A CcNet Coach responds to Tony Morgan’s article: “7 Shifts Churches Need to Make Because of the Coronavirus.”

By Rev. Dr. Teresa Angle-Young

We recently posted a blog from pastor Tony Morgan on The Unstuck Church Podcast titled, “7 Shifts Churches Need to Make Because of the Coronavirus.” [1]

I’d like to break down the major points of the podcast and offer my own thoughts. I hope it helps you as you think about what your church may need to focus on coming out of the pandemic.

What is the problem we are trying to solve?

“instead of worrying about when our churches are going to reopen, begin to think today about what are the changes we need to make in order to change to the new reality we’re experiencing as churches.” (Tony Morgan)

We are never going back to “normal.” Let me just say that again friends…what we used to think of as “normal church” is gone forever. I’m not saying we won’t return to Sunday morning worship, in-person small groups, youth mission trips, and potlucks, but I believe we have seen a fundamental shift in how we “do” church that is simply now part of the new normal and will forever be. Please do not trap your thinking into the “once things go back to normal” mode. Let it go. We aren’t going back. Maintaining this mindset will hold you, and your ministry, back.

How important are our buildings moving forward?

“digital is with us, is going to be with us beyond this crisis. And then secondly, we need to, as churches, be looking at our digital strategy beyond just streaming the Sunday morning services” (TM)

I coach a large number of clergy, but I also have a large number of corporate clients. I can tell you that most of them are no longer thinking as much about “when we can return to the office” as they are thinking, “how to continue to facilitate our employees and team members for the long haul in a virtual space.” Many of them are even selling their big corporate offices. They are enjoying not only a huge savings in bricks and mortar costs, but they have seen their talent pool open up to a global space. What if we, as leaders in the church, took a similar approach? Can you imagine the possibilities?

Do we have the right staff configuration, and do we have the right people in those positions?

“we’re also going to probably need to think about our structure and staffing around this new strategy for us to be able to have the impact we need to be having moving forward.” (TM)

I’ve had many clergy asking questions such as, “If we can’t have a choir should we be paying a choir director a full-time salary?” “Our youth leader is a great person, but struggles to facilitate the group in a virtual setting. Should we re-think that position and re-think what qualifications we need?” Staffing issues are hard, and fraught with emotion. No one wants to fire the longtime staff member (often also a church member…but that’s a different problem for another time) and risk backlash and hurt feelings. But at what point is our care for and obligation to the overall good of the church the top priority? Leaders, lay and clergy, often must make difficult decisions because of the potential impact on the health of the congregation. 

What is the endgame?

A move from “from teaching to equipping.” (TM)

“more about tools and resources. And then also, obviously, connecting people relationally so that there’s a coach, a mentor, or in church world we call it a disciple maker, that they’re engaging with in order to take these next steps.” (TM)

What are we really trying to do here? I have always said that worship – preaching, music, prayer – should facilitate an encounter with the living Christ. For me, and based on my many conversations with many of you, the endgame is to create disciples of Christ and deepen existing congregants relationships with God. Worship is not, in and of itself, the endgame of church. Making disciples is the end game. So how do we offer resources and tools to teach, equip, challenge, and lead others to Christ? If we keep focusing on “getting back to regular worship” we have missed the myriad of opportunities to witness to a much wider audience the power of God. Jesus did a small portion of his ministry in the synagogue. Most of his ministry was in the world – on the street, in homes, at parties, during travel. What tools do we need, and what tools can we offer others, to do ministry the way Jesus did?

How do we facilitate connections and community?

“how do we connect people to other people so that they can continue to take their next steps toward Christ?” (TM)

I recently became part of a virtual private group that focuses on friendship, prayer, and spiritual growth, and I can tell you that I feel very connected to every person in the group. 25 of them. Only one was a friend before the group started. Some of them are in other countries, so I may never meet them in person. But I know and see their animal companions, their homes, what they like to eat, and I hear their struggles, their joys, and their fears. We are connected. So, how do we create that sense of connection in a virtual space? How do we create community when some of the members of that community may be home-bound, or traveling, or live 2000 miles away? 

Where is the real mission field?

“pay more attention to the mission field for where God has placed our church.” (TM) 

Local vs global. Love the person in front of you. That’s what Jesus did. In a world where we can no longer send people off to far away places to do ministry, can we get back to loving and serving the person that God has put before us? Can we serve our neighborhoods? Can we see the needs, physical, spiritual, emotional, and financial, in the people beside us at the grocery, or at the gas station, or living next door to us? Yes, we are called to make disciples of all people, but we can start with the ones we can see from our front window.

What does it mean, in this new world, to be good stewards of our resources?

“I think that’s going to create more opportunities for us to be generous and partner with local agencies and other churches even to address the spiritual, physical and mental health needs in our communities.” (TM)

I believe that forming partnerships with local agencies and organizations, and other local congregations (whether they are part of your denomination or not), will be critical moving forward. It takes a village, truly. We can do so much more when we work together. And every time we band together with others outside of our local congregation, we bear witness to the love of God and the love of our church. 

What is really important?

“We need to get more focus. We need to get more simple. In fact, what we’ve seen at The Unstuck Group in the past is complexity is actually one of the more obvious signs the church has begun to experience decline on the church lifecycle.” (TM)

Rather than planning to bring back every ministry we’ve “missed” during the pandemic, I’m encouraging the clergy I coach to think about what needs to be pruned. This is a good time to really ascertain the effectiveness of every single ministry in your church. Just because you’ve always done it doesn’t mean you should keep doing it. Ruthlessly prioritize. In the face of limited resources, money and volunteers, rather than putting a few drops in a lot of buckets, consider picking a few buckets and really filling them. 

What metric should we be counting?

“we need to think about, more intentionally, the language that we’re using in our services. Are you welcoming first time guests? Are you making it easy and obvious about the first steps you want those guests to be taking? You need to have a strategy for new people that are showing up, even on our online services. And you need to make it easy for people to connect with your churches and then take their next steps toward Christ.” (TM). 

Think about engagement, not attendance or views! You may have 1000 people “viewing” your online worship, but how many of them comment, or reach out, or re-post? Engagement means actual interaction. And when others join, how do you make them feel welcomed and part of the service? If you are sending out a Zoom link, you are limiting who can come. Are you circling the wagons, or expanding the circle? Do you use insider language? A new viewer has no idea who “Miss Betty” is so if you indicate “Miss Betty” has the info on the upcoming small group study, you just lost engagement. 

Are we coming out of the wilderness?

“whether we want to admit it or not, in the future we’re probably going to have more people visiting our church online than we will in our church buildings. And that’s why I think it’s really critical that we not just think of what we’re doing online right now as a temporary solution until we can get back to normal church, we need to really be paying attention to what we’re doing in this moment because this is a picture of what church is going to look like going forward. And so if you’re thinking, we can just get by now and then go back to normal. There’s not going to be go back to normal anymore. It’s like wanting to go back to Egypt. We’re not going to be able to go back there. There was a promise land ahead of us, and we’re getting a picture of what that promise land looks like. And we really need to take this moment to lean in and figure out, not just what our strategy looks like during the coronavirus, but what does our strategy as a church need to look like for the future, for the new future that we’re experiencing as a church, as we try to reach people for Jesus.”  (TM)

Amen. And amen. 


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