Everybody was a beginner when it came to managing church life in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. But now, in what experts are calling the post-pandemic phase of the virus, church leaders have learned some lessons. We asked church leaders across the PCA to share their insights and have compiled their responses in three quick take-aways.
1. We developed new skills we will keep using.
Almost every church had to introduce online services or upgrade their existing communication strategies. As one executive pastor put it, we developed “better approaches to a holistic communication process with our congregation using all kinds of media.” Administrators had to maintain the church’s sense of connectedness even while the staff couldn’t be in the same room.
Church leaders think two of these new skills will remain a part of church life after the pandemic ends.
The two new skills that church leaders expect to continue beyond the pandemic are online services and online giving. These options were non-existent to many churches prior to March 2020. Now, they can’t envision a future without it. As one executive pastor stated, “Though we were already live streaming our services we certainly ramped up our production quality. We added song lyrics and Bible readings onto the screens.”
It seems online services are here to stay. They enable people who are providentially hindered from gathering to at least benefit in some form from the regular gathering of God’s people. Moreover, online services enable people to “visit” churches without stepping onto their property. As one pastor observed, “In a recent new member’s class, the vast majority indicated that their first exposure to our church was online via our livestream service. They ‘visit’ online before they visit in person.”
Online giving has become the new offering plate. Many churches were unprepared to receive online donations prior to the pandemic, and now it is their primary method of receiving donations. According to one church officer, “Our online giving was up 2x in amount of money from 2019 and 3x in number of transactions.” Moving forward, the passing of the plate will still involve reminding members of the church’s online giving portal.
2. We mismanaged staff.
Church leaders kept thinking “normal” was just around the corner. As a result, they kept preparing staff to remain ready for a resumption of normal schedule and activities only to see it delayed. In hindsight, there may have been better ways to manage their staff.
As one pastor said, “I would have temporarily furloughed all our staff for a season. We kept thinking that it was going to be done in the Fall, in January, and we have kept staff at current salaries even when workload is much lower. I am grateful for all these people, but it feels like bad stewardship.”
When asked about regrets, church leaders cited staff-related issues more than any other thing. Church leaders felt like they lacked the information to provide clear direction. Leaders were unsure which about volunteer staffing, member interest, and finances. In some occasion, Administrators could have been more adaptive. Some staff had little work to do, other staff were overwhelmed.
The stress and anxiety from the pandemic were keenly felt by ministry leaders. “We weren’t designed to carry this amount of stress and anxiety for this long, how do we help with depression and prevent burnout? ServantCare (a cost-effective counseling benefit from RBI) has been a valuable resource for our staff.”
3. The future presents a new set of challenges
There are two questions weighing on administrators and pastors:
Question #1: How many people will return once it’s safe to gather as normal?
This is clearly the biggest question facing pastors. “Live streaming has been a part of how we have done things for years. It was designed to reach those providentially hindered from attending or for those in other places who wanted to tune in. Some people have now found it to be really nice to watch the service in their pajamas while drinking a cup of coffee. Though most of our people long to be in fellowship with each other there is no doubt some think this is a better experience, so we’ll have to work with those people to get them back in the sanctuary.”
Only time will tell how many church members will return to their pre-pandemic level of engagement. Will people long to leave their homes and reconvene with other worshippers in a central sanctuary? Or have people become so habituated to Sunday mornings at home that they will find it unattractive to return to the church facility?
Question #2: Will we be able to overcome the social divisions that surfaced during the pandemic?
The church found itself having to navigate a host of non-pandemic issues this past year. As one church leader shared, “The events of 2020 exposed fault lines among people who are in general agreement about most things in life. People who agree on doctrinal issues, see the cultural landscape in vastly different ways. Cultural and political issues threaten the unity of the church.”
Will church members be able to put aside their differing? This is creating stress among pastors who desire to see the gospel transcend temporal and cultural divisions. Their responses indicate that they feel their churches are fragile. It isn’t doctrinal issues or financial health that are threatening churches. It is disagreement about political and public health issues.
The responses from pastors, administrators, and staff reveal a church that has adjusted more than it realized it could and a church concerned about what the future holds. RBI continues to offer counseling as an outlet for church staff and spouses who need encouragement and support. None of us will soon forget 2020 but we need to maintain a mindset of abundance in 2021, remembering God is able to do more than we ask or think.
Geneva Benefits Group serves those who serve others, providing practical support for the financial, physical, and mental wellbeing of people who work in full-time ministry.