I remember where I was when I finally figured out this was a ‘thing.’
You probably do too.
For me, it was a Tuesday. March 10, 2020, around 2:00 p.m., to be exact. I received a text from my youngest son, a senior at a Christian college about three hours away, telling me that the school was shutting down and sending all their students home. Everyone needed to make arrangements to leave their campus housing within 48 hours.
At the time, this made absolutely no sense to me.
Of course, I had heard about this new novel Coronavirus on the news (we were already shortening its name to COVID-19, even though I was unfamiliar there were evidently 18 previous versions). And I had heard reports the day before that there were now three confirmed cases of COVID in my home state of Ohio. But no one was overly alarmed or concerned. And hardly anyone took notice.
But that was Tuesday. Wednesday was a whole different story. Within twenty-four hours, virtually every school and college in the state had canceled classes. The NCAA shut down March Madness (what?). Visitation in hospitals and nursing homes was halted. And within a week, all barber shops, beauty salons, tattoo parlors, and hair and nail salons in the state were closed by order from the governor.
Most churches made the call by Thursday to cancel Sunday services for March 15.
By March 22, Governor DeWine had issued a state-wide ‘stay-at-home’ order.
And in less than two weeks, almost everything, except essential services, was shut down.
This was unprecedented (at least in our lifetime).
Our lives changed in ways we never expected. Almost instantly, it seemed. The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed the way we live and work.
The Church Was Caught Off-Guard.
I remember meeting with church leaders at a Leadership Network event a few years before the pandemic. It was a brainstorming session. The facilitator presented a scenario that went something like this:
“A national tragedy has made it impossible for your church or any other church to meet for the next three months. What do you do?”
I don’t remember the solutions that came out of that meeting, to be honest, but I do remember the pushback.
“That could never happen.”
“That doesn’t seem very likely.”
And even a few “This is a dumb exercise” comments were murmured under people’s breath.
But here we are… just a few years later, living out this reality. In real-time.
Nearly overnight, almost every church in America was shut down, either voluntarily or mandated by state decrees. What would soon be categorized officially as a pandemic immediately changed how churches operated. Every church had to re-invent how they did ministry. With the shift from in-person to virtual services, churches had to adapt to new ways of serving their congregations, including online worship, Zoom discipleship groups, and remote engagement, virtually overnight.
I have been involved in ministry for over 30 years, and I’ve never seen this much change in the church in such a short period. Ever. It seemed as though churches needed to cram twenty years of innovation into twenty hours.
Probably because they did.
At the time, we all thought this would be a short-term problem. Most pastors figured it might be a couple of weeks of canceled services. The President of the United States wanted to work to have all churches back in-person by Easter Sunday. (Remember “15 Days to Stop the Spread?” (That was issued on March 16.)
As we know now, the timeline was much longer.
Four months later, in July 2020, Pastor Andy Stanley announced that in-person services at North Point Community Church’s family of churches in the Atlanta area would be canceled until at least January 2021. “We cannot guarantee your safety, and that’s a big part of this decision… Even if we did reopen, we certainly would not be able to create a quality adult or children’s worship experience with social distancing protocols in place,” according to Stanley.
And in February 2021 (nearly a year after the initial shutdown of churches), California issued new state guidelines for limited attendance at indoor church services in areas with widespread or substantial virus spread to 25% of a building’s capacity. Indoor services in areas with moderate to minimum spread were limited to 50% capacity.
Eventually, churches were able to meet again.
But things were not the same.
COVID-19 created many challenges for the Church. Some we could anticipate. But many we couldn’t (and didn’t) see coming. The Church is still changing as we transition into this post-pandemic era of ministry.
Bottom line? The morning of March 10, 2020, is gone. Things changed for the church that day. Forever.
Over the past three years, I’ve had a front-row seat at how things have changed in the area of church staffing. Here are some of my thoughts:
- Everything has changed. Hiring new staff is just different now. You cannot start a staff search with the same parameters (or expectations) as you did three years ago. If you do, you will most likely fail miserably.
- Wise churches are hiring for different skill sets than they did pre-covid. Shifts have moved from specialized roles to more generic roles; and there has been a definite shift from ‘platform’ to ‘pastoral’ staff. Nearly every role has a discipleship element built into it.
- It will cost you more to hire a new staff position or replace someone that has decided to leave your staff. Sometimes significantly more.
- Great candidates are harder and harder to find. The pandemic was unusually cruel to church staff members. Many have left the ministry for other opportunities. And those that are in the process of transitioning are very specific in what (and where) their next role will be.
- Chances are, your staff search will take longer than you think it should. For all of the reasons above, many openings are taking significantly longer to be filled than they were just three years ago. You need to plan accordingly and re-set your expectations and timeline.
Many churches are now looking at different options like replacing paid full-time staff with volunteers or internal part-time hires. Some are restructuring their entire staff structure due to how much things have changed over the past three years.
If you’re getting ready to hire a new team member, we can walk through these new realities with you. And if it makes sense for us to provide support during your search, we are here to offer our expertise and help. In fact, we’d love that opportunity.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out. You don’t have to navigate this new climate on your own.
And if there’s any way that I can help you sort out what these last three years mean for your church, staff, structure, or future plans, please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great week!