The Coronavirus pandemic has created some interesting times for life and ministry. Back in March 2020 toilet paper disappeared from the store shelves along with hand sanitizer. While the second one made sense in combating a virus, the first one was a bit of a puzzle.
What also seemed curious were the items left behind on store shelves. Items that didn’t appear on anyone’s shopping list included things like chickpea-based linguine, chocolate hummus, dryer sheets, obscure canned veggies like artichokes and asparagus spears, plant-based proteins, and oddly enough, Dasani bottled water. “Chocolate hummus is the canary in the coal mine. If you see it selling out, it’s time to start fleeing into the woods,” according to Aaron Mak in a post on Slate.com.
What are Churches Leaving Behind?
Once stay-at-home orders too place, churches went online. Worship services went online. Small groups went online. Giving went online. But, some things got left behind.
In a recent survey of churches across North America, pastors reported not only what they stopped doing, but also what they’re not bringing back. This included things like the church bulletin, working at the church office, tons of physical meetings, large group speaking events, and too much programming.
One shift is to stop gauging the church’s success on Sunday worship attendance. One pastor wrote, “We need a more unified and thoughtful approach going forward.”
Scarcity brings clarity. What will your church leave behind?
What are Churches Starting and Keeping?
Every church represented in the survey reported a much stronger online worship attendance after March 1, 2020 than their average weekend attendance in February 2020. While some churches just expanded the reach of an existing online campus or streaming service, others have discovered that through online services, they are engaging a larger part of their congregations and attracting people outside of their church (often outside of their state!).
Churches are also engaging in an uptick of personal ministry. Pastors are using text messages, phone calls, personal emails, handwritten notes, and of course, Zoom meetings. The overall tone of ministry has become more informal and more experimental. Restrictions have forced churches to rethink the methods in fulfilling their mission.
This is a time of learning. The church is learning what to do and what not to do. The church is discovering what really matters, what doesn’t seem to matter, and what used to matter. And, of course, the church is waiting. Waiting on the Lord is a good thing.
The church is discovering that it’s much more than a Sunday service in a building. We’ve all said that, but now we’ve lived it. As Alan Hirsch says the church is playing chess without the queen. With the queen of the worship service gone, it’s a chance for the church to see what all of the other chess pieces can do without her. That’s not saying the on-campus worship service shouldn’t come back. But, it is causing everyone to look at what is working during a crisis.
A while back someone said, “Right now everything is a startup.” How is your church a startup? How are you innovating? What have you discovered?
Sheltering-in-place has dragged on. Many church services have been online exclusively for a month or more. Federal and state directives seem to change daily. We don’t know when things will go back to normal (or whether they should go back to normal). In this video, I ask five questions for you to consider personally and to consider with your team.
I’m not scolding you in this video. This screen capture just made me laugh.
The Coronavirus outbreak has produced some unlikely consequences. Who would’ve thought that something that was meant to keep us apart is actually pulling us closer together? Well, forward-thinking small group pastors thought that!
Churches around the country are reporting a 50% increase in small groups since they started new online groups. Even though people have to stay apart, there is a definite need to be together. These groups are coping with this new normal.
But the problem with any significant uptick in small groups, whether it be a church-wide campaign or the response to a pandemic, is keeping the groups going once the initial effort has subsided. Don’t look at this as a temporary response to a temporary situation. Look at the new online groups as an opportunity to build on something going forward. Here are some things that you can do right now that will help your groups continue once social distancing has been relaxed:
Give Your New Groups a Next Step.
Most groups fail because they are not offered a next step. Whatever series your groups are doing right now, give them something new to start immediately. Quarantine in most places will continue for another 30 days, so groups still have both the time and the need to gather.
When you offer a next step, give new groups one choice. Don’t let them get lost in the choices online. Your goal here is to get them to continue. The only decision you really want the groups to have to make at this point is whether or not they will move forward. Don’t add choosing a study to that decision. You want to keep this simple. If it becomes too complex, then the groups will stop.
Support Your New Leaders with a Coach.
Recruit your best group leaders to look in on a couple of new leaders each and see how they are doing. There will be a lot of ups and downs with groups. Some people are busier than ever, while others are bored as ever. Groups are experiencing various stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. How are your leaders navigating this? People are dealing with a great deal of stress. Some have lost their jobs. Others are going crazy with their kids at home. Still others are essential workers who are putting it on the line every day. This is an intense time. How are your leaders handling it?
You have to be proactive. But, there’s not enough of you to go around. So, you have to multiply yourself if you want your groups to continue. Otherwise, these big group numbers you’re posting will slip away week by week until everything goes back to “normal.” Why waste the opportunity to keep these groups going? Give them a coach ASAP!
Strategically Plan for Fall.One significant next step for all of your groups is a fall launch or campaign. Give them a heads up now. Tell them where you’re headed in the fall and when groups are going to start. Even if you only have a series title and a start date, this is enough to keep your groups moving forward.
No one is 100% certain how the summer is going to go. My suspicion is that when the weather is nice and the stay-at-home orders are lifted, people will be gone. They will head to the beach, to Disneyland, to the great outdoors — basically any place that isn’t their house. While groups should try to connect in-person or online at least once a month over the summer, your fall series will be the glue that keeps these groups together.
Use the new planning tool, the Exponential Groups Workbook, to map out your fall. This workbook is loaded with templates, exercises, and examples that I use in my coaching. Just having a few of these templates is well worth the cost of the book. By working through these chapters, you will develop a strategic plan for content, leader recruiting, group formation, coaching, training, tracking, and envisioning where your groups can go.
You can preorder the Exponential Groups Workbook for $12 with free U.S. shipping through Friday, April 17, 2020. When you preorder, you will receive access to the Exponential Groups Summit and downloads of the most popular tools in the workbook.
The Exponential Groups Workbook contains the following charts, exercises, examples, and templates (by chapter):
- Launching – What is a group? exercise, Discipleship Ministry Evaluation, Setting God-Sized Goals, Exponential Groups Launch Timeline.
- Aligning – Seasonal Strategies, Navigating Obstacles to Alignments, Nonalignment Season Exercise, Curriculum Production Timeline
- Weighing Risk – Risk, Requirements, and Rewards Exercise, Who Qualifies to Lead? Exercise, Mindset Exercise.
- Coaching – Coach Job Description, Sample Coaching Timeline and Scripts, Series Sneak Peek Slide Presentation, Sample Sneak Peek Invitations, Prospective Coach Sign-Up Form,
- Recruiting Leaders – Sharing Group Ownership Exercise, Coaching Scripts, Breaking Connection Barriers: 30%, 60%, 100%, Leader Recruiting Timeline and Scripts for Senior Pastors, New Leader/Host Sign Up Card Sample, Sample Series Promotion Script,
- Initial Training – New Leader Briefing Agenda, New Leader Briefing Presentation, New Leader Briefing Packet, New Leader Information Form, New Leader Briefing Sign-In Sheet,
- Connection Strategy – Lego Exercise, Relationship Lists Exercise, Active and Passive Recruiting Strategies Examples, Sample Connection Night Ad, Connection Night Picture, Connection Event Layout and Photo, Sample Small Group Invitation, Small Group Connection Instructions for Group Leaders, Small Group Sign-Up Sheet,
- Sustaining Groups – Next Steps Flyer, Sample Mid-Series Survey,
- Leadership Track – Bringing Back the Requirements Exercise, Small Group Basic Training Outline, Small Group Leader Job Description,
- Coaching and Training – Sample Weekly Training email, Sample Leader Retreat Agenda, Coaching & Leadership Phases Exercise,
- Tracking Growth – Sample Survey to Collect Group Rosters, Sample Meeting Report Reminder, Meeting Report Form, Meeting Report Summary, Monthly Group Summary Report, Coaching Report, Coaching Summary,
- Beyond Alignment Series – Disciple-making Phases Exercise,
Appendix – Sermons on Community by Dr. Tony Evans and Pastor Don Wink.
You will read case studies from these churches who have successfully implemented the Exponential Groups strategies.
Ward Church, Northville, Michigan
Vertical Church, West Haven, Connecticut
New Dawn Church, Miami, Florida
Connect Church, Lawrence, Kansas
Hoboken Grace Church, Hoboken, New Jersey
Christ Church, Fairview Heights, Illinois
Rivertown Community Church, Marianna, Florida
LifeBridge Christian Church, Longmont, Colorado
Contributors to the workbook include:
Bay Hope Church, Lutz, Florida
Connect Church, Lawrence, Kansas
Calvary Christian Church, Winchester, Kentucky
Ward Church, Northville, Michigan
Brookwood Church, Simpsonville, South Carolina
Manna Church, Fayetteville, North Carolina
Olive Branch Community Church, Corona, California
Northwoods Church, Peoria, Illinois
Lutheran Church of the Atonement, Barrington, Illinois
Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, Dallas, Texas