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The New Normal … What If Everything We Knew About Church Changed?

New Normal

The new normal for church may be that everything we know about church changes. What then?

Sundays feel weird. Normally Sundays are energizing, challenging and exhausting. On Sundays we get to do the things we are wired to do; preach, lead worship, teach kids, and connect with people we love. Now a typical Sunday consists of watching a pre-recorded service and making small talk in an online chat room. When we get done we don’t even have sports to sleep to. Weird.

Mondays feel weird too. The past couple of weeks we’ve scrambled to get our services online, create virtual small groups and find ways to love our community while keeping our distance. Now we have a lot of that figured out. Sure we’ll tweak and fine tune, but most of the things that we’ve worked so hard to adapt are coming into shape. Now its Monday again and what do we work on now?

We still have to write sermons and find way to record content without infecting each other. We have to check on attenders and reach out to community leaders. We have to make sure online groups are happening and figure out the things that aren’t working. But what is our mission? What are we really focused on now that we cannot gather as a church for many weeks to come? What is our new normal?

Here’s my recommendation for a things to work on this week. I think if we focus on these three things we’ll make incredible progress in our new normal.

Celebrate Our New Normal

Let’s take time to celebrate. We are doing things as a church we wouldn’t have thought possible three weeks ago. We are preaching to a camera and getting pretty good at it. We are connecting with people we’ve known for years, and people we’ve never met, in ways we didn’t know was possible. We are figuring out communion and baptism and giving and prayer without being in the same room, and its working. We are seeing creativity and passion from people who previously sat on the sidelines. We are bringing hope and light to our community at a time when they desperately need it. We are being the church in ways we couldn’t have imagined way back in February. That calls for a socially-distanced virtual party. 

Mourn Our New Normal

We’ve lost some things that are really hard to let go of. We will not gather on Easter. We will not have Good Friday communion together. We will not go to that conference we’ve been looking forward to for months. Each of us have lost or will lose many things, and we need to take the time to mourn. There are many aspects of our current situation that suck, and pretending that they don’t doesn’t help. Take some time to grieve what you’ve lost.

Innovate in the New Normal

I love seeing stories of companies pivoting right now to manufacture things they’ve never built before. Car makers are making ventilators, and shoe companies are making masks. This morning I read about a scientific group in Ohio who’ve figured out a way to turn shipping containers into sanitation units for health care workers’ personal protection equipment (PPE). It gives me hope because I see incredible innovation happening around the world.

The same innovation has to happen in the church world. We can no longer to do what we’ve always done. I see little glimpses of innovation in the way churches are doing services, but that is barely the tip of the iceberg of the innovation that has to come. Obviously we have to create opportunities for people to connect, worship and learn together, but that barely scratches the surface of what we have to figure out.

The challenge is innovation is uncomfortable. For many of us in ministry we’ve spent decades learning to do what we do. Years in college and seminary, and more years working for churches figuring out how to create the best environments possible for ministry to happen, and now those environments don’t exist. We’ve been to conferences, connected in cohorts and leaned into coaches (I have to use my alliteration skills somewhere) to learn the very best way to do church. And now most of what we learned is secondary at best. Let’s be honest, it feels really strange sitting on our couches watching a pre-recorded Sunday service. We try to make conversation in the chat, but its hollow at best.

We have to invent new ways to do what we are called to do. Our calling hasn’t changed, but our methods of ministry have to. We can’t continue to focus on how to do what we’ve always done, but do it online. We can’t just focus on making our 45 minutes on Sunday the best they can be. We have to understand the needs of today and how we can help. We have to innovate.

Here are some innovations I think we need in the new normal:

Teaching Pastors

How can we teach people to dig into the Bible for themselves? Rather than giving them an already baked bread like we normally offer on Sunday, how can we point them to the flour, eggs, yeast and milk and challenge them to bake their own loaf? How can we create enough hunger in people that when they finish watching us teach they feel compelled to pull out their Bible (or App) and figure it out for themselves? I think the opportunity for innovation is not just how we preach, but what outcome we hope for.

Worship Leaders

No band, no haze, no moving lights and no graphics. Just you staring at a camera trying to lead people in worship. What do you hope people are doing as they watch online? Singing, praying, sitting silently? Is it unrealistic to think the average guy watching is going to suddenly burst into off key singing while sitting in his PJs with his family? If its not participation, what is the goal of Sunday worship? How can you innovate in how you lead? I think this is more crucial than recording the next viral worship song created by your team singing into cell phones. I don’t know where we need more innovation right now than in the area of worship.

NextGen Pastors

Kids are currently spending more time with their parents than their peers, teachers or church leaders. Now is the time to get serious about helping parents know how to have honest conversations with their kids about faith. No matter how good your online experiences are right now, they pale in comparison to the daily conversations kids and students are having in their homes. Are you connecting with parents to understand how you can help? Are you coming up with creative resources that parents are actually using?

The biggest mistake we can make as church leaders right now is to think the adaptations we’ve made to make what we’ve always done available online are an adequate response to our new normal. There is a good chance church will never be the same, how are we innovating to lead our congregation into this new season? What if we sat down together and rewrote our job descriptions for this season? Let’s cross out the things that don’t really apply right now and add in the things that are essential. Let’s create time in our schedule to celebrate, mourn and innovate. Let’s become the church God wants us to become through this crisis.

This article about the church’s new normal originally appeared here.

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Geoff has served on the leadership teams at Seacoast Church and Saddleback Church, and as Managing Director of Exponential. He is the author of several books, including Together: A Guide for Couples in Ministry written with his wife Sherry. Along with writing, Geoff coaches churches and leaders around the U.S. and in Europe. Geoff lives in Denver, Colorado. Twitter: @geoffsurratt