Today I want to re-visit a post I wrote nearly one year ago. I originally shared this on May 4, 2020, just about six weeks after most churches in America shut down due to COVID-19. In fact, if you remember, virtually every church was still closed on May 4.
As I took some time this week to read this with fresh eyes, we obviously know much more about the virus and how it has affected not only the local church we serve, but also the big "C" church here in the United States.
Many churches have been able to make the pivots I talked about very well. I hear stories of churches that are thriving coming out of COVID. But I've not heard of even one 'thriving' church that just happened. It took a lot of hard work, prayer, and adjustment.
If we're being honest with ourselves, many churches have not pivoted well. In fact, there are thousands of churches in America that are STILL waiting for things to get back to normal... for the vaccine to make it safe again for people to congregate... for our in-person church attendance numbers to return to February 2020 averages... and for ministry to return to how we did it Pre-Covid.
Many church leaders are hanging on, hoping that the rest of 2021 will bring stability and growth. A return to ministry that we're comfortable with. A return to ministry we 'know how to do'.
If you are one of these leaders, this has already been a long and grueling year.
In reality, churches that thrive will find this year to be another year of adjustment... of finding new (and better) ways of doing ministry post-COVID. Platform, Pastoral, and Digital shifts will continue to happen. Some changes will still be temporary. Others will be more permanent.
Churches that adjust will continue to thrive and find new ways to reach people.
Churches that wait for things to get back to normal will most likely read this one year from now realizing their hope for a return to normal ministry was fleeting.
Take a couple of minutes to read the following. I think it's still important and can help many churches refocus their efforts for effective ministry for the remainder of 2021.
Of course, I'd love your comments...
COVID-19 has affected everyone that works at a church. The crisis has accelerated change as we've never seen before. As one pastor told me, "My entire job description changed overnight."
Chances are, this 'overnight change' is real for you and the entire staff at your church. This crisis has shown where churches were healthy, but it has also put an extra-bright spotlight on areas of leadership and organizational weakness.
The truth is, every church staff member will need to make some transitions and pivots during this period. Some churches and leaders/staff are doing great at this pivot. They're leaning in, learning, and making adjustments. Others are meeting this new challenge with great difficulty.
Here's what we're seeing in churches and staff members that are having trouble adjusting. Some Platform staff members are having difficulty moving to be pastoral staff. Some Pastoral staff are having difficulty moving from personal interaction to digital/online communication. Some Digital/online staff are having difficulty speaking the same language to support everyone on the team as they pivot.
Let me give some definitions.
- Platform staff are people that prepare for big in-person gatherings.
- Pastoral staff are people whose primary role is to interact and care for individuals and small groups of people.
- Digital/Online staff are people that use technology to promote, market, and interact with larger groups of people online.
Platform Staff Must Pivot to Become Pastoral Staff
Most churches, before COVID-19, were heavily staffed with platform people... People that write and deliver sermons, plan worship services, lead bands, direct programs, perform music, program youth meetings, set-up children's classrooms and activities, etc. These people directly supported everything your church did when people gathered weekly in your facilities.
They served well... some for years. But, at least for right now, the platform is gone. No one is meeting. Everything they were doing six weeks ago to prepare for the crowd of people that would come through your doors doesn't exist. The only option during this time is for these valued staff people to become 'pastoral staff', moving from supporting the platform, to interacting, one-on-one with the people that used to attend and view the platform they once created, and to do so almost exclusively remotely.
That means human interaction. Lots of it. It means loads of phone calls, texts, social media. Tons of 'How are you? How can we serve you? How can we pray for you?' discussions.
Some 'platform people' can move very quickly to a more pastoral/spiritual care role. For others, this is a tough transition and they just don't know how to make the pivot.
Pastoral Staff Must Pivot to Become Digital/Online Staff
Those people on your staff that were already highly connected through personal relationships, pastoral counseling, and one-on-one and small group discipleship also have to change the way they have been working.
Meeting people for lunch is out. No one-on-one meetings (at least for now). No handshakes. No hugs. For a time, everything has moved online or at least, to the telephone.
The pivot for this group isn't so much WHAT they do as it is HOW they do it. How do you use technology and yet keep pastoral care and discussions feeling 'personal'? How do you use Zoom or Skype, Facebook Messenger, FaceTime? And what about other social media, group texting, and the best way to know when to make a phone call, send a text, or schedule a video call? This is all new to the people that have thrived (again, many for years) on the intimate, one-on-one in-person conversation we traditionally view as ‘pastoral’.
Digital/Online Staff Must Pivot to Support the Entire Church Staff with "How-to-do-it" advice.
If your church has a good social media manager, communications person, or technology/video person or department, you know that they are 'gold' right now. They are the ones that know how to make the livestream work, and how to set-up all your staff with a Zoom account. They understand the group texting and other online communication apps that everyone needs to be pivoting to. And they know what TikTok is.
They are an invaluable part of your team right now (as they were before). But their role is now not just creative, but also includes training others how to do everything they now need to do. Now they need to not just create content, but teach others how to create their own content and use it on different platforms so they can fulfill their new 'pastoral' role. This is a paradigm change for many of them.
As you can see, this changes everyone's role in some way. And it can be frustrating.
Here are some quick suggestions to help your staff during this time.
- Make sure everyone is clear on their role and the part they play on your team. Explain to them the different shifts cited above. Tell them where they fit on that continuum.
- Written job descriptions are rather meaningless during this time. That will drive some people nuts. People that say 'that's not in my job description' will probably not survive this season very long.
- Encourage often. When you see someone making the pivot well, offer some praise. Share with your team how they hit it out of the park. You should be learning a lot during this time. Take time to share successes and victories.
- For those that are having trouble making the pivot, give them even more direction. Give them examples of how they can better serve during this time, and what they need to do to contribute.
- Start considering what parts of this season you will continue into post-COVID. We think there will be considerable long-term changes to most church staff job descriptions after the dust settles. What will you keep? How many 'platform' roles will return when in-person groups can meet? How much will remain more 'pastoral' and based around personal discipleship and personal care? How much will remain online?
If you have any questions or concerns about how your staff are making the pivot during this time, I'd love to chat. Let's schedule a time to talk.