A Chemistry Conversation with Mike Bonem
Christmas will certainly look different this year. How are churches pivoting from their traditions and embracing the change? Author and consultant, Mike Bonem, and Chemistry Staffing's Co-Founder, Matt Steen, discuss how the pandemic is changing the way churches are approaching the upcoming Advent season.
Read the Full Transcript
Matt Steen: Well hey, this is Matt Steen, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing, and this is another Chemistry conversation. Excited to be joined by Mike Bonem today. Mike is the author of Leading from the Second Chair, and he is the go-to voice on what it means to be an executive pastor in the church today. So Mike, thanks for taking some time to talk.
Mike Bonem: You bet, Matt. Glad to be with you. Appreciate you inviting me.
Matt Steen: So hey, we're just having a couple conversations with people today. We're six months into the pandemic and really just a significantly-shifting landscape church wise. Some churches are still shut down. We've got some opening. I'm just curious, you're working with churches all over the country. What are you learning right now, and what are you seeing in local churches?
Mike Bonem: It's hard to believe it's six months, isn't it? You know, what I'm seeing is a whole lot of fatigue on the part of pastors and church staff. We didn't get a normal summer break for most people, and now fall is here, but it's not a normal fall. I think fatigue... confusion. For those who are trying to figure out about relaunching, reopening, regathering, whichever "re" word you use. It's hard to figure out exactly how to do it, how to do it well. Going back to the fatigue and the confusion together, having in-person and continuing to have robust virtual presence is not easy probably for any church. Maybe for the really, really large churches it's a bit easier because the size of staffs. But gosh, anybody else, it's a real strain on them to be able to do that. And they're supposed to be thinking about Advent right now. What do you do about Advent when you probably, even if you're opening the doors, will have a whole lot of your congregation not coming in through those doors? Those are some things I'm hearing right now.
Matt Steen: Yeah, it's almost like we've just added another 10, 15, maybe 20 hours a week onto our job descriptions with all the creating online content and pushing all that kind of stuff out. And I don't know about you, but I'm not hearing anybody seeing 10, 15, 20 hours of other stuff taken off of their job description, right?
Mike Bonem: No, no. I mean, maybe a few less meetings. But yeah, the scales aren't balancing out on that at all.
Matt Steen: So as you're working with your churches and talking to people and thinking about Advent, what are you hearing? Is anybody even there yet?
Mike Bonem: They're trying to. But you know, honestly the ones that I find the most hope as I talk to them are the ones who are just saying, "We're going to go all in on having a really robust digital experience for Advent. And if we're able to open the doors, that's great." And I know that may not be welcome news for a lot of the people who are listening to this. But any other path you go down, while we do want to open doors and have a really strong Advent experience, what does that look like? Can we have a choir? Are people going to show up? Do we still have to wear a mask and space people out and all the other things that you get into with that? I think when people start to grapple with all those questions, they just get stumped.
Matt Steen: As you're talking to people that are stumped, what's the best piece of advice that you can give them right now?
Mike Bonem: Well honestly, going back to what I said just a minute ago is, why not put all your energy into the robust online experience. Now, I would couch that and say, if you've opened the doors already and you're seeing greater than 50% of your pre-COVID worship attendance already showing up, then maybe that says that you can be positioned for a pretty good in-person Advent. But gosh, there are a lot of people that haven't opened the doors yet. If they've opened the doors, they're running 10-15% of what their pre-COVID attendance was. And you have to ask yourself the question, if there's a fall spike - which I know some of the experts say there will be - what makes you think we're all of the sudden going to jump up to 75% by December? I can't make that logic work in my mind. As much as I would like to, I just don't see how we get there. And I'm reminded of pastors that I talked to in late March, 1-2 weeks into shutdown who said, "I just can't imagine not having the doors open for Holy Week. We've got to be open for Easter." Right? And we didn't. And Jesus still rose from the grave, and somehow we still had a great Easter experience. And should we not be applying the same kind of thinking around Advent. Like I said, it hurts me to say that because I want to be around people, I want to have live candles lit in the sanctuary and sing Silent Night as much as anybody does. But I don't know that that thought process is what's most productive for us right now.
Matt Steen: And so many of us just feel, I don't know, sinful even thinking that we're not going to be... it's that, we're all kind of thinking it, but we don't necessarily want to put a voice to that concern that that's very much what we could end up doing. That's helpful. Mike, I know we've only got you for a little bit of time. As you are working with churches, as you're talking to some of our crowd today, is there anything that you'd like to say, hey, you need to be thinking through this? Any words of wisdom you'd like to share with our crowd?
Mike Bonem: I don't have an answer to this, but I'm really intrigued by the opportunity that this gives us to rethink what we're doing about discipleship. My impression is that churches pivoted really well with their online worship experience. They pivoted reasonably well with whatever they were already doing with Bible studies, Sunday school classes, small groups, whatever their model or combination of models was. But for the most part, they've not taken any new ground with really reframing and saying, what opportunities does this create for us to blow up our whole ideas and our own frameworks around discipleship? At some point, there's an opportunity. There's also a huge barrier because when you were working kind of just shifting what you were previously doing online, that may have worked with people who were already in a group. It's not a very good format for bringing new people in. So I'm hearing lots of churches are talking about how excited they are about how many people are participating online, including new people that are finding them online. I hadn't heard anybody tell me we figured out a great way to move them out of that big online worship experience into some sort of meaningful, small group experience.
Matt Steen: Yeah. Well maybe six months from now when we have this conversation, we'll have figured out "the" answer for that, right?
Mike Bonem: Yeah, maybe. I'd sure like to hear that.
Matt Steen: Yeah, yeah. I'm encouraged, and I'd love to see how churches continue to kind of think through that. Mike, hey, thank you for taking just a few minutes to talk through this and share some of your wisdom with our crowd. Greatly appreciate what you do and look forward to talking to you again soon.
Mike Bonem: Well thanks, Matt. I appreciate what you guys do also. Appreciate the opportunity.
Matt Steen: Absolutely.