2020 – Your Year of Opportunity?

2020 – Your Year of Opportunity?

Would you regard 2020 as a year of opportunity? It feels more like a year of loss and disruption. How can we see a blessing in something that feels like a curse?

Children have lost close contact with their classmates. Adults have lost the feeling of getting ready to go to work in the morning. Parents have lost their sanity. Believers have lost their ability to gather in-person in some places. People have lost their jobs and lost income. As a society we’ve lost the sense of safety. We’ve lost the carefree ability to do anything we want whenever we want. We’ve also lost the notion that racism is not our problem. People have experienced a great deal of loss. You’ve lost too. Yet, there is something quite hopeful about 2020.

Back in the 80’s I attended a church growth workshop with Dr. Elmer Towns in Kansas City. The main crux of his talk was that people are open to change in periods of transition. When people graduate from high school, college, or grad school, they are open to change. When people get married, have a baby, change careers, or move to a new city, they are open to change. When people go through a divorce, become widowed, or retire, they are open to change. Dr. Towns encouraged us to figure out ways to connect with people during these times of transition and disruption in their lives. Do you see the gift of 2020? Everyone’s lives have been disrupted in some way.

All of this disruption – as painful and scary as it’s been – has made people ripe for the Gospel. Nothing in their lives is working exactly the way it used to work. Everyone has transitioned from the life they were used to, and the fact of the matter is that they will never see that life again. Some say the effects of Coronavirus on health and the economy will have implications for five years or more. People are ready for a change. You have the answer. But, if people weren’t going to church before COVID-19, why would they risk going now?

Finding the Solution in an Accident

On April 11, 1970, three brave astronauts launched into space aboard Apollo 13. Not long into their mission an accident caused damage to the capsule which compromised the ship’s cabin which began to fill with carbon monoxide. The astronauts wouldn’t make it back to earth. Engineers met in a conference room at mission control. In the movie with Tom Hanks, one of the engineers dramatically spills a box of supplies on the conference table and announces, “This is everything the astronauts have in the capsule. We have to figure out how to build the CO2 filter out of this.” They got to work. Using only what was available to the astronauts, the engineers created a CO2 filter. The astronauts arrived back to earth alive.

You as a pastor don’t have all of your normal resources at your disposal. While the church relied heavily on the weekend worship service to do more than it was capable of doing, quarantine quickly revealed that the church had to be more than a weekend service or a building. What do you have to work with? If you took the resources of your members’ lives and dumped them out on a conference table like those engineers from Apollo 13, what do they have at their disposal?

Most have a computer, a smartphone, social media, email, text messages, phones, pen and paper, and maybe a little time on their hands (maybe not). How can your church reach people whose lives have been disrupted and frankly are more than a little scared? (HINT: It’s not what most Christians are doing on Facebook and Twitter right now).

Reaching Your Community Digitally

How can you and your church staff equip your members to spread hope amid all of this disruption? Here are a few thoughts for you to bat around:

  • Create social media and email invitations to online services.
  • Offer Instagram and Pinterest posts with encouraging Bible verses or quotes from the sermon.
  • Write sermon discussion questions so anyone can invite their Facebook friends into a Facebook group.
  • Put your membership process or Growth Track online.
  • Offer online small groups.
  • Offer online on-demand training to equip people to serve.
  • Encourage your members to find a need and fill it.
  • Encourage members to offer their experience from online school or homeschooling to parents who are new at it.
  • Offer support groups online – Celebrate Recovery, DivorceCare, GriefShare. Substance abuse and pornography use are at an all-time high.
  • Offer online budgeting classes, marriage seminars, parenting courses, and stress management workshops to invite the community.
  • Ask your members to record a short version of their testimony. Share these in your church’s social media and website.
  • Create interactive online experiences – Bible studies that are a discussion rather than a lecture. Use Facebook Live and respond to the comments and questions.

Concluding Thoughts

Don’t waste the opportunity of 2020. Don’t sit around waiting for things to get back to normal. Normal is gone. Normal isn’t coming back. Embrace the disruption of 2020. The field is plowed. It’s time to plant.

Click here for a replay of webinar on digital ministry with Phil Cooke. Phil is a PhD in Theology, a filmmaker, author, and media producer. His skill set is unique, and he has much to share with the church on getting the message of the Gospel out and maximizing your influence.

Tell me what your church is using to connect with lost people. Please share your comments below.

The Dreaded Question – Where Did They Go?

The Dreaded Question – Where Did They Go?

Your members are not watching your online services. Well, at least not all of them are. According to a recent survey by the Barna Group, in the past four weeks, churchgoers have:

Streamed My Regular Church Online: 40%

Streamed a Different Church Online: 23%

Neither: 48%*

Where did they go?

A pastor friend of mine told me last week that he just discovered that two core, committed families had left their church – 5 months ago! He just found out. Their senior pastor had taken a stand that they disagreed with, so they “left” the church. No one knew because churches in their state have not been allowed to meet in-person for worship since March 2020. These members didn’t need to move to the church down the street. They just changed the channel.

Mark Batterson and National Community Church have perfected online worship services.

Most churches who are regathering for worship are only seeing about 30% of their attendance from 12 months ago. Most are continuing to see high levels of streams for their online services, but every pastor has to admit that there are a fair number of people in the “Neither” category.

While I believe this season presents a great opportunity for the church to reach people far from God, the church also has to change how they serve in this season. Most pastors have counted on the sermon and the weekend service to accomplish far more than it’s capable of doing. [LINK] As Andy Couch said, the church should keep the Who and Why, but change the What and How.** Here are the key areas to lean into in this season:

Create an Interactive Worship Experience

Just because it’s online doesn’t mean people are really watching. Three of our four children are doing online school this year. Our oldest graduated from high school this year. (What a bummer of a year to graduate, right?) Our daughter attends a charter school with about half the students in the physical classroom and the other half watching the stream of the class at home. She has to have her camera on. She has to wear her school uniform. She has to do her assignments. Mostly she sits bored in front of a Chromebook all day, but as she says, “It’s just like going to school in person except I have a more comfortable chair.”

Our two sons attend a completely online school. The classes are intended for an online-only classroom. They interact with their teachers. The lessons are taught for the small screen. While school is still school and still boring, our sons’ school does a much better job of keeping them engaged than our daughter’s streaming school.

Now, do you see your church’s online worship services in that example? Are you streaming the in-person service or are you creating an online experience? There’s a difference. Here’s an example. Morningside Baptist Church in Columbus, Georgia was a legacy church of about 400 members pre-COVID. When their services went online, their online attendance jumped to 800 views overnight. While the church has started to regather on Sunday morning, only about 120 people are attending in-person, but another 1,600 are viewing online. But, the innovation I would like for you to see is what they are doing with their midweek service called The Living Room.

The pastor and two of the staff appear on a living room set that they built. They bring in a guest via Skype and then take questions from Facebook and Instagram DURING the service. It’s a digitally, interactive service. Now, The Living Room is a work in progress, but it’s developing into something very interesting. Check it out (They’ll be thrilled with the views!).

There are better preachers online. There are more interesting services online. What is unique about what you are putting online? How do you build a relationship with your online audience? How do you KEEP a relationship with your members? Eventually your church will regather if it hasn’t already, but what is your responsibility to your online congregation?

Don’t Leave Kids Behind

Church online is great for adults, but it’s a bummer for kids. It’s like we’ve gone back 50 years when there was only a nursery on Sunday morning and no children’s church. As my wife and I have been watching church online for 26 weeks now, our kids are not interested. Our 7-year-old will join us for the singing, but exits when the preaching starts. But, kids engage online just not with the same things as adults.

My 7-year-old is a loyal viewer of Ryan’s Toys Review and the Izzy’s on Youtube. It’s almost like they’ve become part of the family. While we limit his viewing, their Youtube shows have sparked his creativity in building intricate Thomas the Train tracks, unique Lego projects, and his own DIY set pieces for these creations. He can’t get enough of it. Recently, he got hooked on new Youtube videos – Saddleback Kids (Early Childhood and Elementary). Taking cues from these other Youtube sensations, Saddleback has entered my 7-year-old’s world, and he loves it!

Connect Them into Groups

Your Fall 2020 Small Group Launch could be the MOST IMPORTANT LAUNCH you’ve ever had. (YES! I’M YELLING.) As far as fall group launches go, it’s a bummer. Many people are tired of Zoom. (There are other ways to meet online). Many people are not showing up to the online groups they joined. (There are better ways to get them there). People, including small group pastors, are ready for things to get back to normal, but normal may not be here for a while.

Churches can pivot toward digitally, interactive worship services, but if your people are not connected to each other, they have fewer reasons to stay loyal to your church. People need biblical content, but they also need conversation.

Resist the temptation to write your Fall 2020 launch up as a loss. There are new online followers who need a group. There are faithful members who need community and conversation amid the pandemic. Your calling and your mission did not stop because there’s a pandemic. The church has been through far worse and thrived.

Check Your Giving Records

I don’t want to sound crass, but I hope someone on your team has compared the current individual giving records with those from a year ago. Since pastors can’t count noses, you can still count nickels. This isn’t about money. This is about your people. If your people have stopped giving, it’s probably for one of a handful of reasons:

  1. They are no longer financially committed because they left your church. You’d better find out why.
  2. They no longer see the perceived value of giving to your church. You’d better talk about how your church is serving the less fortunate in your community and how many you’re reaching.
  3. They have experienced a significant drop in income or a job loss. How can you help them?

I really don’t even like suggesting this, but how else do you know who’s still around? This leads to the last point.

Get on the Phone

Whether your staff is five or 500, every staff member should be on the phone with a dozen or more church members EVERY DAY. (I also think every staff member should be leading a small group. After all, what else are they doing right now? They’ve got time on their hands.) In one very large church I’m working with, the staff members were tasked with making 160 calls per day! Why?

People need to know their church cares about them. The call isn’t to ask why they stopped giving or serving, but it could certainly be triggered by that information. The call is to see how they are doing. The call is to offer help. The call is to offer connection.

Smaller churches have the advantage. The average church in America is 90 people. By calling three people per day, a pastor could connect with every member of the congregation over a 30 day period.

Call every giver. Call every core member. Call every leader. Call everyone who’s not attending in-person. Pick up the phone so your sheep can hear your voice!

Concluding Thoughts

The American Church is at the crossroads of opportunity and extinction. As David Kinnaman said, 1 in 5 churches will permanently close in the next 18 months. Some estimate there are 300,000 churches in the U.S. That means 60,000 churches will close! This isn’t “waiting until things get back to normal.” This is an emergency! How is your church connecting with your people?

If you are ready to up your game with digital ministry, I am hosting a webinar with Phil Cooke on Thursday, October 1 at 2 pm Eastern. Phil has a PhD in Theology and is an active media producer. He is saying some things about the church that you need to hear. Registration is limited. In fact, registration is not even set up yet, so if you’re interested email me at allen@allenwhite.org ASAP.

*The Original 2020 is History by Carey Nieuwhof
** This is a gem of a podcast with Andy Couch, Leading Beyond the Blizzard, from 3/20/20.

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