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How would you describe the pandemic’s effect on your church?
More specifically, how would you describe the pandemic’s effect on your ministry model?
That question may not seem significant on the surface. After all, a post-pandemic world is sure to arrive eventually. But your answer most likely goes in one of two directions, and that, my friends, is significant.
Interruption or Disruption
It’s evident that many leaders see the pandemic as an interruption. A significant interruption, but an interruption nevertheless.
Interruptions are no doubt problematic. Interruptions are like pause buttons. Interruptions give us time to reflect and adjust. These moments can be constructive encouragement to look at things differently.
But, and this is critically important, interruptions mostly pause our way of executing our current model. We may look at something differently during an interruption, but looking isn’t behaving. When the interruption ends, and you press the play button again, we resume “business as usual.” Some things might look different, but these alterations are primarily surface changes, not strategic adjustments.
That’s the difference between an interruption and a disruption.
Disruptions aren’t simply more extensive interruptions. Disruptions are destructive. Disruptions force innovation and require leaders to look and behave differently. Disruptions challenge leaders to swallow their pride. Admitting a strategy and model you created and implemented no longer works is not easy. Disruption causes leaders to look and behave differently. Disruptions devastate the old way of doing things. That includes your tried and true ministry model of yesteryear.
If interruptions drive introspection, disruptions demand innovation.
So, is the pandemic an interruption or a disruption?
Complete and utter disruption! Leaders who interpret the pandemic as an interruption are currently attempting to wait it out until things can “return to normal.” That ain’t happening, folks. The old normal is just that — old. It’s gone for good. The pandemic is not a pause button. Churches cannot return to prior ministry strategies and experience previous levels of success.
If you hear yourself saying, “When more people are vaccinated…”, or, “Eventually people will feel comfortable gathering again…”, or even, “Church is meant for in-building gatherings…”, you’re seeing this moment in time as an interruption.
These are interruption assumptions. And these assumptions are wholly incorrect. Sure, vaccinations help, and people will most likely feel more comfortable with crowds in time. But the pandemic didn’t create the downturn in attendance frequency. This trend was alive and well before the pandemic. Like most crises, the pandemic didn’t create but instead accelerated the trend.
A new normal is on the way (we’re still far from experiencing the “post-COVID” world). The old has gone, and the new is coming. Every ministry model has a season, and like all seasons, they have beginnings and endings.
We are experiencing a disruption of meaningful proportion.
What happens if a leader interprets a disruption as an interruption?
Not to be dramatic, but that is the answer.
To use one of my favorite quotes, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” — Jack Welch
Listen, the rate of change outside of your ministry model is like a sonic boom. Change is always happening, but the pandemic accelerated evolution, warping change into light speed.
We’ve all seen this happen to other businesses and churches in the past. It was much, much slower, but the path was the same (insert the standard Blockbuster, Kodak, and the empty church down the street example). Interpret disruptions as interruptions, and the death rattle begins.
The pandemic simply accelerated our need to interpret better and respond more definitively.
How to make the most of a disruption.
Disruptions aren’t the devil. Disruptions bring obstacles that we must reframe as opportunities. Every church and business must rethink its pre-pandemic mode of operations in the current pandemic experience. This strategic evaluation and evolution must continue as we (eventually) enter the post-pandemic world. Let’s remember, though. The trends were evident well before the pandemic. For most of us, it took the pandemic to shake us enough to try new things. We innovated out of force and desperation.
It’s time to think differently. Let’s call this crisis what it is — an utter and complete disrupting force.
Now that we’ve labeled it, we can begin leading within it.
If you’re a church leader, here’s a shortlist of areas that most likely demand disruptive innovations:
- Intentionally design digital experiences to foster connection and community, not simply content and information distribution.
- Test new approaches to sermon construction and presentation.
- Become customer-centric rather than building- or organizational-centric.
- Design discipleship pathways (that holistically include evangelism) that include online and in-person options.
- Rebuild your volunteer recruitment and retention strategies.
- Rethink how generosity campaigns as part of a discipleship effort.
- Consider new building designs and usage.
- Try different portable church options with more flexibility.
- Experiment with non-traditional service times and structures.
If I may, let me give you a much larger, necessary innovation: Become a FULLY HYBRID church. By this, I mean you don’t simply add some social media and stream your Sunday service and call it a day. A hybrid church is an entirely fresh expression that takes two separate elements (online and in-person) and combines them to create something new. You’re not a hybrid church if you added some digital ministry but didn’t change the physical experience. You’re a physical-first church with some digital additions. That’s what people do after an interruption!
I could go on and on. I bet you can, too, especially if you see our current situation as a complete disruption.
Rather than some specific applications, I’d prefer to offer questions to ponder:
- What kind of leader do you tend to be? Are you more apt to open your hands to embrace innovation or close your fist to resist change?
- How have you labeled the pandemic? How are you describing it internally and externally?
- To what extent have you tried forcing your previous model into our current circumstance?
- When was the last time you strategically evaluated your current model and mode of operation? How many times in your leadership tenure have you evolved your model? Replaced your model?
- Today, what is working? Not working? Missing? Confusing? With those answers in mind, what is your plan to address problems?
How can I help?
Partnering with ministry and marketplace leaders from innovation through implementation is why I created Transformation Solutions. I’m dedicating my time to helping leaders like you discover potential problems, design strategic solutions, and deliver the preferable future.
Go right now to mytransformationsolutions.com and sign up for a free, 15-minute conversation to decide if working together works for you.