How to Have a Proactive Stance in an Uncertain Future
Be wary of anyone who gives a confident prediction of what the future holds. We know the Church will prevail – our faith, our history, and our Lord remind us of that. I actually think the days on the “other side” of this current chapter will be exciting and bright.
But the cultural and economic fruit basket is upset, and likely our ministries will never be the same. Perhaps this worldwide experience will bring a recalibration for the Church that is long overdue.
If we knew what our churches would look like by 2021, we could start planning accordingly and pull out the timelines and action plans. The tricky part is that we cannot know the future – that’s God’s job.
However, responsible leaders cannot sit idly waiting for shoes to drop. We need to have some kind of proactive discussion. We need to at least have considered a handful of scenarios that may occur in order to be proactive. Whatever happens over the coming months, we will have done the best to lead our congregations with clarity and spiritual wisdom.
For the foreseeable future, we will not be assembling in groups of more than 10. There are a number of ways to strategize accordingly – the primary ones are to hold virtual gatherings or to break down congregations into platoons of less than 10 – or some combination of these two ideas. And, of course, there are practical and technological concerns that each church will need to figure out for their own context.
A helpful way to think through a few scenarios (and their implications on our congregation) is to think about three potential times we may shift from the “safe at home” posture to the “back to church” new normal:
Option A - September
Option B - Christmas Services
Option C - January
QUESTIONS TO ASK:
There is no doubt that both the lack of gathering, as well as the economic tumult, will impact the giving patterns of our congregations.
Depending on the socioeconomic make-up of a congregation, this is a serious threat to stability, akin to the 2008-2010 recession. But every congregation, including big-budget ones and ones that receive a majority of giving via digital means, will need to recognize they will be receiving less income for the next 6-12 months.
A helpful way to have a proactive discussion about this is to create some scenarios that enable a more data-driven discussion. Leaders could consider the implications of at least three financial scenarios happening between now and September establishing a new “line” for financial support:
Scenario 1 - 10% reduction in giving
Scenario 2 - 20% reduction in giving
Scenario 3 - 30% reduction in giving
QUESTIONS TO ASK:
At times of instability or uncertainty, the task of communicating with clarity is of paramount importance. In congregations, we usually have the occasion of a weekly gathering. That is not available to us right now.
The tendency is to under-communicate because we have nothing accurate to say. It is true - everything is a guess right now, so there are no magic bullets and no perfect leadership choices.
But as we know, lack of communication allows people to create their own narrative about what is happening with their church. Often those narratives are incomplete at best, and demoralizing or toxic at worst.
Church leaders don’t need to be clairvoyant about the future, but clear about their concern for the congregation and the proactivity with which they are making decisions. This is best executed following the law of Concentric Circles of Communication where the Senior Pastor starts with communicating with Elders, Deacons, Senior Staff, or anyone who is at the middle of the organizational dynamic (or the top of the chart). Then in successive communications, the circles will widen to volunteer leadership, volunteers, and then the congregation. This builds ownership, understanding, and ambassadors along the way.
A helpful way to craft communication at this time is to think about drafting a one-page narrative about:
QUESTIONS TO ASK:
Financial Contingency Plans
No one really wants to talk about the more drastic scenarios that may befall our churches. But someone must. Again, the key to our discussions is proactivity, not doomsday negativism.
With that in mind, a helpful discussion may be around some more specific aspects of financial strategy that are not the macro-level question mentioned above (about losses of 10%, 20% or 30%).
Here are some recommendations for immediate action:
The above considerations are meant to be practical suggestions for church leaders. Please understand that our spiritual posture is the most important and primary suggestion – to pray for discernment and lead with faith. People in our world need to see humble confidence in the eyes of the leaders of the church.
And besides, we are utterly dependent on God, so organizational tidbits are nothing compared to the spiritual power from above. May we all listen to God and hear what we may need to know for the future of our churches.
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