When will we be back to some kind of normal?

Generally, January is annual report time for Anglican Churches. Most churches will have an annual meeting to update the congregation on the past year and the plan for this year. Budgets will be discussed. Vestry members (or parish council members) will be elected. ACNA parishes will fill out their congregational report for the Province. Anglican Compass has some helpful resources for this season including a book by David Roseberry called The Rector and the Vestry and posts like the recent one on 9 Best Practices for Your Church Vestry. These are steeped in years of experience and include best practices that are needed now more than ever. They are related to the year in, year out ministry of the Church.

More specifically, almost every church leader that I know is thinking through balancing our current season with what comes next. The big question: When will be back to some kind of normal? We all know that we won’t go back to normal, but normal in the sense that large gatherings are safe and pandemic mitigation procedures can be scaled back. When can we begin planning ahead instead of reacting to the COVID dance we have all been doing?

I want to point you to some key resources for thinking through what comes next:

  1. Our friend Ed Stetzer interviewed Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institute of Health, about When Will Churches Be Back? The first key target they talk about is Easter. Dr. Collins doesn’t think that we will be back to a sense of normalcy by Easter. That is disappointing but helpful. Start thinking through creative approaches to Holy Week and Easter now. Go ahead and look at covered, outdoor options. Even if you are meeting indoors and implementing safety measures, consider how you could gather more people together outdoors in ways that may be much more inviting to guests.
    Next, Dr. Collins is cautiously optimistic about the Summer – specifically in terms of children’s and youth programs. The advice is “plan, but don’t promise.”
    Finally, they are very hopeful about some level of normalcy in the Fall. Congregational leaders should be planning and approaching 2021 in a way that takes into account the gradual move into post-pandemic mission and ministry.
  2. Carey Nieuwhof, a prolific Canadian Church leader, has posted an article on 8 Disruptive Church Trends That Will Rule 2021 (The Rise of the Post-Pandemic Church). He has some great resources on his website for church leaders and their teams. It is a helpful, succinct list of potential trends. I want to take these trends and expand on them over the next few posts. David Roseberry and I have been talking these things through. We want to invite you into the conversation. Our goal is to look at the trend and think about how this might apply to leadership in our Anglican Churches. What questions does it help us ask? How would this trend play out differently in church plants and established resource-size churches? The posts will be a combination of response and processing. My goal is not just to look at Carey’s predictions, but to help our Anglican Church leaders begin to pick up our heads and look ahead at 2021.

As he writes: “2021 will lead the church into the post-pandemic world. It won’t be the light switch you hope for (and suddenly, we’re all back!). Instead it will be a gradual emergence into whatever our normalized future looks like.”

Let’s look at the first predicted trend together: The Majority of Attendees May No Longer Be In The Room

Carey begins by talking through physical church attendance vs. digital engagement. He notes that physical church attendance has been in decline for years and predicts that COVID has accelerated the decline even further. He points out that the average church has seen their re-opened attendance come in around 36% of previous levels.

On the ground, I am seeing new rhythms and habits that don’t include putting the church on the calendar anymore. Further, those who are coming are coming with less frequency (another trend that was heading in the wrong direction and has been accelerated by COVID). Plus, it may be very difficult for families with young children or those who are older to be attending church at all right now. Most Anglican churches did a crash course in digital ministry in 2020. Some churches are still online only and most are hybrid.

I think we should plan on remaining hybrid even as we move into a post-pandemic world. One silver lining is our mission and ministry to those who are ill and infirm. Most congregations had some kind of Lay Eucharistic Ministry. But now, these members can continue tracking and participating if we have digital options. This isn’t a digital option as a consumeristic choice but as a new ministry.

This time last year, I could have given you 10 reasons why the online church isn’t “real” church.

While much of that holds true, I think we should creatively think about how we can improve digital connection. For example, the parish I serve St. Thomas Anglican Church in Athens, GA is streaming their Sunday services right now. We also have a Zoom Meeting running concurrently so that people can gather in community and share updates/prayer requests even in the digital format. We are providing regular pastoral visits with communion elements to those engaging digitally. These are some ways we are attempting to foster community and provide sacramental care while church is digital. Anglican leaders in 2021 should spend time with their teams thinking about their ongoing digital ministry.

Carey reminds us that “this trend isn’t about people who are dropping out. It’s about people who are leaning in.”

A year ago, I would have bet that the least committed church members would be the ones to tune in online or through a podcast rather than showing up. After 2020, I realized that our least committed church members literally dropped out. It’s our most committed who made digital engagement a priority, despite the fact that it is not ideal. Going forward, we may see some of our most committed members engaging digitally.

We need to rethink how we serve these members. I also think a big challenge will be thinking through how to invite people to use their own gifts and serve. 2020 has been very staff-focused, staff-driven for different reasons. In 2021, we need to think through lay involvement and ministry in this new season. We need to think through which metrics we are going to prioritize going forward and what they mean for congregational health and vitality.

By the way, one gift of this season has also been the recovery of the Daily Office. Special thanks to Benjamin Locher for his work on a Daily Office website and App. You can visit his website here. So many leaders have used this as a tool during this season. It’s a great example of a creative way to use digital technology in the Anglican Way. Many congregations shifted formation strategies away from master-teacher studies to training in the Daily Office. Master-teacher-led studies are great (and actually work well in digital formats), but recovering a regular diet of Bible reading and prayer through the Daily Office could be another silver lining coming out of 2020.

Thoughts?

David Roseberry and I will be writing more about approaching 2021 as an Anglican leader in the days ahead. We would love to hear your feedback in the comments.

How are you thinking about mission and ministry in 2021?

When will your church be back to some kind of normalized future?

What are you eager to recover that has been lost in 2020?

What did you discover in 2020 that you will carry into the future?

 


As you are thinking about 2021, do you realize that Lent is right around the corner? Ash Wednesday is February 17. There are some great guidelines for new Anglicans about Lent here on Anglican Compass. Last year, we released a book on Lent edited and written by Greg Goebel and Joshua Steele. You can find it in our bookstore. This year, we have a brand new book from David Roseberry that is ideal for congregational use and distribution – The Psalm on the Cross: A Journey to the Heart of Jesus through Psalm 22. Learn more and order an electronic edition or paperback on Amazon.