Some days I sit in my armchair, wrapped in a blanket and catch myself dreaming––when we’re back… when things are normal… when…
But then I do something wild and crazy like venture out of my house to get groceries, and it all comes flooding back. Normal is over. So what happens next as we move forward into some place we’ve not been before? How does that work? Do we simply try to shoehorn ourselves back into something which looks like the old normal? Or can we take time to reimagine what God is calling us to as church leaders in the 21st century global North?
To be honest, we’ve never had to think much about constraints––we’ve been able pretty much to worship any way we want. But like so many of our brothers and sisters around the world we now have to rethink the parameters of how we operate. We don’t have the constraints of persecution, but we do have an opportunity to swivel and grow into something new… a new way of being the church in a culture that is scrambling for meaning and certainty.
So before you clutch your blanket and hunker down deeper into your armchair, here’s a list of questions I’ve started that I want to answer––maybe they will help you continue to think through your new normal too.
Questions for Moving Forward
Dust off your church vision statement.
Read it and pray over it. How do you feel about it? Now may be a great time to revisit it! Take some time to ponder these questions:
- What is the task of THE Church?
- What are the unique things that your church brings? What Is the task of YOUR church (knowing that it is ultimately GOD’S church)?
In what ways does your vision statement still fit? What should be changed or tweaked? If necessary, re-write your vision statement.
Where have you come from?
Take some time to assess who you used to be as a church. What did you do well? What not so well? What things gave you joy?
- What are you going to let go of in this next season, even if you don’t want to?
- As you look at the things you can no longer do, take time to grieve. How will you do this? Be intentional.
Who you are? What are the skills and gifts God has equipped your church with? Rejoice!
- WHERE are you?
- WHO are you?
- WHAT are the things you love to do as a community? (passion for worship, justice, prayer, healing, etc.)
As you rejoice in how God has made your church, allow anticipation to rise…..consider…
What resources do you have to carry out your vision?
Take an inventory of your physical resources.
- What spaces do you have? How many people do they hold?
- How can you make them safer, both physically (clean, room for social distancing, etc.) and also emotionally (sitting so close to other people might be very strange initially)?
Take an inventory of your personnel resources.
- What staff do you have? Are the right people in the right roles? Do you need to create a new position (perhaps an A/V or tech position)?
- Revisit job descriptions to decide if they’re still useful and appropriate? Is there someone who needs to change roles or step down?
Take an inventory of your community resources.
- Who are “your people”? Who is your congregation? What are the demographics and the various ages and stages?
- How many in your congregation are considered especially vulnerable (immuno-compromised or elderly)?
- Who might not be back in the sanctuary anytime soon? What is the task of the church in caring for these people right now?
Where or who is your ‘mission field’?
What do they need? How are you going to do evangelism in this season? You may have people joining you online who have never been in a church before.
- How can you move forward in building a relationship with them? They may be in different cities, countries, or even continents––how do you negotiate that aspect?
- More locally, how will you reach people who don’t yet know they are loved by Jesus without hosting your regular events and programming? How will you do follow-up?
- How do you encourage your congregation to reach out to their neighbors and friends?
- What about justice? How will you respond to the political landscape? Where can you engage with the poor and the dispossessed and speak up for justice?
What are the State and Diocesan requirements?
What are your Governor and your Bishop saying? How do their instructions affect your plans? What are you allowed to do and what are you required to do? And in the light of that, what do you want to do?
How will you do a “Sunday Hybrid?”
You will almost certainly want to do a mixture of Sunday worship live and online moving forward. There are many practical considerations.
- Firstly, how many people can you safely accommodate at a time in your sanctuary? Do the math––how many services would you need to accommodate all your people? Do you really want to do that many? What else could you do?
- What alternatives can you imagine as you offer people a worship experience? In homes? Online? During the week? Other? Blends?
There are so many other questions:
- Can you have communal singing?
- Can people say “Amen” out loud with fears of droplet spread? What are the other implications for the liturgy created by the virus?
If you are having multiple services:
- How will you organize who comes to which service?
- How will you clean between services? How will you make the experience safe? Having good ventilation will be helpful, so which doors and windows can you open?
- What do you need to remove from the pews––all Bibles, BCPs, welcome cards, and pens? In a world with no touch, how will you exchange the peace and do communion?
What’s your plan for disciple-making?
The skills we need to impart may be different in the months ahead as our structures change.
- What changes will you make as you develop lay leaders?
- What else do you need to do to equip them? Especially if they will lead house churches (See “Sunday Hybrid” section above).
What about children?
- How will you empower parents as they take more responsibility for teaching their children while Sunday school options are unavailable?
- What changes need to happen to your old ways of doing children’s ministry?
- How will you do VBS or other special children’s programming?
- As social distancing continues, how can any children’s programs happen safely?
- When you do start having groups of kids together again, how will you ensure cleanliness and appropriate distancing? Small children can’t wear masks––how will that affect your nursery care?
Who needs more community support?
- Is there a particular niche of need that you and your people are called to serve? The lonely? Scared? Addicted? Sick? Abused (e.g., those experiencing domestic violence, physical abuse, mental abuse)? How will you offer this ministry?
- While you are thinking about these groups, do you need to update your counselor referral list?
And finally – what about the money?
Your church income may well fall over this next season.
- How will you look objectively at your budget? Can you go through it with a bunch of highlighters and decide what is either essential, useful, or expendable?
- This could also be a moment for creative constraints. Where can you do without in the days ahead?
- I can almost feel the planet heave a sigh of relief at the moment––how can we continue to reduce the harm we do to our environment?
What other questions do you have? I’d love to hear them and your reflections on these! Feel free to email me at liz [AT] incarnationanglican.org as we together reimagine what church could and should be like in a new normal. Reassuringly, God is not alarmed, and I may just be ready to get up from my armchair and do some planning!
The Rev. Dr. Liz Gray is the Rector of Incarnation Anglican Church in the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic. Incarnation is a community that delights to “worship, welcome and wonder” in South Arlington, VA. Liz (ironically?) wrote her doctoral thesis on the positive nature of touch in pastoral ministry, so she is looking forward to some return to normal eventually!