Let’s Think Transition, Part Two: Defining Success for a Post-Pandemic Church

Uncategorized // May 24, 2020 //

As a pastor, I struggle with defining success in ministry. Like anyone involved in a work with an unquantifiable end product, I find success hard to measure. As church leaders, we do not count the widgets we make or the gadgets we sell. In last week’s post, we noted the folly in measuring the nickels and noses as definitive metrics of ministry success. Thus, we must appeal to God’s economy and define our success by the faithfulness of our efforts.

Faithfulness. That’s an intangible metric we’ll have to use as we transition to re-opening our church in a post-pandemic context. As with any endeavor, we know that we will make mistakes and some results will simply be out of our control. But what if there was a way to mitigate those mistakes and harbor spiritual results as the Lord grants them? I believe there is a way. Let me suggest some metrics to help us stay the course during our transition and give our very best to the Lord.

What does success look like during a season of transition?

1. Keep a contagiously positive attitude.

The people of Coats Baptist have been amazingly faithful and flexible during this pandemic season. Your positive attitude is noticed and applauded – and contagious. (I recognize that’s a risky word — but it’s true!) On behalf of our church leadership, let me say, “thank you.” At the same time, we are all facing more than enough temptation to gripe, complain, belly-ache and moan about the inconveniences of life under a pandemic. I’ll be the first to say that it’s easy to forget people really are suffering from more than just a closed playground.

So in the words of the apostle Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Phil. 4:4) Let me encourage you to stay positive. I know it’s not the most measurable of points, but a positive attitude is critical to a healthy transition. That’s why it’s on the list, because negativity kills. Leaders will tell you even the most subtle pessimistic mindset can risk sabotaging forward progress.

During a season of transition, it is vitally important that we are all on board and smiling for the glory of God. It is easy to resort back to remembering the month of March, when churches were full and social distancing was a foreign concept. Yet, it’s very likely that churches will not be going back to “normal” any time soon. In fact, we all may be looking at a new normal. I believe an agent of success will be to focus on what is in front of us and not behind us.

Let’s leave the spring months in the rear view and press on to what God has in store this summer. Stay thankful for what God has provided during this season. Stay focused on gospel fruit that is sure to come. Stay encouraged by how God is using this season to advance the gospel, unite his church, and refine ministries. Take a moment to ponder this point: you’re being watched, in a good way. Someone needs you to stay positive. You are a secret source of encouragement for them and they will follow your lead. So stay contagious. Spread positivity.

2. Provide a safe space for public witness and worship.

This is not just any transition. This is transitioning in a post-pandemic context. Let’s be clear: we all want to come back to church, really bad. We’re not alone in that holy desire. But we want to come back at the right time, in the right way, and in the safest manner possible. As we seek to “not neglect the assembling of ourselves” (Heb. 10:25), we must walk a fine line — a balance between church unity and public safety. We want to be faithful Christians, but also good North Carolinians. Here are a few points to consider:

  • Public witness

Our neighbors are watching our posture and how we transition. What they see us do will determine for them just how much we love God and care for them. In the months ahead, our community will remember how we handled this public health event. They must know that we love them and have their best interest in mind. It is good for Coats Baptist to be in the community. Let’s affirm that sentiment. For the sake of our gospel witness and the health of our community, let’s stay smart and safe.

  • Public worship

When the time comes for us to transition, we will do so in a spirit of worship. Remember, the church assembles on purpose to worship the risen Christ in the power of the Spirit. Therefore, we seek to create a space that is conducive for a safe and comfortable worship experience. We do not want to inconvenience or risk the harm of our attendees and thus undercut the spiritual posture of the service itself. So, we must be careful, take every precaution, and trust that common Christian sense will win the day.

3. Clearly communicate information and expectations

We‘re aiming not only for a safe transition, but for a smooth transition. That means we must communicate, and do so clearly and effectively. Your staff and church leaders take full responsibility to own this effort. We will communicate, communicate, and communicate. We apologize in advance for over communicating. We seek to communicate on two fronts:

  • Information (the “what” and “why”)

Let me give credit where it is surely due. Pastor Jonathan is a wizard behind the scenes. He is manning our website and social media platforms. Not only is he serving as our worship pastor, but he is also running our communication efforts. The brother deserves our appreciation. Now, enough about him… Here’s the deal – stay informed through our website and social media platforms. They are updated regularly as they are main hubs for our communication. If you know someone who does not have internet access, be sure to share information with them.

  • Expectation (the “who” and “how”)

Our deacon body deserves the credit here. For weeks on end they have met regularly on Friday mornings to discuss ministry needs and pray for our church. Terry Wilson, our deacon chair, has led that effort. Our deacons are doing an excellent job calling members of the congregation and keeping informed of their needs. As we seek to transition, we’ll be communicating clear expectations for our congregation. Our deacons will be a lead component of that effort.  From the very start, your personal safety and public witness have been their top priorities. We never want anyone to feel threatened, compromised, or uncomfortable while attending a public worship service. Communication is key as we leverage this season for the glory of Christ. Thank God for deacons.

4. Invite others to participate in group ministry.

I thank the Lord for a growing group ministry in our church. The groups, Sunday school classes and weekly small groups, are the backbone of our church. Yes, the deacons lead in service, but theirs is more at the ministerial level. Group life, however, is where rubber meets the road. Life happens in groups. Biblical application and member care are at least two of the leading goals of our group ministry. Pastor Jimmy does a great job leading in this area and will be sending some information your way soon. Watch for a group training document outlining some best practices and helpful tips for healthy groups.

As I wrote in my previous post, I predict the group dynamic will be an even more critical component of our church ministry as we move forward. Some groups will likely find alternate times and locations to be more convenient than the traditional Sunday morning slot. Others will continue to meet over video technology which allows members to stand over large geographic areas. Such flexibility is key during times such as these, and I predict will become more of the norm as we move forward.

In a sense, the group ministry allows our church to grow in community while being scattered among the community. Some people have never been to Coats Baptist, but their next door neighbor has invited them to join a group in his home. Others are not ready to attend a live worship gathering, but they can join their group for a time of worship, Bible study and fellowship. Our regular Sunday morning live-stream service is a great opportunity to leverage your home to show biblical hospitality.

Let me encourage you to leverage your group ministry as a front door into the church body. Regardless of when and where you meet, each group has the potential of inviting someone new to join. Pray about how your group will do life together and who the Lord wants added to your community. Remember, there are lonely souls out there. People need community, and they need the Lord. He has built us that way.

5. Give faithfully to the local church

I always get a little squeamish when I talk about money. I don’t know why. Jesus talked about money more than any other topic (see Matt. 6:19-21 for example). But sometimes, talking about money makes others think the focus is on the money and not the ministry. It’s not, and never will be. But at the same time, we do know that God uses the resources of his people to fuel a variety of ministries — not the least of which is the local church, the womb from which all other ministries are born.

The people of Coats Baptist are very generous. I can’t tell you how proud I am of your faithfulness doing this season. Yet, it must be said — we cannot drop the ball during this pandemic season. We cannot miss it here. The tendency is to think, “Well, the church isn’t meeting, so I guess they don’t need my giving.” Don’t equate not meeting with not giving. The church is still operating and financial resources are still needed. By God’s good grace, the church is in good shape because of faithful men and women like you.

Let me encourage you to think of your giving as meeting a need for today, and planting a seed for tomorrow. Yes, week after week ministry is taking place and will likely ramp up a few notches in the coming months. We need not be behind the financial curve in the second half of the year. At the same time, I want you to think about the next generation. Our children’s demographic is exploding. There are twelve expectant mothers in our congregation this year, four babies have been born, another eight are on the way — and that’s just through October! God is doing a work in our midst, partly in bringing young, growing families to our fellowship. It is very likely that our church will undergo a facility renovation to accommodate our ministry needs, one of which is our children’s ministry. Let me ask you to consider the next generation. Your giving is not only meeting needs of today, but planting seeds for tomorrow. Your children and grandchildren will thank you for your faithfulness.

In closing, I want to challenge you to think about financial stewardship. We all understand that many have fallen on financial hard times. That’s a sobering reality. Yet in the midst of a pandemic, have you nurtured the holy habit of life of regularly giving to the Lord? Do you need help thinking through how you can best financially support your church? It’s been said that stewardship is like a muscle. It takes exercise and discipline for a healthy condition. You can find helpful information on our giving page at coatsbaptist.com/give. We would delight in having you come alongside us to support what God is doing through his local church.

About Neal Thornton