[Report] What Churches Have Learned During the Pandemic
As we round the corner on one year since the CDC declared COVID-19 a pandemic, we hope you’ve spent some time in reflection. This past year has been challenging, but for many leaders, it has also been eye-opening and even rewarding. We’ve been able to take a deeper look at ourselves, our ministries, and our leadership, through new and fresh perspectives.
Though this year has been unique for each leader, we wanted to take a deeper look at the impact of the pandemic on churches. We surveyed a few of our church ministry partners to analyze what some of the biggest learnings for church leaders have been this season.
Combined with secular research about remote work culture, we hope you find this report insightful and helpful as you continue to move forward in your leadership and ministry.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has presented several ministry challenges for churches, including increased isolation and loneliness, lack of resources, and unclear expectations and job descriptions/roles.
- As a result of the pandemic, churches have been able to implement new technology to reach their communities, become more creative and innovative, and reshape working hours and work environments.
- Going forward, church leaders should plan to embrace the hybrid work model and accommodate flexible schedules that work for employees and teams.
- Technological advances like live streaming are worthwhile investments for expanding ministry impact.
- Crisis opens up opportunities for innovation. Rally behind your community even when things start to slow down and return to “normal.”
- This past year has been a challenge for everyone. Celebrate the wins, keep moving forward, and learn from your mistakes. The best is yet to come.
Ministry Challenges During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has created several challenges for church leaders, and it is likely that the impacts of the pandemic are going to be felt for years to come.
We won’t go too deep into the specifics, but at a high level some challenging areas include:
Isolation and loneliness
Many church staff have felt isolated and lonely as a result of losing face-to-face interaction in an office. This has also affected church congregations, as members are dealing with the loss of normalcy and church community.
Lack of resources
Living and leading through a pandemic isn’t something taught in seminary. This is uncharted territory for all leaders, as few have lived through a pandemic like this one before. Many church leaders felt left in the dark on how to proceed; many felt ill-equipped to lead remote teams and remote congregations. Over the years, many churches have fallen behind technologically and have had to adapt quickly to accommodate digital ministry.
As the world around us changed rapidly, many leaders cited miscommunication and unclear expectations as consequences of the pandemic. Employees may leave meetings confused or unclear about the next steps because the processes they were so accustomed to have been disrupted.
Unclear job descriptions and roles
Similarly, as tasks changed to accommodate the shifting ministry landscape, so did job descriptions. Editing job descriptions in a crisis can cause frustration among employees, especially if the new descriptions are not communicated or explained thoroughly.
Positive Ministry Takeaways from the COVID-19 Pandemic
Though it was a challenging season, the past year hasn’t been all bad for church leaders as they have learned to adapt and advance in ways they never thought possible.
For many churches, the pandemic was a long-overdue push into the digital future. In-person group sizes were limited, small groups became digital, services were live-streamed, and more communication was sent out via email and social media.
In a Washington Post article from March 2020, church leaders commented on the challenges they faced while adapting to doing church online. In the early days of the pandemic, churches were meeting over Zoom, Skype, Facebook Live, and even phone calls. And, for many churches, this was the first time an online option was even necessary.
The pandemic also introduced new tools for ministry teams, like virtual meetings and other forms of digital communication.
Innovation and Creativity
Crisis offers leaders a choice to be innovative. According to McKinsey & Company, 90% of executives believe the COVID-19 pandemic will fundamentally change the way they do business over the next 5 years. We’d like to assume this is true for churches as well.
As church leaders have adapted, new ministry opportunities have emerged that radically change how we “do church.” Successful churches have quickly identified areas of opportunity and implemented creative and innovative solutions. See how Traders Point Christian Church stayed innovative during the pandemic in this episode of The Flourishing Culture Podcast.
Working Hours and Environments
Perhaps the most obvious change as a result of this pandemic has been the role of the office. As many church teams shifted to remote work, new standards for productivity and efficiency were developed.
By removing commutes, we’ve opened up more time at home with family. With kids at home, we’ve adapted to flexible work schedules. Leaders have learned to trust their employees and the work they do from a distance, allowing more autonomy and flexibility for what the workday looks like. See how Pinelake Church continues to cultivate trust, even in a remote environment, in this episode of The Flourishing Culture Podcast.
What Does the Future Look Like for Churches?
The church should look different in a post-pandemic world. Based on our conversations with ministry partners and trends in the workplace, we recommend church leaders consider the following:
1. Embrace a hybrid model
Many larger corporations, like Google and Salesforce, have announced plans for hybrid reopening models. Employees can work a few days in the office and the remaining days at home. Other companies plan to give employees the freedom to decide what works best for them and their families. For example, one day in the office with the remaining days at home, or vice versa.
In the US workforce, 22% of employees can work remotely, between three and five days a week, without affecting their productivity. For some employees, remote work has been the best thing that’s happened to them; for others, the worst.
Managers should meet with each staff member individually to discuss the work-from-home strategy going forward. Every individual will have a different attitude toward working from home. Be sure to consider tasks as well. Some tasks may be best done at home, while others are more effectively done in-person.
Ask yourself: How can I help each employee operate to their full potential in an environment that works for them and the team as a whole? How can I continue to be flexible with my team?
2. Welcome technological advancements
Going forward, live-streaming is a positive addition to the modern church experience. Though most adults expect that once in-person services resume and they feel safe to return, they will not continue to watch online, 18% say they will continue to watch online. Many, should they be sick, out of town, or unable to attend for another reason, appreciate the option to watch from home as-needed.
Online ministry expands our ministry impact. Embracing new technology allows the church to continue modernizing and reaching new people.
In addition to your digital ministry, consider what new technologies for staff were implemented during the past year and which should continue to be used. If your team will continue to work remotely to some degree, chat tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams and video conferencing tools may be worthwhile long-term investments.
Ask yourself: Is our church prepared to continue using some, if not all, of our digital offerings? Do we have the staff to support a digital presence and continue the positive momentum we’ve built during the pandemic?
3. Rally behind your community, your staff, and your congregation
Almost all pastors (90%) say people in their church have helped each other with tangible needs during the pandemic. 73% report that church attendees are supporting their community during the pandemic and meeting others’ tangible needs. Your church has creatively addressed the needs of your community during this time, but remember: you don’t need a crisis to rally behind your community!
Encourage your staff to continue to be innovative in their approach to ministry. Honor their hard work during this season and reward them with opportunities for ongoing creativity.
Continue to connect with your local community, your staff, and your church congregation in creative ways–both online and in person. For some members of your community, online ministry might be the safest way to connect (even after the pandemic is over). Don’t neglect them just because the majority of your church is back to in-person services and activities.
Ask yourself: What new ministry opportunities have we identified that we should continue to use? How can we keep engaging with new members of our community that we may not have reached without the pandemic?
4. Celebrate your success (and keep moving forward)
You have gone through a very challenging season as a team, and you’ve come out successful! Highlight your wins and identify what new protocols and processes should continue to operate. Use this season of creativity and innovation as a launchpad for the future. Don’t wait for another stressor to push you in the direction you knew you should have pursued long ago.
Working remotely has likely revealed new strengths (and weaknesses) in your staff that you may have been unaware of before the pandemic. Identify those areas, celebrate the strengths, and work toward implementing them in the “normal” workload. Similarly, identify weaknesses and work with your team to improve those areas.
As things start to slow down, your leadership can shift away from crisis mode. Take the time to evaluate the needs of your staff and their roles and develop a plan for moving forward.
Ask yourself: Are job descriptions still accurate? What tasks can be handed to someone else or removed from the workload? Are there roles that are no longer needed, or could be replaced with modern technology or outsourced?
“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” – Margaret J. Wheatley
In the busyness of this season, you may have felt like the Energizer Bunny–going, and going, and going. As the pandemic slows down and the world transitions to a new normal, prioritize reflection. Take time to evaluate the past year and consider the impact on the future. We’ve made it through this together, and together we will keep moving forward.
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