5 Transformative Questions To Ask Before You Reopen Your Church (Or After You’ve Done It)

If you’re feeling like the decisions you’re facing as a pastor today are complicated, you’re right.

There are so many complex, confusing and uncertain factors that factor into reopening churches in America and around the world that it’s not an exaggeration to say you’re facing the most difficult decision-making moment in your lifetime.

Although pastors have always sensed that life and death hang in the balance of their decisions, that’s actually even more true now.

And as you know, reopening your church building is a far more complex task than closing your building ever was. And, as many leaders are discovering, initial attendance on reopening is much lower than anyone expected.

So how do you open well, and with integrity when there’s so much regional variation in both regulations and the prevalence of the disease, conflicting medical advice, intense pressure from all sides, and when no one seems to agree on anything right now?

Well, clearly you pray and read the scripture. Start there.

But you and I have both experienced the reality of deeply praying, seeking scripture and still being confused as to what the best decision is.

The next step is to seek wise counsel, which I define as people you know who have a track record of making great decisions in their personal and professional lives. When looking for wise counsel, pay attention to what they’ve actually done and how they’ve actually lived. Past performance is the best indicator of future success.

But even then, sometimes you get really wise people around the table and they don’t agree on what the best course is.

Then what do you?

In that situation, one of the best things you can do is bring the right questions to the table.

Asking the right questions can reframe an issue. They can make you pause and think, pray and search again.

The quality of the questions you ask determines the quality of the decisions you make.

You can certainly make your own list of questions, but here are five revealing questions I hope can help.

1. What does this make possible?

Of all the questions I’ve asked since the world changed, this is probably my favorite because it reframes my thinking so deeply.

I started asking ‘What does this make possible?’ about a decade ago when I first heard Michael Hyatt pose it.

It’s easy to blame the crisis for your problems, but some leaders manage to find a way to grow even in the midst of difficult circumstances, largely because they focus on what they can do, not on what they can’t.

While most churches saw a surge in attendance prior to Easter, even long after Easter, 29% of churches are still reporting significant attendance growth and 21% are reporting increased giving.

From the many leaders I’ve talked to, I can tell you what they’re doing: they’re focusing on what they can do.

Even at our church, some quick pivots by the team to 100% online meant 56% sustained growth (including after Easter) and seeing giving come in at record levels.

Crisis is an accelerator. And shockingly, one of the things crisis can accelerate is progress.

Personally, by asking the question, “What does this make possible?”,  me and my team have adapted quickly. After losing a year of speaking opportunities and conferences for leaders, we pivoted overnight to focus on serving leaders 100% digitally.

Here’s a chart showing the growth in my email list subscribers as a result of three quick pivots we did.

Graph of email list growth during COVID. 100% growth, 2 weeks later 400% growth and 1 month later 1000% growth.

Asking the question “What does this make possible?” will shift your focus from what you can’t do to what you can do.

If you’re curious about how to advance your mission, I show you the exact process my team used for pivoting and how to apply it for your church, organization or business here.

2. What will our ministry look like five years from now? Can we go there sooner?

Okay so that’s two questions, but they’re two important questions.

Life has been moving online for decades now, and while physical gathering will always be an important part of the Christian faith and human interaction, churches that didn’t take their digital presence seriously were already at a disadvantage pre-COVID.

It is far too easy to step back into the past when you step back into your building. (Here’s a post on how that happens.)

Facebook, Twitter, Shopify and other major tech companies who were largely opposed to remote work changed their minds, and are now encouraging employees to work remotely indefinitely.

Because digital scales in a way physical ministry doesn’t, it’s probably a good time to think through how to do groups digitally, how to come alongside new clusters of people who identify with your church. You may want to accelerate online discipleship, or further drill down on how to equip Christians in their homes and workplaces to live out their faith.

If you were going there anyway, getting there faster might be one of the best decisions you can make.

I’m always surprised to talk to top leaders who have made significant progress, who admit they weren’t the smartest people in their field by any stretch, they were just there first.

If you’re curious about where the future church is headed, here are 7 new disruptive church trends to watch.

3. What will this do to our influence with unchurched people?

Let me just say I assume you’re trying to reach unchurched people with the Gospel.

And if so, there’s probably one group you’re not hearing from right now: the unchurched.

Instead, your phone and inboxes are blowing up with church people telling you what they think you should do.

One of the great exercises of Christian leadership is to speak up for people with no voice, and for church leaders, I think that means speaking up for the people you’re trying to reach.

Non-Christians already think Christians are selfish, racist, homophobic, narrow, judgmental and out of touch…sometimes unjustifiably, and sadly, sometimes very justifiably.

Asking yourself what kind of impact your decisions will have on unchurched people is a very fair question to ask.

If they see your church as loving, empathetic, responsive to those in need, and sensitive to the risks around you, I imagine they’ll have a better response to you.

I love, for example, how Jud Wilhite and Central Church in Las Vegas have been tirelessly serving their city.  The media sometimes actually do cover good news stories, as they did in Vegas about Central Church’s mission to feed the city.

The media also gives extensive churches having to re-close after opening or being burned to the ground by an angry resident.

The current moment for church leaders is a sobering reminder that influence takes years to build and seconds to lose.

4. What does our insurance company say?

A short but important question (thanks to Rich Birch for this question).

If you go rogue in your reopening, or stretch guidelines, will your insurance be valid?

As much as it’s easy to roll your eyes at the limits that insurance agents, accountants and lawyers might try to put on your behavior, an ounce of wisdom and restraint is worth a pound of damage and recovery.

Particularly when life and death hang in the balance.

5. Two years from now, what will we wish we had done?

When I still don’t know what to do, I always come back to this question.

I’ve been asking this question for a few decades. The usual form is “5 years what will I wish I had done”, but 5 years is a long way off.

So, right now, ask it this way: two years from now, what will we wish we had done?

That question for some reason is so clarifying for me.

Sometimes it leads to action. Other times it leads to restraint.

Sometimes it means I pick up the phone and talk. Sometimes it means I let it just let it go.

When you don’t know what to do, ask yourself: two years from now, what will I wish I had done?

Then go do it.

What Questions Would You Ask?

What questions are you asking right now?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

5 Transformative Questions To Ask Before You Reopen Your Church (Or After You’ve Done It)

18 Comments

  1. Edmund Chan on December 20, 2020 at 4:56 am

    Thanks, Carey!
    Four questions I ask –
    1. ”What For?” – A Purpose Question
    2. ”What Kind?” – A Product Question
    3. ”What’s Possible?” – A Promise Question
    4. ”What’s Next?” – A Process Question
    – Edmund Chan
    SINGAPORE

  2. James Hert on December 19, 2020 at 11:07 am

    Great questions for any new project.

    • Mark Holman on December 19, 2020 at 1:46 pm

      What we’re trying figure out is that when we can start church up when the restrictions date is constantly changing and again today we have another change into 2021 , however the COVID 19 flu shots are going to roll out soon and when is uncertain. Meanwhile we use You Tube for Services online which is a way to reach out to the people.

      • James Hert on December 19, 2020 at 2:19 pm

        Services online are essential. I wonder how long they will work without personal contact from other members? Sunday school classes using Zoom are a possibility. Also a system of members calling to check on other members might help. Give volunteers a list names to call each month. AARP has a system where people can contact AARP and request someone call each month. Helps with the isolation problems. A church could adopt that practice.

        • Mark Holman on December 19, 2020 at 2:37 pm

          We’re a super small church where everyone is on the phone, texting, etc. my wife isn’t much learning communication and I’m the techie, we dropped AARP and we work out Senior Discount as we can. Besides the average age in our church is 80% Seniors and some don’t own a cell phone let alone maybe teach a class on operating a smartphone, 😇

  3. Cathy on December 19, 2020 at 8:18 am

    Timeless wisdom, as always!

    Thank you for being our wise counsel!

  4. Richard Dawson on May 28, 2020 at 4:15 pm

    Great post Carey especially as it emphasises the importance of looking forward and it applies across the board and around the world. We in New Zealand need to ask the very same questions.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 28, 2020 at 5:00 pm

      Thanks Richard. It’s a global issue for sure! Love New Zealand. 🙂

  5. George on May 27, 2020 at 6:43 pm

    You have been a blessing to me through your write-up. God bless you.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 28, 2020 at 5:00 pm

      George thanks so much!

    • Peter on June 5, 2020 at 2:05 am

      In some Countries, I’m pretty sure attendance would come back to normal. I’m just waiting for the ease of the lockdown. This is due to the high % of the unchurched who would still come to church for f2f counseling, prayers, fellowship and healing ministrations. Economies differ. So let’s wait and I’ll give feedback on the statistics. I’ve noticed the way church is run in some countries is way different from Europe or America.

  6. David Del Rosario on May 27, 2020 at 12:41 pm

    I like your comment about reaching the un-churched and I absolutely agree if they see us responding in a way that is sensitive to those who are fearful of group gatherings and responding in away that is not against public policy like some churches have done recently we will gain more respect.

    Our church is a multi generation church and we have a strong Seniors Ministry that was meeting every Friday morning prior to Covid19.

    I really appreciate your insight Carey. Thank you for your daily blog

    Dave Del Rosario
    Anchor Church, Kaneohe Hawaii

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 27, 2020 at 3:51 pm

      Thanks so much Dave. Appreciate it and your ministry in Hawaii.

      • Edward Otieno on May 29, 2020 at 7:35 am

        Great piece, it has made me to begin thinking ahead. Am blessed and inspired

  7. Tracy on May 27, 2020 at 12:35 pm

    Thanks Carey. Appreciate your ministry. I am a DTS graduate/instructor and practiced law for almost 30 years. Glad for your thoughtful, consistent insight and guidance. Blessings.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 27, 2020 at 3:51 pm

      Thanks Tracy! That’s a long, and I’m sure, rich practice. 🙂

  8. Trace Howard on May 27, 2020 at 9:56 am

    I would say that the better question is not what does your insurance company say – the better question is what does your policy say, especially standard of care provisions and exclusions. The policy will be narrowly construed by the company. Just a thought to consider. I dealt with insurance companies throughout my legal career of some thirty years. Blessings.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 27, 2020 at 11:31 am

      That’s an excellent point. Often what companies will ‘sell’ and what they honor are two different things. I’ve been blessed by great insurance companies, but it’s the exception.

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