The past seven days have been a slow burn of bad news.
Just when you think things couldn't get worse, they do.
Then they do again.
The Coronavirus has touched all of us in one way, shape, or form. And there is probably not one church in America that hasn't been affected.
Many churches have canceled services. Those that did meet yesterday took additional precautions.
As with many situations, there is the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here are a few positive and negative ways this crisis will impact your church, the big "C" church, and all of us as church leaders.
- New Ways of Gathering - There is no better way to come up with a plan than when you're forced to come up with a plan. When a church cannot physically meet for a weekend, you have to be creative. This weekend saw a literal explosion of churches moving services online or figuring out new ways of connecting and gathering. What a grand new experiment for the Church! I expect that this push will help churches discover some new ways of gathering that really work...some of which will be kept in place after this crisis fades.
- New Uses of Technology - The virus has caused church leaders to look at the technology that we use. Increased social media, live streaming, video announcements, online chat and messaging, and other technology are causing churches to be inventive. This is an excellent thing for the Church. I've often thought of the phone I carry in my pocket. I can instantly communicate with individuals one-on-one or in large groups with the push of a couple of buttons. Our current situation will help churches push new uses of technology, many of which will show great promise in our ability to connect with our church people throughout the week even after this crisis ends.
- A Shift in Funding Models - Over the past few years, many churches have made a big push to online giving. Those churches that have emphasized this are glad they did. For those that haven't made the jump, now is the time. I don't write checks anymore. Most every utility, company, and service offers the ability to pay online. I would anticipate that the push for online giving will grow substantially as a result of Coronavirus. This will help churches be able to withstand better any interruptions in gatherings that may happen in the future.
- An Opportunity to Evangelize - This crisis is rocking people's world. Uncertainty of the future tends to freak people out. (Check your local Walmart toilet paper aisle to see what I mean). These times also cause people to think about their health and ultimate mortality. The Church offers great hope during this time. What a time to share that hope! As the church, let's use this time to magnify, not minimize, our message.
- An Opportunity to Disciple - We also have the opportunity to speak into our local church and Christian community. Leading well through this difficult time will allow people to grow closer in their walk with Jesus. Seek out new opportunities (see numbers 1 and 2 above). Share how Christians should respond. Gather more often in different ways. This is a real opportunity for local churches to foster community, belonging, and compassion amongst its own members.
- An Opportunity to Serve - There will be opportunities to serve as we've never seen before. In my home state of Ohio, all colleges, public and private schools are closed for the next three weeks. This is unprecedented. What will parents do with childcare? How can you help people that lose their jobs or are temporarily displaced during this event? People in your church and community may be infected with this virus and may need to self-quarantine. How can you help and support their families? There will be abundant opportunities to serve. Now is the time to start developing your plan.
- Honestly, this could be the next great church disrupter. I get excited about this. The time we are currently living through could be a game-changer for the church in America and around the world. Churches will learn, out of necessity, how to do better in all kinds of areas. There will be a great amount of learning, innovation, and implementation like we haven't seen in years. Churches will learn what's working from other churches and implement what they're seeing. Over the long run, this could be an exciting time for all of us and could propel the church to be more effective here and all over the world.
- Many Churches Were Unprepared - Churches that hadn't already been live-streaming services or moving giving from 'passing the plate' to automatic online giving found themselves unprepared for this time of an outbreak. This should be a lesson to all churches to be prepared for the unexpected. While we can't predict the future, we can discuss potential scenarios and prepare for them.
- Unprecedented Shutting Down of Large Gatherings - Have we ever seen a time that so many gatherings have been canceled? Disney and Universal have shut down. Broadway is dark. MLB, NHL, NBA, and March Madness all have been canceled or postponed. In Ohio, (where I live), all public meetings of more than 100 people have been banned for the rest of the month (although there is an exception for churches). We have never seen this kind of mass closure before. My guess is we will see more of this in the future since we are now setting a precedent. This is all the more reason for churches to prepare for the next thing, whatever that next thing is.
- Leadership Confusion and Uncertainty - Church leaders are concerned. What if we can't meet for a month? What if giving dips? (Or How MUCH will giving drop?) Here's the good news: all of us are confused. That's ok. These are untested waters. Clarity will come. And it's ok not to know all the answers right this second. The thing we don't want to do is fear.
- Fear and Worry - To be totally honest, most church leaders I know (myself included) deal with fear and worry as much as the next person. But the reality is that scripture is pretty clear about the role that fear and worry should play in the life of a Christian. Truth is, this whole virus thing was not a surprise to God. Not at all. He's got our back. Fear and worry is something that most of us have to push back, and this moment in time. Push hard if need be. Worry will get you nowhere.
- Belt Tightening - If your budget is tight, your first urge will be to immediately tighten your church's budget. This may be necessary for a short time.
- Mission Creep and Major Distraction - None of us thought we would be where we are today just a couple of weeks ago. Any crisis gives the church leader the opportunity to be majorly distracted. Over time, this can lead to mission creep for any church. Be sure to stay focused on your primary mission, vision, and values. And be sure that any decisions you make during this time do not send mixed signals or conflict with the core DNA of your church.
- New Programs for Church Leaders - I have seen multiple emails in the past week of offers of coaching programs, new products, and paid services to assist your church through the Coronavirus. Some of them have actually been great ideas and resources for the Church. But the potential backlash for new 'pay-for' church products may be unkind for the entrepreneur that launches them right now.
- A New Reality For Some Churches - There are always churches that are living on the edge of viability. Unfortunately, some smaller (and some larger) churches that were already financially unstable or were in a state of unsustainable plateau or decline may ultimately close their doors as a result of this crisis.
Church Staffing and Coronavirus
Finally, how is Coronavirus going to affect staffing levels in the church?
Well, first of all, it's too early to tell what long-term consequences this will have on church budgets (and, consequently, staffing within the church).
Here's what we DO know. As churches navigate the next days, many will look at ways to be more conservative in their spending. Since personnel costs usually are 40-70% of many church line-item budgets, staffing will be one of the first areas that churches will consider paring back. My direction would be to make these decisions slowly.
The good news is that any reduced income from lower weekend attendance (or no weekend services at all) will be, most likely, a short-term issue. Once things stabilize, most churches will see this a more of a blip than a major trend.
Avoid making decisions to cut or curtail personnel, plans, programs, capital campaigns, or operational items. At least right now. Rash decisions in a time of crisis are rarely the right decisions in the long run. Take some time to take a deep breath, realize that God is in control, and carry on with the ministry plan and vision that God had you put in place before this whole thing started a couple of weeks ago.
The bottom line:
- This is no surprise to God.
- Take a deep breath. Don't Panic.
- Stay the course.
- Lead well.
In the end, when you think about it, our job as church leaders hasn't changed a bit.
Embrace the reality that you can continue to make a difference in people's lives. You are needed more now than ever!