5 ways to revitalize during a pandemic

January 27th, 2021
This article is featured in the Acting Missionally issue of Ministry During The Pandemic

With increased vaccine distribution in sight, people are looking toward life returning to normal again. But why settle for normal when something even greater is possible?

In this article I’m going to share with you five ways to revitalize congregations during a pandemic. Employing these best practices now sets you up for better-than-normal ministry once the virus begins to recede.

Best practices for revitalization

In Creating a Culture of Renewal coaching groups, we teach church leaders the best practices of congregational revitalization. I’m excited to share some of them with you here, as many of our participants report steady or increased participation, giving and worship attendance in the midst of the pandemic.

Options attract people

1. Keep digital worship alongside live worship. Just as it is rare to boost overall worship attendance by combining live services, the same is true here. When you shut one down, you will likely lose people.
Instead of thinking about how to get people “back” or “in” to the church, think about how the worshipping community can reach “out” to include new people. Experiment here. Try creating a hybrid experience by recording and posting in-person worship services. Alternatively, email orders of worship to people who choose not to participate online. Or you may supplement in-person worship with an online Bible study, book study or an ethical study such as dismantling racism or ending food insecurity.

Make worship worthwhile

2. Revitalize worship by creating opportunities to experience the sacred, not simply talk or sing about it. These days an experience of the divine presence of God, as well as a sense of community, is replacing a focus on entertainment. And not a moment too soon.

While watching entertainment is ubiquitous — available with every swipe, scroll and push of a button — it’s rare to be invited into an interactive experience of the Holy. Who wouldn’t want to have an experience of the presence of God? Or the miraculous touch of Jesus? Or the movement of the Spirit?

Here are some specific practices you can incorporate into worship: quiet reflection, centering prayer or lectio divina. Additionally, you can invite worshippers to light a candle in their homes or to share an object that has sacred meaning for them. The sharing of testimonies can also be inspiring.

Dream like Jesus

3. Lead with a vision. In Creating a Culture of Renewal, we distinguish between church improvement plans — where the church is the recipient of the vision — and kingdom-oriented plans, where the church is the agent of the vision. The best practice is the church being the agent of the vision. This takes guts and faith.

It helps to know that the world wants more from churches, not less. More vision, more hope, more miracles, more kindness, and more demonstrations of faith. Your community will respond positively when your vision is big enough — and inclusive enough — to reflect a God of unconditional love.

Innovate during hard times

4. Pandemics push us to make progress. The Black Plagues of the 14th-16th centuries led to better working and living conditions for the very poor. The rise of the middle class can be traced back to that time. Shakespeare did some of his best work when the theaters closed down. Isaac Newton, driven into the countryside, worked on his theories of optics, physics and gravity.

In 18th century Philadelphia, in the midst of a yellow fever epidemic, the founding fathers developed the idea that they had to bear responsibility for the health of the citizenry. Public health in the U.S. was born.

In the 1918 pandemic, the idea of childhood vaccines was born. Social distancing was built into multi-family dwellings leading to three-foot-wide hallways, fire escapes and private bathrooms for each family.

Practice emotional intelligence

5. Choose your words carefully. President Biden’s inaugural speech was an example of practicing emotional intelligence to meet the challenges of the day. While he addressed hard problems and named tough challenges, he also adopted an overall optimistic tone and employed visionary language. His speech was relevant, deeply personal and contained spiritual motifs. Finally, he used his platform to call people to transcend barriers to work together.

When you speak to your people, try using the same approach. First, name the challenges and problems before you. Second, lay out an optimistic vision for the future that calls people to work together for the common good. Third, reveal something about yourself, and your faith, as you ground it in spiritual and biblical themes. Fourth, show how your vision is relevant to your time and place.

These best practices withstand the test of time, even as you adapt them for your setting. The need for options, to experience the sacred, to be inspired by vision, to innovate through hard times and to practice emotional intelligence is greater than ever. Your time to shine is now. Let me know how it goes for you!

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