Hear me out on this.
Summer is traditionally a slower time for churches and church leaders.
It's why we refer to it as the 'summer slump.'
School is out. People take vacations. Attendance is down. Giving is starting to get a little soft.
In many churches, summer is a slower time for leadership as well. We also take our vacations, curtail some regular ministry programming, and take a bit of a breather from an otherwise busy ministry year.
All fine and good.
But this year, it's different.
Here's the current reality in many churches:
If you're back to in-person services, you've probably found that your current attendance is between 20-40% of what it was on March 8.
At the same time, your online viewership is down dramatically week over week.
Giving, while it has remained steady, is starting to decrease as well.
Some of this is pure 'summer slump.' Attendance and offerings usually take a bit of a hit.
But it's not the same this year.
We can't expect the bounce in September that we usually see.
We can't operate in regular 'summer mode.'
Not this year.
Our current situation means there is a lot of planning and work that needs to happen right now.
(And that planning needs to be more than launching a new ministry or planning your next sermon series.)
Now is the time to prepare for moving your church forward.
It's going to take some work. Deliberate, hard work. During a time that is usually a slower season, wise leaders will be working extra hard this summer.
Here are six 'checks' that you'll need to make as a leader to start to move your church forward this summer:
CHECK YOUR EXHAUSTION AT THE DOOR
We talked about this a couple of weeks ago. Everyone is exhausted right now. This has been a demanding season for all of us.
But, honestly, you have to get past it.
We suggested taking a 48-hour sabbatical. You probably will need more time than that, but do it. The sooner, the better. Get refreshed and come back, ready to dive in. This is not the summer to coast through the entire month of August.
CHECK YOUR PRIDE AT THE DOOR
Every church leader I know has to deal with some level of pride. Honestly, this is a time when nearly all of us don't have things figured out.
You may need to permit yourself NOT to have all the answers. That can drive us as leaders crazy.
This may start with telling your staff or your board that you are navigating uncharted waters here. All of us are. But it can be quite humbling to admit that we're trying to figure things out. Believe me, they’ll understand.
I'm telling you... everyone is looking for silver bullets right now. There aren't any.
Be self-aware enough to know that's ok, and that it's acceptable to tell people around you that there is a lot of work to do. It will take a lot of the pressure off that you are feeling. Check that pride at the door!
CHECK YOUR ANGER AT THE DOOR
Many church leaders are a little angry at this point as well. Angry that people aren't coming back. That this virus isn't going away. Frustrated at staff. Mad at the governor and local officials. Teetering on the edge of punching someone in the throat.
This is normal. But you have to keep your anger in check.
Part of leadership is dealing with the situations you find yourself in. We're all in a really strange place right now. Anger will not serve you well. Do what you can to work through your anger. Sometimes prayer and having a good confidant are the best remedies for anger.
CHECK YOUR POLITICS AT THE DOOR
Also tempting (for some of us more than others) is to be frustrated at the political side of things right now.
We have government speaking into what we're doing more than we ever have before. Every state is issuing mandates or expectations/suggestions for how we should meet (or even IF we should meet).
You have people in your church that aren't planning on being in larger crowds until there is a vaccine. You have others who think the Church should have never stopped meeting in the first place; that this is all a hoax or conspiracy.
Some of your people think masks should be mandatory. Others won't come if they have to wear a mask.
Everything is political.
Get this: everyone is watching you. What you say makes a difference.
Choose your words wisely.
Tread lightly here. Frame your words and your church's reactions back to scripture whenever possible rather than reacting to the latest government edict.
As soon as what you say becomes political, you will alienate a large swath of people that call your church home.
CHECK YOUR MODEL OF DOING CHURCH AT THE DOOR
This is hard.
The preferred way of doing things is gone.
What worked pre-COVID may not ever work again.
Your model of 'doing ministry' broke on March 15.
If you think this is all just an 'interruption' rather than a total 'disruption' of your ministry model, think again.
Until schools, sporting events, concerts, bars, and gyms open up, your 'come and gather' model will not fully return.
The temptation to return to what we know how to do is immense.
You need to fight it.
The 'platform' ain't what it used to be. If you are returning to a platform model of ministry, you are missing significant opportunities to connect with people.
This summer is the time to dig in. Where are we reaching people? What pivots do we need to make? How can we shift our model to continue to reach the 70% that aren't ready to return yet? And how do we continue to reach the new people that we see starting to engage online?
These are things wise leaders are using this summer to figure out. If you wait until fall, it may be too late to gain traction in some critical areas of your ministry model that need attention now.
CHECK YOUR CURRENT METRICS AT THE DOOR
If you're returning to 'butts and bucks' metrics (how many people are in your in-person services and how many dollars are coming in), you are one depressed church leader right now.
Butts in seats is not a proper measurement these days (for all the reasons stated above).
'People reached' is. ‘Engagement’ is the new 'butts.'
Do you KNOW who's engaging? In-person? Online?
If not, you need to find out. This summer.
Are you regularly connecting with the majority of people that have not attended your church since early March?
How many people have you personally talked with, prayed with, texted, video called, or somehow engaged with this week?
How many people have each person on your staff personally talked with, prayed with, texted, video called, or somehow engaged with this week?
That's the shift in 'platform' to 'pastoral' that we've been talking about.
It's also a shift in metrics.
What we measure matters.
Here's a hard fact: If you've not been strategically engaging people in the past five months and don't change that quickly, there is a very high likelihood those people just will not return.
That's a scary thought.
Again, what you measure matters. Take this summer to be sure that you're measuring the right things.
Well... thanks for that, Todd.
Why this long post about leaning into summer?
Because I think many of us as leaders right now are tired and paralyzed.
We don't know what to do next.
(Here's a little secret: no one does).
No one (that's still alive, anyway) has ever led your church through a pandemic.
And they didn't teach you in seminary how to lead a church when you couldn't meet in person for weeks on end (or when your in-person attendance dips 70% in three months).
This is all new to you.
It's all new to everyone.
As the leader, not knowing the answers and being tired is no excuse for retreat. Or for treading water.
As I look at the broader church landscape, I fear that many churches (and many church leaders) are treading water this summer.
At the end of March, I wrote that churches would either be 'all in' or 'zone out.'
We are about to enter month five of this mess.
And it's easy to zone out.
Fight the urge.
Lean in. Check your exhaustion, pride, anger, politics, ministry model, and metrics at the door.
Lead your church through this time. This summer.
Can I help? If you're having trouble getting on track, let's grab 30 minutes this week, and let's chat. I would love to hear your story and give some input about how I'm hearing other churches 'lean in' during this time. You can see some available times on my calendar here and grab a time slot.
Here's to making this summer count,