7 Strategic Questions Churches Need to Ask About Reopening

“The opportunity is to ask the question: What will be? Not how will we preserve the past?” – Simon Sinek

That is a profoundly important question that we all would do well to be asking these days. This question gets to the core of what every church leader is asking across the country. As your community looks at reopening and moving beyond this current phase of Coronavirus, you are probably asking all kinds of similar questions. 

  • What will be the next normal? 
  • How will we transition into this next phase? 
  • What will change about our churches and what will remain unchanged?
  • How will we be changed as leaders because of all of this?

Recently, I’ve been leading some group coaching and have genuinely loved this experience. It’s so great to connect with a dozen leaders from churches spread across the country. Each week we check in on each other and help each other tackle issues we’re facing. In this season, we’re all in the same boat but facing a different storm. It’s an honor to get a glimpse into the questions that these church leaders are grappling with as we step through this season. 

One of my core convictions has always been that asking the right questions is at the heart of a leader’s job. At this point in our journey, well-defined questions can help you lead your church to the ‘next normal.’ As we wrestle with what it means to lead in our current environment, it is the leaders with the most astute questions who will ultimately lead their communities to the next level.

Questions, not answers are what you need to have these days as you engage with your team.

What follows are seven questions that I think are strategically important for every church leader to ask as their communities are reopening and our churches are looking at responding to this time. 

Should we use home meetings during our reopening plans? 

All of our communities are going to face some sort of staged rollout where we’ll be confronted with the real predicament of not being able to simply open the doors and let everyone back into our churches. 

During this COVID-19 crisis, there was a moment where it felt like someone was going to flip a switch and let us all go back to how things were. But as we can clearly see, whether it’s a three-stage rollout or a five-phase plan, all of our communities are going to face a slow, methodical decrease in social distancing and increase in meeting size that our churches are going to need to wrestle with.  

What if we used our existing small group networks and moved our weekend experiences into the homes instead of focusing all of our efforts on getting people back into our environments? 

We all know that the house church movement has real benefits. In the “next normal” of social distancing, if our church offered house church experiences centered with our church online as a core part of that experience, it could afford us with an amazing opportunity going forward. 

There will be some people in your church that will take a long time before they’re willing to consider returning to a room with even 100 people in it because of how we’ve all been conditioned to thinking about viruses. 

On top of that, this might be the season where it will be easier to invite people to a “small group” in a home rather than a large weekend service experience. 

In this context, meeting with a small group of people that they trust on a regular basis could be a great way of reentering into public meetings. You already have a network of small groups and many leaders in your community are already used to connecting your church online onto a large screen. Why not use that as a tool for you in your reentry plans? 

What did the data tell us and how can we impact our next normal? 

Over these last two months it has been fascinating to watch, for the first time, churches seeing real-time data about what people think about our weekend services in a very real way. You’ve been able to track statistically as people respond to the music, teaching, and other elements that you provide. 

You’ve been given a gift by being able to see what happens to engagement, whether that’s actual views, chats, or shares during your weekend services.  This data has given us a clear understanding of what people think of our weekend experiences. 

For years, I’ve been talking to Sunday programming people about the fact that the vast majority of people in our churches are simply not engaging with the musical worship portion of our services. It’s been fascinating to see so many churches cut back on this part of what they do every weekend in this season because the data in many churches shows that people disengage in those moments of our services.  

When we start to do services in real time, face to face again, how will we let this data impact our next normal? 

Do we need to lead our teams to not just think about the people in the first few rows, but also those in the back rows who might disengage with any part of our service?  

It is important to point out that I’m not picking on the musical worship portion. What I am asking you to do is to clearly look at what the data has told you in these weeks and apply that to our next normal as we build out services that we’re hoping will be more engaging for people in the future.  

Engagement will be a hallmark of church growth in the long run and as we’re building our next experiences, we should not walk away from what we’ve learned in these weeks. 

How can we train our guest services people for what comes next? 

Your guest services teams have always been a core part of making our churches welcoming and engaging for our community. 

However, in the next normal, the manner in which you and I roll out our guest service experience will be more important than ever before. Gone are the days of just having a team member open the door and that being viewed as the right thing to do. People in our community are going to expect us to have guest services people that are trained on preventing the spread of viruses going forward. The simple act of opening a door will be seen as the right and safe thing to do as we live in a social distancing era, at least for the foreseeable future. 

Your guest services team is going to need to exceed infection protection and control best practices. How are you going to train them before you can meet in person?

Taking time to build training now will help our guest services team feel not only prepared but also energized for the new important role that they’re going to face.

Your church needs some sort of online training platform to help you ensure that your guest services team are receiving appropriate training in the things that they’re doing. In many municipalities across the country, we’re seeing that staff are going to be required to receive infection prevention and control training. Organizations must be able to demonstrate that their people are actually engaging with that training. Online equipping platforms like Ministry Grid would enable you to not only roll out that training, but also to generate a report to show who has received that training. 

Your guest services team is going to need to do more than just welcome people. It will also be important to ensure that people are experiencing your services in a safe manner in the next normal. Taking time to build your training plan now will help you as we move forward in the coming weeks and months.

What will need to happen so our people will invite their friends again? 

Churches that have a robust inviting culture are the ones that are thriving. 

Before this pandemic, 94% of all churches across the country were losing ground against the growth of the communities they’re in. The 6% that were growing systematically inspired and equipped their people to invite friends and family to church. 

As we reemerge into the next normal, we need to work even harder on encouraging, training and equipping our people to invite their friends to our in-person and online experiences. Church online has made it easier for people to comment and share, but how can we translate that to what we’re experiencing going forward? 

Previously, people might’ve been nervous to invite friends to come to your church simply because it was a strange experience. Now, the idea of inviting a friend to some sort of large group gathering, even if it’s 100 or 200 or 300 people, may be accompanied by an added stigma. 

What do we need to do to begin to train our people on how to do that?

How will people be inspired to invite their friends in this emotional climate?

In a world where people wear face masks to pick snacks at the convenience store around the corner, how can we help our people make inviting a normal thing to do?

How should our team prepare for a second wave of COVID-19? 

One of the things that’s fairly clear as you read the research and commentary around COVID-19 is that no one can really predict what’s going to happen next. However, there is an undercurrent of conversation about a possible second wave of COVID-19 this fall. This summer, our churches are going to face somewhat of a respite as we’ll be able to do some version of our online and offline experiences. It would be prudent for us to begin planning now for what happens when we find ourselves in a second lockdown in the coming months. None of us had a chance to prepare for the first one, but we have an opportunity to prepare beforehand for the second lockdown that might be just a few months away. 

What did we learn about these last few months to prepare us for a time in the future we find ourselves locked down in a similar scenario? This planning would be valuable for you to wrestle through as there’s a high likelihood of some sort of second wave in the future, or there may well be another similar virus in the years to come. Taking time to capture your learnings from these months and building a plan for the future will help us as we move into the next normal.

What place will communications take on our senior leadership team? 

It’s been fascinating to watch churches across the country who haven’t invested time, effort, energy, or leadership into communications as a strategic discipline pivot and double down on that in this season. 

I hope and pray that as we look to the future, the communications leadership within your church will take a place on the senior leadership team going forward. 

It’s been encouraging to see church leaders, who just a few months ago, spoke with a certain amount of pride that they weren’t on Facebook or any social media platform, jump onto those platforms and learn how to use those tools to push their ministry forward.

A part of the next normal will mean that all of us need to think carefully about how we engage on social media platforms and focus our internal/external communication plans

Gone are the days where we can just rely on “swimming in the lobby” to ensure that people know what’s happening in our church. We will be faced with a season where people will be both online, at home, and in person attending our churches. We need to work hard in order to ensure that our communication plans push our ministries forward. That’s going to require a senior leadership’s focus on communications going forward. 

Going forward, Communication Directors that help churches organize and roll out effective communication strategy will increasingly have a seat at the senior leadership table of prevailing churches.

How do we show we’re for our communities rather than just asking them to come to our next in person event? 

As we look forward to communicating to our communities about “reopening our services” and inviting people to come back to our buildings, I would like to caution that it is important to build a plan that clearly shows that we’re not just interested in people coming to our events; instead, we’re interested in serving the communities we’re in.

All of our communities have been ravaged by COVID-19. We’re dealing with high levels of unemployment and stress that we haven’t seen in a generation. If we callously jump up and down and talk about how great our thing is, rather than frame it in understanding what we’re doing and how it makes a difference to the people in our community, it is clear that we will sound tone deaf to the communities we serve.

The church has never been about getting people to attend buildings. 

Church has always been about serving the community. My strong encouragement is that you look at visible ways to be the loving hands & feet of Jesus in these days as we transition into the next normal. 

Rather than mechanically asking people to come to our thing, let’s step outside our comfort zones to find ways of showing that we can love our communities going forward.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.