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