and the only option was to react to the new normal. Churches large and small, all across the state, responded and adjusted marvelously. But as we settle into a somewhat comfortable new rhythm of ministry, if we’re not careful we’ll simply be waiting this out until we can get back to “the old normal.”
By all estimates, the “old normal” is not coming back.
Attendance and giving patterns, as well as ministry needs and expectations, will be different in the coming months and years. Every church needs to be strategically planning for what must change to be a thriving church in “the new normal” that’s coming.
How does a normative church (average size) go about managing ministry in an ever-changing present, while strategically looking to the future? This is not a simple task, but what follows is an overview of a process from Will Mancini that we’ve found helpful. Mancini is a former pastor and now consultant for ministry and industry, leading vision planning and innovation. He is the founder of Auxano, and author of Younique, a series of products to guide planning. Mancini is consulting with IBSA in a long-range vision process.
Mancini applied the system and a vision process chart to the current national crisis in a webinar series called “From Frantic to Framework.”
First, gain clarity on the duration of the crisis your church is facing. To prepare for a blizzard requires one level of planning and urgency, while preparing for winter or even an ice age requires much more drastic and extensive plans. The present situation hit like a blizzard, but is going to have effects of greater significance than a short disruption to church programs.
Second, realize that the reality of the present crisis requires three levels of planning, or three sequential phases: Adjust, Invest, and Engage. Each sequential phase involves a necessary shift in how we think about what we are planning to do each week, but the action areas remain the same. These four areas of action are Community, Cause, Communication, and Cash. We’ll refer to them as the 4 C’s.
So, let’s take a look at each of the three phases and talk through what we mean by our 4 C’s. (This is called the 1:4 Grid—one phase and four areas of action. See chart here.)
Phase one: ADJUST
The first phase begins when the crisis hits. This is the battle for the mind. Your job as a leader is to help your congregation interpret the crisis. Their minds need to be calmed and focused on the present care and control of Christ. They need to know that during this crisis they can trust you, the church, and ultimately God.
For our present crisis, the Adjust phase began when recommendations and mandates required limiting gatherings, and eventually “shelter-in-place” orders, were published. Leaders began confronting this reality: How does the church carry out its biblical purposes when it cannot physically gather, even in the smallest of groups?
It will be important to gather a team of 3-5 key leaders to help form and execute weekly and long-range strategy. The planning goals during this phase, as in each phase, should focus on the 4 C’s.
- How will the church facilitate Community? How is our church gathering for worship and gathering for Bible study, prayer, and mutual encouragement?
- How will the church help people live out their Cause? The crisis brings new mission opportunities for the church to be the hands and feet of Christ. How will we help people live on mission now? For example, how can we connect real needs in your community with people ready to meet a need?
- What is our plan for Communication with the congregation? What combination of methods will we quickly adopt to ensure that our people are informed, checked on, reassured, encouraged, and led?
- And last, Cash: We need an immediate strategy for how we will receive financial contributions, how we will communicate giving methods, and what actions may need to be taken given the reality of short-term or long-term reduction in giving. We should begin reviewing the budget and discussing what short-term and long-term cuts might be needed depending on differing financial scenarios.
Depending on a church’s preparedness to adapt, the Adjust phase may last from one week (for churches with staff and technology in place) up to several weeks (for single staff churches or those with greater gaps to fill in technology). The decisions made and strategy put in place for the Adjust phase may or may not stay in the long-term plan. Some of the methods and ideas may stay, but the strategy will change as needed. This naturally leads to thinking about the second phase.
Phase two: INVEST
This is the battle for time. While the first phase is more of an essential reaction, the Invest phase is a conscious decision by the leader to lead himself and the church to emerge out of the disruptive crisis as more focused and effective disciples of Jesus. It reflects Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:15-16 to redeem the time because the days are evil.
In this phase the leadership focus must shift from thinking only about the day to day and the next Sunday, to investing serious thought and energy to shifting paradigms and creating new ministry strategies.
There is a second shift in thinking during the Invest phase. During the Adjust phase, the focus was wide, trying to communicate to and connect with as many church members people as possible. Now comes the need to shift a large percentage of leadership time to investing in the 20% of your congregation who has shown they really want to grow in their faith and help others grow too.
Again, the leader should be working with a team of 3-5 to shift the Adjust strategy to accomplish the 4 C’s with the church’s entire reach (think attenders or whole congregation). But, it’s also important to create a parallel strategy to accomplish the 4 C’s through investment in the more devoted and interested people.
A simple way to think about this is “what will we ask of/communicate to everyone” versus “what will we ask of/communicate to targeted ones?” As before, work through each of the 4 C’s.
- Community: How will we continue to offer and improve our worship services and online Bible communities? What will we create or adapt to help growing disciples make disciples of others?
- Cause: How do we continue to keep our whole congregation thinking about the mission of Jesus and looking for ways to live it out in the present environment? How do we more heavily invest in growing leaders and church members to deepen their understanding of and commitment to the mission of Jesus and the mission of our church?
- Communication: How will we reduce the frequency of communication from the senior pastor and supplement with strategic communication (calls, video devotionals or teaching, blogs) from other key leaders in the church, to build and widen the level of disciple-making and care?
- Cash: How can we strengthen participation in recurring online giving, resulting in stabilized giving patterns? How are we creating financial margins to fund ongoing needs that have arisen in our congregation? How are we reimagining budget items to create a plan if giving levels are reduced for months?
The Invest stage might run 4-6 weeks. This is an opportunity to innovate, try new things, and invest in people in new ways. If we’ve been strategizing with the 1:4 Grid for the previous 6-8 weeks, we’ve developed the planning and thinking skills that will lead to the last phase.
Phase three: ENGAGE
This is the last phase in the crisis planning process. It’s the battle for the future.
This is the opportunity to see how God might have us reshape the strategy and focus of our ministry. This is where we lead toward a vision.
As leaders, we need to be asking, “How should the church be different in six months to a year?” The team needs to ask questions such as:
- What lessons might we learn from a less program-driven, more simplified ministry?
- What are some things we need to create to do new ministry in new ways?
- How have we learned to be more focused on people development than program management?
- How have we discovered more effective ways to engage people in the mission of God?
- What have we discovered about our budget or financial security that must change for us to be viable in the future?
As in the other two phases, the key here is planning and strategy following the 1:4 Grid and having weekly action plans for each of the 4 C’s. What has been learned through the Adjust and Invest phases? How will we convert these short-term lessons into long-range weekly actions in Community, Cause, Communication, and Cash, then strategize, chart, and act upon them to lead the church to thrive in the “new normal”?
While the change that is upon us was not one we chose, it’s one through which every pastor has been chosen by God to lead. To do this will take prayer, wisdom, and dependence on the Holy Spirit, but it will also take planning, strategy, innovation, and risk.
Richard Blackaby wrote, “History has repeatedly demonstrated that society’s worst mobilizes leaders to make their greatest contributions.” Will we be prepared and have a plan to lead our churches out of these difficult days and into a new future, reaching people with the life changing hope of Jesus?
Ben Jones is an IBSA director of leadership development.