Some people think that small groups are about the last thing that people need right now. With so much going on in people’s lives and so much turmoil in the world, forming groups for some seems like an uphill battle. But, when you look at the needs in people’s lives, it seems like a time to lean into groups rather than pull away.
Today is Election Day in the U.S. This will be regarded as a historic election in many ways. Chances are no one will know the result of the election at the end of the day or the wee hours of tomorrow morning. There are a lot of absentee ballots to count. If you haven’t voted, then stop reading and go vote!
Tomorrow life will be very similar to what it is today. As over 100 countries of the world have issued mask mandates, many European countries are locking down and implementing tighter restrictions to address the Coronavirus pandemic. For most people this all feels enormous – economic uncertainty, political unrest, racial injustice, and a health crisis. On top of all of this, the things in people’s lives that were already breaking – marriages, finances, jobs, parenting, etc. – are closer to broken than they’ve ever been. I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom, but real or imagined, people are facing a level of anxiety unlike most have experienced in their lifetimes. What can you do?
People Need Connection
What does your screentime look like on your iPhone? You will probably immediately go to “I use it for work.” I know that you do, but let’s face it that handy little device is a friend and a foe. The “friend” part keeps us distracted from what’s going on. (I’ll admit that I’m playing a lot of Boggle with Friends these days). It’s also a foe, because your connected device is disconnecting you. A wise person once said (my wife), “People have more means of connecting than they’ve ever had, yet they are more disconnected than they’ve ever been.” And, that was said before the pandemic.
You’re well aware of Zoom fatigue, but there are many other ways for people to have conversations online. Ideally people will meet in groups on a familiar online platform to discuss the sermon topic from Sunday or something else they are interested in. If they don’t, your people need some way to process what they’re dealing with and talk to another person. Cable news is not a comfort. And, they need more than teaching videos. They need more talking.
You Have an Opportunity
In many ways the world has been turned upside down in 2020. More than a few of you have posted memes about foregoing the time change to avoid an extra hour of 2020. I’m not a fan of the time change anyway. But, what does God intend for the Church in 2020?
If you believe that God is Sovereign, then you have to admit that 2020 was not a surprise to God. The Church has faced much more dire circumstances throughout history, yet the Church has moved forward. This is the time to rethink what your church is doing. This is the time to reach people whose lives have been disrupted. This is the time to reach people who are far from God with a message of hope.
Last week, I gave you the “because of COVID” excuse for making changes. It’s not a bad one. While it’s easy to starting thinking about all of the negative things that happened to your church “because of COVID,” have you thought about the opportunities? The effectiveness in the Church during this season is not the status quo, which one author defines as “the mess we are in.”
But, in 2020, I’m hearing pastors talk about great things that are happening “because of COVID:”
“The size of our groups were limited by COVID restrictions, so every group became two groups.” Who wouldn’t want to double their groups?
“I connected with some old high school friends including one who was far from God to form a multi-state online group.”
“Our groups increased by 211% over last year.”
“Our church formed book clubs by asking any willing person to gather a group of friends.”
What is happening in your church “because of COVID?” Let us know in the Comments below.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, pastors have become online content machines. Pastors have always been content machines, we’re just seeing more of it. Phil Cooke said that the church is currently producing more media than Hollywood. How about that?
Our faith is multifaceted. God gave us a book and a brain, so there is no coincidence there. We are people of the Book, the Bible. After all, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. But, that transformation involves a few other things like our experiences and our relationships, our attitudes and our actions. While nothing supersedes what the Bible gives us, transformation is not merely a knowledge-based enterprise. As pastors continue to pump out content, we must also realize that people don’t grow by content alone.
People are Inundated with Content.
From newsfeeds to blogs to everyone starting a podcast right now, there is content for days. For a society that was already on information overload, quarantine has caused the overload to level up several times over. In addition to content, people need a place to process all of this content and do life together, even while they’re apart.
New Facebook devotionals and midweek services are great, but how can your people talk back? Actually they can. People can join in Watch Parties and message each other. People can communicate with the presenter. Give people time to interact with you and with the content. Offer a question time, or give a question for the group to discuss. Using these simple tools you can turn your content into a conversation. I watched one group of pastors online last Sunday night reading and answering their congregations questions from the chat. Your people need conversation, not just content.
Smaller Churches have the Advantage.
If you pastor a smaller church, you can actually call every one of your members on a regular basis. You can have an actual conversation with them. While you still have the deadline of the Sunday sermon and Zoom meetings, the schedule has shifted. A pastor serving a regular sized church of 90 people could actually have a personal conversation with every member over a 30 day period by just calling three people per day. Pastors with 1,000 or 10,000 can’t do that. While online services are a necessity these days, personal touches count more than ever.
In larger churches, staff and church leaders should be enlisted to make similar contacts. Call all of your leaders. Call all of your regular givers, if you aren’t already. While you should have started this 60 days ago, you can still start now. There are lots of ways to reach out to folks and even practice the “one anothers” amid social distancing.
Small Group Churches have an Advantage.
Online worship services only go so far. While worship and the Word is vitally important during these days of isolation and fear, the reality is that once people go online, they will find a better online worship service out there. That’s okay. These are unusual times.
Small groups, however, are the glue that holds the church together. Many churches are starting significant numbers of new online groups. Remember, people need conversation and not just content. The format of groups is changing. I’ve done online coaching groups with pastors from across North America for years. My online coaching has changed. Rather than just diving into the topic, we take a little time to debrief our current situation. The pastor in Washington talks about quarantine life and ministry over the last two months. The pastor in Nebraska is just now getting into the thick of it. There is a need to talk about what we’re going through.
There is also much to learn as churches are innovating ministry right now. One church developed an online small group study called Cabin Fever to help people deal with living, working, and schooling in quarantine. Another church developed an online resource for members of their community to post practical needs. They are then matched up with a church member or a group who can meet that need. Another very large church has tasked their staff to call 160 church members per week. They are also making N95 masks for medical personnel. If pastors ever wanted to experiment, this is the time. No one is looking for perfection these days.
New Online Groups are Adding up to 50% More Groups in Some Churches.
Sure there are excuses about Zoom fatigue, but there used to be excuses about not having enough time for a group. Some people will always have reasons why they can’t join a group or just don’t want to. That’s okay. Move with the movers. If you make the offer, there are folks who would love to connect with others. Read more on starting online groups.
What is not working right now is assigning people to groups. Let’s face it this has never worked very well. When starting new groups online or offline, the leaders should start by making a list of people they know. They can invite a couple of people, then ask their new members to invite a few people they know. Before they know it, they have a group.
Now, there may be people who want to be in a group but aren’t invited. Normally, I would recommend creating an environment where prospective members can meet group leaders in person, then decide whose group to join. While you can’t do this at a physical location, you could do this online. Host an online meeting where leaders can introduce themselves and talk a little about their groups. Prospective members can listen, then indicate which group they want to become a part of. Everyone knows what they’re getting into.
Content is great. The Word of God is powerful. But, the reality is that people need each other in addition to needing your teaching. Try different ways to help them connect online and offline during this time. Get on the phone and give your people a call. Send them a handwritten note in the mail. Create new online groups. We don’t know when restrictions will end. Every state has a different opinion. We also don’t know if and when another outbreak may occur. If you learn what to do during this crisis, you will be better prepared for the next one.