I was glad to have our friend Ed Stetzer join us and provide some insight and clarity for the decision that many people in the church (Rectors, Bishops, and members of the Vestry) are going to have to make. The video replay is here (on The Evergreen Project Youtube Channel). It should be watched and replayed for all Vestry members and other church leaders. It is first-rate!

My Ten Takeaways from the Webinar

There were a few key moments in the webinar yesterday that stood out to me. Here are my ten takeaways:

  1. High Interest.
    We had 414 people register, which indicates that this is an essential topic for our denomination. We chose the title “Regathering” rather than “Reopening” for obvious reasons: the church is not closed!
  2. Firehose
    Ed is whip-smart. I love that the Lord brings people like him into places of leadership and influence. His mind and delivery were at full-throttle, but you can quickly tell that he loves the Lord, the mission of the church, and the leaders who lead. He is a good man!
  3. Accordion
    Ed emphasized that the decision to ‘regather’ the church is probably going to be very dynamic. (Accordion-like?) In some areas of the country, the church will simply begin to regather. But in other areas, there will be several phases; it will be more of a process. It may start-up and then take one step and then backward one step.

    1. I tried to make this point in the last webinar. For the foreseeable future, the church will need a very, VERY robust communication system with its members and for its community. Consider hiring or re-tasking some staff or volunteers to focus on communication, digital media, USPS letters, texting, email marketing clients, etc.
    2. When I mentioned this a few weeks ago, I referred to it as “Every Member Every Week.” That is, the Rector, Vestry, Staff, or volunteers should develop a program to reach and SPEAK to every person in the church every week.
 And here are the three essential questions to ask of everyone every week:
      1. How are you doing?
      2. How can we pray for you and your family?
      3. Will you please read the letters and emails that the church is sending you? They will help all of us get through this together.
  4. Be Second
    Ed’s wisdom was clear: Do not try to be the first organization that opens up in your community. And when the church is ready to regather, let your community know that you have specific guidelines that you are following, and the attenders can be assured that you will follow them. Publish them on your website. Poll the parents and ask for the criteria needed to help them feel comfortable in bringing their children to church.
  5. Stay Online
    Do not stop doing your on-line services. They should become a standard part of your ministry. There will be, for years and years, a contingent of people (older, remote, travel restricted) who will never come to church. They should feel connected.
  6. Train Ushers
    Draw a map of your facility, showing a seating chart where families can sit together. Interestingly, the role of ‘usher,’ which has been an ‘entry-level’ program, might now need some robust training. Most pews are 36 inches apart, which would make pew seating in every other row. If the congregation uses folding chairs, they can be grouped in families.
  7. Reimagine Everything
    Consider that Children’s and Youth Ministry, Children’s Chapel, Nursery Drop off, Sunday School ministry, coffee hours, Greeters, etc. will all need to be reimagined. Offering collection via offering plates will need to be rethought.
  8. Deal with Real Pain
    Pastors and church leaders should think of themselves as “Second Responders.” I had never heard this before, but it seems right. And if it is true, then pastors and staff should be very attentive to their emotional and spiritual life. The pandemic is changing everything. Programs and organizations that we have spent decades building and growing are changing overnight. There is a HUGE loss everywhere. 
Pastors and church workers are not immune from depression, substance abuse, marital edginess, anger, and apathy simply because we ‘work for God.’ We must take care of ourselves. (Did you catch that Ed had lost 57 pounds since January?)
  9. This Book will Help
    I am very glad that I wrote The Rector and The Vestry. I think the Lord moved me to write it for such a time as this. Each congregation is going to need to make some substantial changes and accommodations. The book will spell out, through facts and anecdotes, how Rectors and Vestries work together. Several dioceses have ordered the book in bulk for all their Rectors. Go to Amazon and read the reviews!
  10. God Intends Mission
    For an entire generation, we have had classes, conferences, workshops, books, programs, teaching series, and strategies to help the church become more ‘missional.’ The Lord used this pandemic to reshape our focus and methods over a single week.

When is it Safe?

Finally, I want to amplify a thought that I offered toward the end of the webinar. I mentioned that I had taken people to Israel for nearly 25 years. There are always passengers that are concerned about the issues of safety and security. Without a doubt, there are issues in the news. And usually, I would have to call my guide or a friend to gain their assurance about the situation. Then I would pass it on the travels to calm them down and allay their fears.

Recently, an Israeli businessman helped me see a way to determine the relative safety of travel to Israel. I have never forgotten his advice. He said that if Israeli families are sending their children to school, it is safe.

I offer this anecdote as a way of helping every church. I have the freedom of NOT being a parish Rector any longer. I do not have the pressures of trying to lead a congregation and do the right thing. So take this advice with that in mind. Here it is:

Consider this:
Instead of trying to reopen a church in the face of summer, take the summer to develop deeper roots for the long-haul. Take the summer and build a nimble and effective communication system, expand active networks of people to people, build your on-line giving base, stay in an on-line Sunday format, and lead your people through a season of prayer, pastoral care, in some cases mourning and grief. Take the summer months to do this. Maybe offer a few ‘low-level’ regional outdoor picnics. In other words, don’t try to get big. Try to get small. Build a strong small group ministry over the summer.

Don’t try to ‘regather’ the church until you know your local Fall school situation. If the families send their children back to school, I think you could assume that your church can successfully regather. Is that leading from behind? No, I don’t think so. I think it is serving the community and protect the people.

It could be better to wait and determine if you can remain open rather open early and then be asked to stop gathering again. One shut down has been devastating. To open and close back down could be even more damaging.

Thank you all for attending and for watching the replay. Please share it with your friends and colleagues. I also want to thank Daniel Adkinson and Ed Stetzer for a fascinating hour.

I am also very thankful for the trust and confidence to do this work given by our Archbishop. He will be doing a live webinar at the American Anglican Council. Join here.

Peace in the Lord,

David+