You and I are living in a strange time, but even if we weren’t a network of members and attenders is significant to the life, health, and growth of your church. You can see this clearly with Coronavirus cases increasing along with restrictions and fears. It seems hard to know what’s actually true at times. But, what you are experiencing is a dispersing of your flock unlike ever before. What’s become clear is that the glue that was holding most churches together was the weekend service. That bond has proved inadequate in so many ways. By networking your people together, you can encourage, serve, and mobilize a congregation whether they will gather or not.
Networks in churches are not new. Church members are connected through groups, prayer chains, serving teams, and unfortunately, even the proverbial grapevine and rumor mill. But, they are networked. Some of these networks serve great purposes. Others must be redeemed.
What Networks Does Your Church Currently Have?
Have you thought about how your people are currently connected? They might be connected in obvious ways like groups, serving teams, boards, committees, and so forth. But, what other connections do you see? How about groups of friends? What about families, co-workers, and neighbors?
If a family left your church, who would miss them? Worse yet, if a family left your church, how would you know that they are gone? If people are attending online worship services, do you know if they’re still watching or if they changed the channel?
I left the staff of a church nine years ago and went into full-time church consulting. Up until March 2020 our family attended a large church – not because it’s large, but because our children were invited. We don’t know very many people there. We haven’t attended in person since mid-March because of COVID. (We have a child with a compromised immune system, so we are erring on the side of caution). But, here’s the thing – while we’ve been participating in online worship services since March, those services are from another church. My church doesn’t know that I’m gone. But, this isn’t about me.
Most of your members probably are not published authors with well-known blogs. But, what I just described is more common than you might think unfortunately. Please understand that I am not trying to discourage you, but I am trying to alert you.
How Can You Connect with Your Entire Congregation in a Meaningful Way?
Connecting is different from communicating. Communicating is streaming the weekend worship service and counting views. Communicating is sending out video devotionals every morning on Facebook Live. Communicating is sending emails. There is one problem with all of this communication – it only goes one direction. Communication is not the same as connection.
How are you connecting? Well, you can’t connect with everyone. It’s simply not humanly possible. But, you could connect with a small group of leaders by phone or by Zoom (I know). Those leaders could connect with leaders of their own who they serve. Then those leaders could connect with members. What I’ve just described is Jethro’s advice to Moses in Exodus 18. In small group ministry, it serves as a coaching structure. This serves as a network of care, connection, and discipleship. How well is your church networked? Who are eight leaders of leaders of leaders that you could gather into a team to help you? Then, who are their eight?
How Can You Best Provide Care for Everyone?
The pandemic and quarantine – either mandated or chosen – have tested the ability of churches to care for their members. At least when you saw them once in a while on Sunday morning, you had the opportunity for a quick check-in to see how they were doing. But, the reality is that there is only one of you even if you are in a multi-pastor congregation. No pastor can adequately meet the needs of hundreds or thousands of people. And, you shouldn’t.
In Ephesians, Paul writes, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” (Ephesians 4:11-12, NIV). While service should never be beneath you, your job as a pastor is “to equip his people for works for service.” Now more than ever it’s time to get your members gifts in the game to serve the church and the community like never before. The need is huge. It’s much bigger than what any amazing pastor can do.
You are Only a Few Degrees Off of Normal.
On phrase that I often repeated is that in 2020 things that were broken are just rapidly breaking. Companies that were teetering on bankruptcy went under. Marriages that were already in trouble are collapsing. Churches that were struggling may be coming to an end. This is true for all of these relationships unless they use 2020 as a wakeup call and decide to change.
I have no beef against large churches who are effectively reaching their communities for Christ. What I take exception to is that the weekend service does not accomplish nearly what pastors (including me) thought it could. Whether your church is scattered online because of COVID or scattered across a large auditorium, people need connection. They need conversation and community. After all, disciples make disciples. Sermons don’t make disciples.
How can you start your network of members? Will you connect them into groups? Will you identify the “top” 33% of the growing disciples in your church and challenge them to gather with two folks in the lower 67% to make disciples? Will you institute care calls to check on your members? Normal looks like it’s a long way off. And, from what I see it doesn’t look “normal.” A network will help you to care for your members and reach your community even during these crazy circumstances.