In a time when congregations and clergy are dealing with a lot of challenging issues, there is most definitely good news to celebrate. Congregations are more open to change today than at any time in my career as a pastor and consultant. During the pandemic, we learned a great deal about ourselves personally and as congregations. One of the most important and long overdue learnings: we need to change.
As congregations start to emerge from the pandemic, a top priority is to re-establish a sense of belonging and community.
A friend of mine in Colorado says his current challenge is to reestablish “high touch” ministry. For the past two years, Hal and his staff have focused on “high tech.” They had to master technologies and related managerial strategies they never had imagined needing: livestreaming, Zoom meetings, virtually maintaining a sense of team in a staff, etc. Within the constraints of the pandemic, they struggled to remain in touch and engaged with their members. It was challenging at best. They kept up with pastoral care, but other ways of staying in touch with members often were not possible.
There are lots of ways to look at the past two years of congregational life. Many of the narratives I hear are filled with words like “surviving,” “adapting,” “stressful,” and “unrelenting change.” Today I’d like to talk about another way to view what we are going through: getting ready.
Fifty-eight percent of professional workers say they are “more productive when working virtually, even if there are distractions such as a spouse and children at home.” This finding from a survey by the global consulting firm Korn Ferry is one of many indications that for some American workers, productivity has improved. How about your congregational staff? Has their productivity increased, decreased, or stayed the same since February 2020?
As I met with a governing board during a planning session, one member asked, “How are we ever going to develop a communications strategy without the appropriate staff?” I responded, “We won’t know what the appropriate staff is until we have a strategy. Don’t you have some members who work on communications and marketing in their day jobs?” “Of course! We have some people who are outstanding in that field,” came the reply. “Then why are we talking about this instead of having your members who have the skill sets and experience to do it?” Folks took my question as though it was a revelation. Actually it was common sense.
The “go it alone” model of congregational life is dead. That’s my takeaway from a recent conversation with Rabbi Aaron Bisno, senior rabbi at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh. He is convinced, and I agree, that congregations that insist on going it alone it will be dead in due time, as well.
Speaking with clergy around the country during the pandemic, I have heard a universal sense of loss over the dramatically diminished number of personal interactions with members, staff, and the community. Pastors, ministers, rabbis, and priests today are suffering—they are relationship experts at a time when it is challenging to put that expertise to work.