Fall means change—and 2020 will most certainly be no exception.
Sure, the days will get shorter, the temps cooler, and deciduous leaves will turn hues of orange, yellow, and red, but in other ways, this Fall, still in the throes and unknowns of pandemic life, will be very different than previous years. This means that the Church can no longer expect “business as usual.” In our church staff meetings, this causes multiple pours of coffee and brings up quivers of anxiety. We discuss school opening decisions alongside attendance statistics, COVID case counts along with heartbreaking prayer requests. The thought of even looking past the current week we’re in can be daunting.
But the good news is that if the Spring was a sudden pole-vault and the Summer was a steeplechase, the Fall is a cross-country race whose training runs are happening right now. In his book Canoeing the Mountains, author Tod Bolsinger makes the claim that “in Christendom, vision was the ability to see future possibilities. In uncharted territory, vision is more about accurately seeing ourselves and defining reality in the present.” And that reality is, there are multiple opportunities for ministry experimentation right at our fingertips.
As Bolsinger says, in times when we face uncharted territory and know we need to adapt or die, we need to begin to experiment our way forward, because we only learn through experimentation. Seeing these challenges through an innovative, creative God-lens, we can run towards and seize this moment for mission, instead of running from it.Seeing these challenges through an innovative, creative God-lens, we can run towards and seize this moment for mission, instead of running from it. Click To Tweet
Change #1: From Pulpit to Discipleship
In July, an Episcopal priest’s video parody of Hamilton’s “You’ll Be Back” sang about returning to church and the “way that it used to be.” But if there’s one thing that churches across the globe have recognized over the summer is that there has been and probably will be no swell of in-person Sunday morning attendance any time soon. Pew Research reports most churches seeing 10-40% of their pre-COVID worship attendance, also with a drop in online attendance over the last several months. Most of us are disgruntled by this, so we’ve been “trying harder” until we’re burnt-out.
Whether mainline or evangelical, high church or low church, liturgical or free-form, what we have to admit as church leaders is the high percentage of time, energy, and resources we have devoted to the “Sunday morning experience”—our sermons, the music, the themes, the flow. Of course, this has been our means of connecting with the largest number of people each week, and undoubtedly, worship is essential. But if people don’t show up, then what? And what if this trend is also indicative of a deeper issue? Compared to worship, how much of our time, resources, and energy do we devote to discipleship? In a social media post, pastor and author Dan White Jr. says “If this pandemic takes the Pulpit away from Christianity maybe we’ll be forced to take Discipleship seriously.”
How can you shift toward discipleship this fall? It doesn’t necessarily mean offering more classes or making people read books. It’s about intentionally walking with people through the intersection of faith and life as Jesus did: in relationship. The key is being intentional, in whatever way makes the most sense for your context. Begin pouring into people and sending them out to do ministry among their co-workers, friends, families, and neighbors. This may mean spending less time or simplifying Sunday morning so that adults, teens, and children can gather over Zoom or in small groups in-person at parks, in backyards, and around tables, or even one-on-one. It may involve individually inviting people to talk, read, study scripture and meet, instead of manufacturing a regimented program or broadcasting solely through all-church announcements and e-news.
I began by sitting down to brainstorm a list of five women, some with small children, whom I missed seeing in church and I knew were not being discipled in any way. And now we meet for an hour a week over Zoom to study scripture and dive deeper into what God is doing and calling us to do. Yes, you may enjoy preaching (I know I do), but think of it as shifting of a percentage of your time toward what has the capacity for greater impact in this season, growing people in their relationship with Christ who may not have been growing at all.
Change #2: From Events to Relationships
Back to School Bash. Trunk or Treat. Harvest Festival. Pumpkin Patch. 5th Quarter. Pig Roast. Many of our favorite church events usually occur in the fall—except this year. With gathering restrictions, strict requirements, budgetary concerns, and hesitant volunteers, as well as the question of whether people from your community will come at all, our usual efforts at outreach events need to shift. Many churches are scratching their heads at the challenge of how to reach people in their community if they can’t do the usual activities they already have signs for. But the core of these events was never about school supplies, candy, pumpkins, games, or dinner, though sometimes these annual activities turn into being just about that. The core was about people. And the people are still there. The question remains of how to connect with them.The core of these events was never about school supplies, candy, pumpkins, games, or dinner, though sometimes these annual activities turn into being just about that. The core was about people. And the people are still there. Click To Tweet
But most of us know that relationships can be formed outside of events. Actually, most relationships formed outside of events are actually richer and more full of opportunities to share the hope of Jesus. Many times people show up to events and leave before we know them beyond a number on a tally sheet. This will mean that the very people you’ve been discipling begin to see themselves as missionaries to their soccer teams, favorite restaurants, shops, and neighborhoods. It means being intentional about learning names, asking questions, and repeating visits.
Since I began working from home more, I decided to begin fostering animals from my local SPCA, and over time got to know the vet techs and staff from repeated pick-ups and drop-offs and one vet visit for a cat with worms (yuck!). Knowing what an often thankless job it is to clean up after and care for rescued animals, I had friends help me put together a bunch of care bags for the staff—who were absolutely shocked anyone would do such a thing. Regardless of your church size, imagine what would happen if each church member was intentional about fostering 1-2 relationships in the community and then seeing what God does in that relationship? When we mourn the loss of our favorite events, we often discover that they were more for us than they were for the community. If we take this fall as an opportunity to begin and nurture relationships with people who may have attended our events, imagine the impact when we get to know their names.Imagine what would happen if each church member was intentional about fostering 1-2 relationships in the community and then seeing what God does in that relationship? Click To Tweet
Change #3: From Indoor to Outdoor
My church had our building “reopening” at the beginning of July and was subsequently disappointed with only a small percentage of our people darkening the doors. Maybe you’ve been in that place. It’s hard. But a week or so later, I began some hikes and a paddle on the river with my fresh expression of church—and we had a good number of people join us.
One thing the pandemic has done is re-shift our focus to the outdoors. Parks and hiking trails have become the go-to spots for recreation, and I’ve seen regularly sedentary people begin to be outside even more. Utilize this. Especially in the fall. That’s where people are, anyway. With many public schools going virtual and adults continuing to work from home, there will be enough—perhaps too much– screen-time and not enough fresh air and real faces. Hiking, games, fire pits, fishing, motorcycle rides, music, golf, worship. It’s about more than safety and the ability to social distance. Jesus spent tons of time outside, teaching, traveling, eating, meeting, being. It’s a great time and place to begin a fresh expression of church outside.With many schools going virtual & adults continuing to work from home, there will be enough screen-time and not enough fresh air and real faces. It’s a great time and place to begin a fresh expression of church outside. Click To Tweet
Change #4: From Children’s Ministry to School Ministry
One of the biggest changes this fall is how public school will be done. Many counties and school districts held grueling 7 and 8-hour school board meetings to make such difficult decisions. Most students will at least begin their schoolyear virtually on computers, video screens and tablets, which also is creating stress for parents and guardians who have jobs both inside and outside the home. These are the majority of the families in your church and community. Teachers are stressed too, most never having taught outside the physical classroom. Lots of change and lots of unknowns equal lots of stress.
And so, this is the perfect time for your church to begin ministering with a nearby school—students, families, teachers, staff. Talk to them. Listen to them. Listen for ways to love and serve. Equip families to grow together. Do you have tutors? Do you have space? Can you help with lunches or snacks? Do teachers need tech help? With most sports being canceled or severely limited this fall, there needs to be appropriate opportunities to play and have fun too. You may not be able to do everything, but you can do something.These changes are opportunities for the Church to extend our mission in ways that were not there before, to people we were not connected before, propelling the Church to be what is has not before. Click To Tweet
Fall is a natural time of change which we usually harness in many ways—and this fall can be even more so. These changes are opportunities for the Church to extend our mission in ways that were not there before, to people we were not connected before, propelling the Church to be what is has not before.
Need more? Check out these essential equipping track of the Resilient Church Academy!
There’s no going back to “church as normal.” You need an approach to transformation that honors your congregation’s rich history but is also ready for the challenges to ahead. These sessions will introduce you to the process of “remissioning,” where you will rediscover the calling that first got your church started and what God is calling you to today.
You’re facing more change, and more quickly, than you’ve ever imagined. Learning how to facilitate values-based change is a critical component of missional leadership. Leading well at present requires understandings both of basic change theory and complex adaptation along with practical knowledge of how to employ both in parallel. Over four weeks, we will engage this interplay thoroughly.
Kris Beckert is a Mission Strategist/Trainer with Fresh Expressions US. She serves as Pastor of Innovation and Multiplication at Salem Fields Community Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia.