10 Essential Pivots for Thriving Churches in a Post-Pandemic World


Are you struggling to re-engage your congregation and adapt to the "new normal"? Read on to discover 10 essential pivots for thriving churches in a post-pandemic world.

One thing I hate about the 2020 pandemic is that it’s still so much a part of our daily vocabulary.

Personally, I can’t remember a day since March 2020 that I didn’t say, read, or hear the word “COVID.”

I was leading Woodstock City church during the pandemic. Leading a church during this season was painful. That season affected us all collectively and individually.

Unfortunately, it’s still affecting us. I suspect the post-pandemic aftershock will be felt for years. Maybe decades. Maybe forever.

Post-Pandemic People Realities

It is impossible for something as significant as a worldwide pandemic to leave any of us unaffected.

Aggregately, the pandemic:

  1. Created poor habits: A Cleveland Clinic study found that two in five people (42%) say they developed unhealthy habits during the pandemic, particularly young adults (59% of those ages 18-34) and parents with children living at home (60%).
  2. Negatively affected mental health: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety and depression prevalence have increased by 25% globally. 
  3. Fear: Multiple studies show the pandemic disturbed our core belief in safety and diminished our sense of worth, identity, and meaningfulness of our lives.
  4. Relationships: According to a Forbes Healthy study, 59% of respondents say they find it harder to form relationships since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to just 13% of people who find it easier.
  5. Overall life: Pew research found that most Americans (89%) mentioned at least one negative change in their lives. 

Post-Pandemic Church Realities

Let me state out front that none of us can fully know or comprehend the full effects of a worldwide pandemic. We are years – maybe decades – away from any holistic analysis. 

What we are seeing thus far is clear, though.

Some realities that are obvious:

  1. Nearly every church person became unchurched for months or years when churches closed their doors.
  2. Many former church people now believe that regular church attendance is unnecessary.
  3. Many former church people filled their Sundays (and other days) with non-religious activities.
  4. Digital church options were initially intriguing but insufficient replacements for in-person gatherings.
  5. Attendance is returning on some level, but engagement and participation lag way behind.

Clearly, much has changed.

Some Things Never Change

People are still people, though. It’s easy to point to things that have changed, but in reality, more things have remained unchanged. For instance:

  • People still seek hope and help, albeit not as much from the church as in the past.
  • People experience hardship and stress in life.
  • People are still tribal. We want to be part of something bigger than us.
  • People attend things worth attending. Look at just about any sports stadium or arena.
  • People commit to things that they feel are worthy of the commitment.
  • People need people. Friends and support is as relevant as ever.
  • People are naturally selfish and always ask, “What’s in this for me?”
  • People will take a step if they believe it is helpful and achievable.
  • People enjoy laughter and humor. Fun is always in season.

We could keep going, but you get the point. Much has changed, but more has not.

Let’s use one of our favorite buzzwords to put this all together…

Pivot: The Linchpin Between What’s Changed and What Remains

As church leaders, reaching the unreached and engaging the found is our goal. It’s our mission. That’s the Great Commission.

What we hope to do has stayed the same, but how we do it demands a pivot.

So many things about people are the same as they were in 2019. And 2009. And 1999. Yet, how we engage these normative needs and emotions is where the church must continually pivot to match.

Here are a few pivots I’ve seen helpful in thriving churches today:

  1. Likability is the critical focus for outreach, followed by trust. 
  2. Discipleship steps need to be more incremental.
  3. Fun must be re-engaged.
  4. A rally cry is required.
  5. It’s impossible to over-celebrate the mission and vision coming to fruition.
  6. Kids and students must be a central focus.
  7. The guest experience matters more than ever.
  8. Sermons and teachings must be practical.
  9. Connection trumps content.
  10. Digital channels should bolster and integrate with physical experiences.

Implementing These Ten Pivots

Knowing what to do is only helpful if you can do it.

Over the next few weeks, let’s journey together and take action steps around these necessary pivots.

And if you have other suggestions, I’m all ears.