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Last Sunday our local body of believers regathered. After nine weeks of virtual church, we were able to once again meet physically. Yep, live and in person.
Here are (at least) five things I learned from our first week back together.
- COVID-19 fear is real. Regardless of what you think about the pandemic, there are tangible effects from it when it comes to reconvening. Generally, people above 60 were noticeably, and rightfully, absent. Likewise for those with weakened immune systems. Frankly, most moms and/or dads with newborns were as well.
This isn’t to say all of those people are afraid and were, consequently, missing from our first week back. Not at all! Several showed up confident in their choice and in our commitment to care and caution. It’s just to note that there is still a real and present diversity of opinion, not about the principle of regathering, but about the process and pace of regathering. This divergence about a non-essential exhorts us all to respond with grace to our differences, which I wrote about earlier. From one pastor to many others who read this blog: don’t try and persuade the flock with your reasoning; pastor them in their reality.
- COVID-19 fatigue is real. This is precisely why I didn’t preach about the pandemic on our first week back. It was front and center for weeks, and most people were tired of the endless conversation. Many still are. From what I could tell, our people found it refreshing to focus on something other than the coronavirus.
The obvious fatigue with COVID-19 reveals something else under the surface. There is a deeper, innate longing to be together in person than many previously recognized. Too many had been lulled to sleep by distracting hobbies; Christian community was considered optional. We’re beginning to see again, however, that community is part of creation; isolation isn’t. And that living, breathing community is connected, not by a crisis, but by Christ. He is what we long to treasure together! In my opinion, COVID-19 has forced this realization to the forefront, and there seems to be a renewed appreciation for the actual “coming together” that was such a New Testament priority (1 Cor. 11-14).
- Communication pays off. We built a long runway for our regathering, communicating as many worked-through details as possible to our leadership and membership. We utilized polls to help formulate expectations, released a podcast with key professionals in our church about returning confidently, encouraged service registrations, produced a walk-through video of the facility, and conducted a live, on-line event with our elders that included time for Q and A.
Additionally, our various teams put in loads of overtime to ensure our signage, information, facility, volunteers, protocol, and continued avenues for digital connections were consistent, accessible, and simple. The result? Very few surprised people; they knew what to expect. And one thing I’ve learned in ministry is this: informed people are usually happy people. (You can see our regathering page here.)
The sooner a leader realizes that disappointment is simply unmet expectations, the better he or she will attack setting proper expectations. And setting expectations is all about communication.
- Volunteers seem more cautious than attenders. Our regathering approach was designed to be incremental, and one reason is that we discovered some slight uneasiness among our ministry volunteers about returning to close-up, face-to-face ministry. Add to this the regathering “restrictions” that we wanted to honor, plus an additional service, and our team leaders knew it would be unreasonable to expect a full return on day one.
While it will take some time to reassemble our army of volunteers, especially in light of added opportunities and ministries, the upside is that disruption is often the very thing needed to ignite new direction and dedication for the incoming volunteers. This is the essential point of Les McKeown’s growth curve in Predictable Success—that interrupting the comfortable trajectory actually puts you on a new one, one towards longer life and greater impact. COVID-19 has been exactly that for us—the necessary disruption that has opened new doors of opportunity for many returning and soon-to-be recruited servant leaders.
- Consider pictures optional. We celebrated our return online with photos, and while our own faith family was encouraged by that, it seems there were some outside of our body who found it a tad offensive. I won’t go into the details here. Suffice it to say a simpler approach would have been to just enjoy the moment “in house,” still getting pictures but not sharing them publicly.
Why? At least in this case, pictures didn’t tell the whole story. Much was left to people’s imagination, which can lead to wrong assumptions which can lead to false accusations. Admittedly, we shouldn’t be afraid of people’s wrong perceptions. But neither should we feed them if we can help it. It’ll save you some time and work if you can avoid this possible trap. We didn’t know it would happen. You now know it could to you. My advice? Take the pics, just leave them off your social media sites. And if you do post some, consider only posting ones that leave no doubt about your preparation.
Those are my initial learning points/curves. I’d love to know yours! What are you seeing, both positive and negative, in your regathering that can benefit us all?
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