The beginning of the pandemic was overwhelming, but our focus was clear—figure out how to worship, connect, and teach in an online environment. The boundaries marking what we could not do provided clarity. Now, in-person engagement is returning and we face another kind of overwhelm—too many options. How do we make choices when some boundaries have been removed, but not everything is possible? To meet the needs of this season, we must help our leaders shift out of decision-making mode and into a discerning mindset.
Buildings are reopening and in-person engagement is slowly coming back. As leaders look to the future, many wonder how to build consensus about the next chapter. Over the past several weeks, my phone has been ringing off the hook with clients looking for help with planning. It’s not surprising. Planning has traditionally been our go to approach for getting people motivated to move together from point A to point B.
But getting everyone to agree on a direction should not be your objective now.
In the next year it is likely that your congregation will have to fire someone. As we come out of the pandemic, every congregation will have to reevaluate its staffing structure. Do you have the right people with the right skills to lead your congregation through the next chapter? Some new hires may be needed, requiring painful terminations to free up precious payroll dollars. Acting with integrity as you fire people can make all the difference in helping your congregation cope with difficult transitions.
A new calendar year invites planning. We need to finalize a budget and many are eager to imagine life beyond COVID. Unfortunately, we are still in a season of not knowing. Will the vaccine be effective and allow a safe return to in person engagement? Which of our constituents will be back and will new online followers stay connected? Anxiety builds as we plan for a year that involves so many unknowns. How can we plan when we don’t know what is to come?
“My gut tells me underlying motives are at work here that are not being shared!” In the past month, I have heard several variations on this statement in online gatherings. Mistrust has become more prevalent and is giving birth to interpersonal conflict—in a time when we have less personal resilience to cope with it. We need to take greater care when we attribute motives for another’s actions in this precarious season.
In the early days of the pandemic, accommodation was the name of the game when it came to helping staff negotiate huge work/life challenges. Inadequate technology at home, loss of childcare, children studying virtually from home, and spouses negotiating shared workspace. We leaned heavily into the grace side of our employment relationships. Now staff teams are experiencing some of the downsides of grace without accountability.
“Growth in membership is the primary indicator of congregational health and vitality.” The pandemic is challenging this and other longstanding assumptions about engagement, belonging, and membership. We must carefully examine all of our assumptions—otherwise, we risk creating barriers to belonging for people trying to engage with us in new ways.