The Next Big Change
With the world collectively working toward a new normal and some hopeful signs appearing, it’s likely that many churches will soon begin the process of convening in person once again.
Over the past months, churches suddenly shifted from primarily meeting in person to primarily “meeting” online. As rapid and intense as that pendulum swing was, here comes another one: the shift to regathering. Because the path forward is not as simple as opening the church doors and going back to the way things were before the pandemic.
The post-pandemic “new normal” for most churches lies somewhere between the two extremes above. It’s not going to be either in-person or online. It’s going to be both — a balance of “some things in person” and “some things online.”
So, how can churches best adapt to this mixed offering and thrive in the new, semi-digital landscape? How can what we’ve learned during this time of virtual congregation serve churches moving forward?
On the latest episode of the Bose Church Podcast, NewGround Group President Don Allensworth and Senior Pastor, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church Clay Smith joined host Tyler Kern to share their insights.
New Digital Skills
The biggest consideration in approaching regathering and the “third paradigm” of this pandemic-driven period, the trio said, is caution.
Church leaders need to be careful not to lean too hard into “church on demand,” should it result in an overreliance on simply pushing out as much content as possible. In the end, content is not connection.
Further, the challenge is much deeper than simply achieving a base connection among congregations. As the world adapts to a new normal, churches will only thrive on true engagement.
“It’s very hard to preach to a camera, but it’s even more challenging to preach to a room that has 18 to 20% of the seats filled,” Allensworth said. “With this new reality of blending online and presence with social distancing, it’s going to be a challenge.”
This challenge can be addressed, however. In particular, asking some key questions about your church’s customized approach can help drive success.
Those questions include:
- Who is coming back, and when?
It’s not just about protecting the elderly. What about families with young children, or those with pre-existing conditions that heighten their risk? About 70% of church congregations are made up of children and older adults. How can you best protect them while still providing the same engaging experience?
- What will church look like?
It seems like a simple question, but it’s a critical one. Will your church employ time constraints or multiple services? When will you go live online? Will that be separate from in-person gatherings, or just a live stream of those services? A 400-seat room drops to about 75 with social distancing regulations in place, and that brings new challenges to consider.
- What factors unique to my church are most important?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to regathering. You need to consider your church’s demographic makeup, building size and location, childcare requirements, and more.
“I think it’s really important to network and do research, but I think it’s most important for us, as leaders, to focus on who we are, what our needs are in our community, and what it needs to look like for us,” Allensworth said. “We have access to everything in the world online, now, and, if we’re not careful, we’ll go looking and see what other people are doing and take that as our own without ever asking the question, ‘Is this best for our people?’”
From Smith’s perspective, applying his three “Cs” equally can provide a good foundation for success.
“My ministry heroes were the guys who said, ‘You never cancel church,’ and that’s in my DNA,” he said. “So I was one of the last, even here in Atlanta, to kind of hold out on that weekend where it just seemed inevitable that everyone was going to cancel services, and we did. … It’s unusual days.
“The three ‘Cs’ that I have asked our staff and church to really think about are content, care, and connection. And, quite honestly, I think churches have focused on content, but sometimes to the exclusion of care and connection.”
Instead, his church has used this period as an opportunity to reset, emphasize care and connection, and focus on what they can do during this period, not what they can’t.
It’s all about finding a way to move forward and deliver the fellowship, experience and service his congregation has come to expect.
Many churches had technological solutions in place prior to the pandemic and, if not, have likely adopted some sort of audiovisual solution to help facilitate remote worship and service.
As congregations begin to come back to physical worship spaces, new challenges associated with social distancing constraints and more are likely to rear their heads. In particular, unused rows of seating can increase the number of hard surfaces in a space, leading to poor audio and other acoustic issues.
Fortunately, technology can play a role in helping regathering efforts succeed.
The science of room design will be at the forefront of these efforts, as reimagining how spaces physically serve congregations with audiovisual solutions can provide immediate solution to audio issues now — and also set up beneficial performance for years to come.
Now may be a perfect time to retune rooms for lower volumes and with clarity in mind or to get gathering spaces mapped to better “aim” audio at occupied spaces and avoid reverb and diffusion.
As we move toward the inevitable new normal and the blend of digital and physical gatherings, Smith and Allensworth said there are many lessons to take from the current unprecedented period of uncertainty.
Some of those ideas and lessons include:
- Purpose matters.
This period, Smith said, has been a great time to examine the “why” of his church. With a clear picture of the role his church should play for his congregation, it’s become easier to focus on simpler ways to work toward those outcomes.
- Mobilize volunteers.
Creating ways for members of a congregation to fulfill specific needs can provide tremendous fulfillment and create a sort of “leadership pipeline” that makes your entire church family stronger and drives engagement on many fronts. People want to feel like they’re supporting their church’s mission during this time, so give them the chance to do just that.
- Work even harder to shine a light.
Now more than ever, churches have the opportunity to shine a light in a dark world. Re-emphasize your congregation’s commitment to providing a foundation of trust, service and love.