Thoughts on leading through reopening
The last 5 months have been incredibly discombobulating when it comes to leading a church through a storm. It started out with should we stay open or should we close? Shifted to how do we do stuff online when our building is shut down? Then went to how do we discuss racial division? And now it is do we stay closed, or should we reopen?
What I have learned over the last five months is this: there is no one answer.
As I have interacted with churches across the country in this season, I have begun to appreciate more acutely the differences in the specific contexts that our churches serve. As churches make their decisions, they are taking into account the specific infection rates in their communities, the demographics of their congregation, the political climate of their neighborhoods, and their best understanding of what God is calling their church to do in this season.
There are a ton of factors to balance as a leader in this season... and there is no one answer.
In our current climate, we like to strip the nuance from our communication. We love to be able to make every decision black and white, either/or, right or wrong. It is easy for me, from my home office in Orlando, to look at what is going on in Minnesota, Maine, Maryland, or even in Tampa and say "they're not doing it right" without fully understanding their context. This is why I have begun to shift my thinking on the conversations that I have with churches when it comes to reopening.
Instead of critiquing what a church is doing, I am more interested in how they are doing it. In other words, are they being clear? While I may or may not particularly agree with how John MacArthur and Andy Stanley are moving forward with their reopening timelines (or how they communicated it), what I appreciate about them is that they are being clear about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and the expectations that they have on their congregation (Andy, in particular, has been really good about clearly communicating expectations throughout this season).
The churches that I have seen navigate this season well are the ones who have been intentional about communicating clearly and eliminating ambiguity in their messaging. In other words, they use phrases like "we will," "we expect," or "please do" instead of words like optional, encouraged, or preferred. I recently had a conversation with my friend Brian Dodd about an Atlanta area church that is doing this well. The pastor, in this situation, clearly communicated expectations weeks in advance and led from the front when it came to modeling the expected behaviors.
As your church leadership team wrestles through what the wisest course of action for your congregation is, keep these three things in mind:
- Be Clear: Work to eliminate ambiguity from your messaging. Ask yourself, "what is the action that we would like to see happen?" If you are wanting people to wear masks, say "we are asking all in attendance to wear masks" (and expect some people not to come). If you have no preferences on masks, say "masks are optional" (and expect some people not to come).
- Be Consistent: Model the expected behaviors from the front of the room. Your staff, your elders, your entire leadership team needs to present a united front for your church, or be willing to not take part in services.
- Be Kind: Everyone is frazzled right now. All of the uncertainty and conflicting messages that are being sent are causing an inordinate amount of stress. Our role, as believers, is to model Christ-like compassion for a world in turmoil. Take the time that you need to prepare yourself to respond to the angry comments with love... and get used to the fact that, regardless of what answer you give right now, you are probably going to be told you are wrong.
Our team is praying for you in this season. If we can help you develop your reopening strategy, wrestle through your current challenges, or be a safe place to vent, I'd love to talk. This link will help us find a time.