Here Comes 2021: 7 Things Every Leader Should Be Preparing For Now

2021 is here, and already off to an unsteady start.

How on earth do you plan in an environment like this?

While no one knows the future, that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare.

And while I have no greater insight into the future than you do, here are 7 things I’m planning around as 2021 continues. I’ll also share a short action step with each insight.

2020 didn’t turn out how anyone thought it would, and wise leaders won’t be quick to assume that 2021 will be any better, as much as we’d all love it to be.

I really hope this helps. Note: While the first three feel negative (and we’ve all had enough negative), please don’t skip them. There is hope.

Here’s the promise: Leaders who prepare to lead in the real world tend to find greater success than leaders who prepare for an ideal world that doesn’t exist.

With that in mind, here are 7 things every leader should be preparing for now as 2021 approaches.

1. Uncertainty

Being a recovering control freak myself, I love predictability. Right now, nothing is really predictable.

Leading through uncertainty—in this case, prolonged uncertainty—requires a whole new skill set.

If you want to position yourself to lead well in the midst of uncertainty, develop your agility and flexibility.

Those two attributes will help you respond as things continue to change.

If you’re wondering how to become more agile and flexible as a leader and organization, this will help.

2. Instability

Uncertainty is one thing. It removes your ability to see what’s ahead and around.

Instability is different. Instability means that the present circumstances are volatile and unsteady. They just keep changing all the time.

Think about the return to church for most leaders. Most church leaders thought people would surge back to in-person worship. That hasn’t happened.

And now most church leaders who have reopened for physical gatherings find themselves caught in the trap of having inadequate resources to do both online and in-person services well. Worse, you’re trying to figure out where everyone went.

One of the best ways to lead through instability is to pour more resources into what’s gaining traction and removing resources from what isn’t.

The best way to create future momentum is to pour resources into anything that’s producing current momentum. That’s why restaurants are beefing up takeout and drive-thrus, Hollywood is releasing direct to your devices, gyms are moving to outdoor classes and churches are investing more and more in online experiences.

In an unstable environment, when you find momentum, fuel it. And keep experimenting.

3. Economic strangeness

I wanted to call this economic ‘volatility,’ but that would be too charitable.

The economy right now is just, well, strange. It’s been a very uneven year. The poor have gotten poorer, the rich have become richer.

People are spending like there’s no tomorrow on luxury goods and real estate and also saving money at historic highs, while others on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum go broke.

Downtown cores are seeing commercial real estate vacancies soar, and the stock market is soaring to record heights. while whole sectors of the economy are on the verge of disappearing.

Who knows what’s going to happen next? And the US Presidential election just throws an extra measure of unpredictability into the mix.

My thought? We need to prepare for a season of deep savings and deep charity.

In 2021, organizations with good cash reserves will have the buffer both to keep going and to keep giving.

If you’re curious, I’ve asked many leaders on my Leadership Podcast what a decent cash reserve is, and the consensus is three to six months of expenses in the bank.

You can’t give what you don’t have.

4. Opportunity

In the midst of all of this is opportunity.

Great innovation is born out of great crisis.

Crisis is an accelerator, and many of the changes we’ve seen (the emerge of the home as the new hub for fitness, schooling, work, shopping, entertainment and church) were coming anyway, they just got here faster.

The very obstacle you’re fearing might be the greatest opportunity you’re facing. It all depends on how you look at it.

As Bobby Gruenewald shared at the Online Church Engagement Summit, YouVersion, the free bible app, was born out of his frustration of wishing he could read the Bible more when he was on the road (or in line at the TSA). 443 million downloads later, history is changed because of his solution to that problem. You can watch the ninety minute Summit on demand for free here.

So, what are you seeing? Obstacle or opportunity? The future belongs to those who find the opportunity.

5. Model Reboot

Along with finding the opportunity comes rebooting your model.

The longer the uncertainty and volatility continue, the more outdated your previous model as an organization becomes.

Long before the pandemic, the existing church model of in-person attendance in buildings was showing signs of ineffectiveness. You can look at this 2018 church trends post for more on that.

The crisis is accelerating both your opportunities and your need to change.

If there’s ever been a moment to rethink how you do what you do, it’s now.

Now more than ever, churches that love their model more than their mission will die.

6. Staff Reallocation

My guess is your staff and volunteers are positioned to lead in the old reality not the new reality that’s emerged.

But as what we all thought might be a temporary blip becomes a protracted crisis, it’s probably time to rethink how you allocate your staff. The half time ‘tech guy’ isn’t going to get you into the future. Nor is the tack on of  ‘website and social media’ to someone’s already full-time job description.

One way to think through the model reboot and staffing allocations is to ask yourself, “If we were launching today, what would we do?” Then go do it.

In a prolonged crisis, every organization that will prevail is acting like a start-up. So, act like a start-up.

7. Deeper Personal Reserves

I realize posts like this can blow up your life and make your already insufferably long to-do list longer. And many of you don’t even have the energy to think about doing this right now.

I get it.

I saved the most important until last, but the best thing you can do is deepen your personal reserves for the season ahead.

Maybe you’re thinking that time off will heal you (at Christmas, in February…whenever). I doubt it.

Time off won’t heal you when the problem is how you spend time on. When every day grinds you into the dust with long hours, you won’t make it to vacation.

The cure for an unsustainable pace is to create a sustainable pace.

For me, that means mastering the art of saying no, clearing my calendar, deciding to quit doing the things that aren’t working and building in margin to the every day.

If you think you can’t afford to do that, you’re wrong. You can’t afford not to do that.

Having burned out years ago, I know the pain burnout causes.

So here’s to deepening your personal reserves. (This will help). If you have deep reserves, tackling everything else in this post becomes not just easier, but doable.

Cheering for you.

Flex, Grow and Thrive in 2021


Yes, there’s a ton of change happening right now. And it’s exhausting.

As complex as things are, having a simple framework to navigate the change will make the task ahead much easier, including everything we’ve covered in this post.

The challenge for most churches is they have a hard time making decisions, and even when they make a decision, they find it even harder to implement it.

Change that.

My new online training, the 30-Day Pivot, will show you how to make and implement decisions quickly and accurately as an organization.

The 30-Day Pivot is a simple 3-step process you and your team can utilize every as often as every 30 days to respond to the change around you and capitalize on it.

In the 30-Day Pivot, you’ll learn:
  • A simple 3-step process your team can use to arrive at your next pivot in 90 minutes or less.
  • An approach that fosters team-generated innovation.
  • An implementation and evaluation framework that will help your team move quickly and accurately.
I’ve led teams through multiple pivots, and in the 30 Day Pivot, I show you the strategy and framework you need to make quick, accurate and responsive moves that can position your organization for growth, even in the midst of deep uncertainty and change.

Some organizations and churches will thrive in the new normal.

Others won’t.

While the future is uncertain, yours doesn’t have to be.

What Are You Preparing For?

What are you preparing for as you head into 2021?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

Here Comes 2021: 7 Things Every Leader Should Be Preparing For Now


  1. Pastor Marcos Anthony Baah on October 12, 2021 at 3:38 pm

    I am a leader of a church in Africa /Ghana, can you help me in your podcast to help mine church grow

  2. Michaels on January 14, 2021 at 4:53 am

    Thank you for encouragement, it is also the time for the parents to create a space for teaching the children concerning the bible in their homes.

  3. Katrina Dorroh on January 13, 2021 at 11:28 am

    Hi, What do you think Children’s Ministry will look like coming out this pandemic? I feel like families are “circling the wagon” where I do ministry and we are seeing less of them. Do you see the church model moving from Children’s and Youth Ministry specific ministry to more a “family ministry” model? I feel like most church models are stuck in what worked well in 1980’s.


    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 13, 2021 at 3:49 pm

      I think there will definitely be a heavier emphasis on equipping parents to lead their kids moving forward. A lot is moving home, and that will as well for a time, and maybe forever.

  4. Brian James on January 13, 2021 at 8:18 am

    Need some encouragement that resigning becomes a healthy decision. I’m not sure a sustained pace can be found in the world around me. I like to stay married too.

    • Steve Queen on January 13, 2021 at 10:38 pm

      Praying for you Brian. I have been there and made that decision last year. May the grace and peace of Christ be yours on your journey.

  5. David Faulkner on January 13, 2021 at 5:13 am


    I love your advice on instability – to pour resources into what’s working and withdraw from what isn’t.

    But I wanted to ask a question of clarification when you write about keeping three to six months’ worth of expenses in the bank. Is that advice for individuals or for churches or for both? In my Methodist circuit (group of churches that work together) here in the UK we decided early on to up our reserves policy from six months of income to twelve. It does mean we’ve had to suspend normal applications for grants, but we did it so that the churches could have freedom to function in whatever ways they found to be right, knowing that if they hit trouble there would be a buffer to help them.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 13, 2021 at 3:53 pm

      Hey David!

      I don’t necessarily have a hard line that I draw. I think 12 months is a great line if you think that is what best for your churches.

      This pandemic has shown us that more is often better if you can afford it.

      • Dave on January 13, 2021 at 9:32 pm

        Hi Carey,

        Thanks again for looking ahead. I really appreciate the fact that you meet and talk with so many leaders in the Church space and the work place. I also value the fact you don’t meet only with folks who think as you do. This gives weight to what you present.

        Between the data from groups like Barna and PushPay to anecdotal information from folks like Andy Stanley, you weave a tapestry of information leaders can glean from. I don’t always like what I hear, but it causes me to weigh it against other sources too. More often than not you summations are spot on.

        The fact is, the playing field has changed, even if the harvest has not. The end goal remains but the methods must adjust to the unfolding landscape before us.

        Thanks for looking ahead to the horizon.


        • Carey Nieuwhof on January 14, 2021 at 5:43 pm

          Glad to help Dave!

          I really do try.

  6. Cristy on October 20, 2020 at 10:24 am

    I love the encouragement to dream. You didn’t say it like that -but that’s how I heard #5 AND #6. We can’t stop dreaming, even in the wilderness. In fact, God is always more present in the wilderness than when we are comfortable settled (just remember, He guided Israel with the cloud by day and fire by night in the desert but then they got nothing so dramatic once they took the land!). As a 7-year old church, we are dreaming in this season and seeing growth. It’s been very difficult to quantify and we are asking ourselves the same questions everyone else is, but it’s become apparent that we are reaching new people by refusing to abandon the basics – make disciples of every nation. Keep up the great work! Your blog and podcasts have been so encouraging to me, an associate pastor (not even the lead pastor), in all of this.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 20, 2020 at 2:10 pm

      So glad to help!

  7. Peter on October 18, 2020 at 4:37 am

    Hi Carey, this was a very well written article! Kudos 🙂 As Christians we look towards our pastors and seniors in the church for leadership and times like this pandemic really need steadfast leadership to help us weather the storm. I believe things like this really test our Faith and while some’s are stronger than others, our pastors and seniors in the church should be taking extra steps on making sure their congregation feels safe during these rocky times. Things such as more outreach, extra in church meet ups and what not could really be that little extra help that someone could use. Anyways great article, thank you!!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 18, 2020 at 9:05 pm

      Glad to help!

  8. Pastor Emmanuel O. Johnson on October 16, 2020 at 6:49 pm

    Thanks and Blessings for this insightful teaching. Knowledge is power. People perish because of lack of KNOWLEDGE ! !

  9. Emmanuel on October 16, 2020 at 11:26 am

    Amen! Thank you for sharing this helpful insight. As a pastor I have been trying to listen and learn from others!

  10. Gary W Tesmer on October 16, 2020 at 11:16 am

    I am 67 years old Pastoring a small church (even smaller since the Covid with more on line then in line at the church) and all I can think about when I read these articles is here another “something new” to try and a month from now there will be another “something new” and another “something new” How many something news do we try before we get burned out and give up? Listen I am all for new ideas but how many do you try before you say enough is enough? The Gospel never gets old or outdated. Its all about changed hearts and lives not programs. We are told not to compare ourselves but I feel some of these programs cause us to do just that and make some feel they have failed if they don’t “measure up” or they don’t work for you. I am not trying to be negative here I am just venting because it is so hard today as you know to try and get people back in church or to church period, that you exhaust yourself reading all this and ask yourself what really works’ Thanks.

    • Brian McMichan on October 16, 2020 at 4:13 pm

      Hi Gary,

      First, you are NOT 67 years old … you have had your 67th birthday so you are only 66 and a few weeks/months of age … you are younger than you think. (please share that fact with others so they start to think younger … the Truth sets you free.)

      Like you, I am very concerned that so, so much “teaching” by Carey is “flesh/logic/etc.” ….. as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ (& I hope that ALL have complied with John 3:7 … You MUST be born again (dead to self and reliant on the Holy Spirit … following Jesus’ example by full immersion in water, washing the “old man” away (for Jesus, the carpenter) and then receiving the Holy Spirit. (the water can be a river, a lake, a pond or even under a shower … Father sees your faith when you take the step of faith.)

      THEN … as Christ Jesus did ….. Prov 3:5 Lean on, trust in, {and} be confident in the Lord (the Holy Spirit) with all your heart {and} mind and do not rely on your own insight {or} understanding.
      Prov 3:6 In all your ways know, recognize, {and} acknowledge Him, and He will direct {and} make straight {and} plain your paths.
      Prov 3:7 Be not wise in your own eyes; reverently fear {and} worship the Lord and turn [entirely] away from evil.
      Prov 3:8 It shall be health to your nerves {and} sinews, and marrow {and} moistening to your bones

      Because if you don’t ….
      Rom 8:13 For if you live according to [the dictates of] the flesh, you will surely die. But if through the power of the [Holy] Spirit you are [habitually] putting to death (making extinct, deadening) the [evil] deeds prompted by the body, you shall [really and genuinely] live forever.
      Rom 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

      So to help all in this troubled world …. put on the full armour of God (the Holy Spirit) THEN intercede for all the saints …. (Eph 6:10-18) ….. see John 3:16 … WHOSOEVER believes will be saved … in these troubled times many will be drawn to look up and call out “Help me!” ….(intercession for the world is what Father wants) …. and Father may then say, “Ah! I finally have your attention!” ….. Read John 6:44 ….. no one comes to Lord Jesus unless Father draws them …… and when people are grafted into the True Vine (John 15) we become ONE with the Vine …. AND (1 John 4:17) …. as He is, SO ARE WE IN THIS WORLD!

      Christianity (Christ-in) is so simple … all that is required is to have trust and WAIT on God. ….. He is waiting to hear from the WHOLE WORLD!

  11. Mark on October 16, 2020 at 10:11 am

    If you are not already doing so, prepare for working with the people you have, not the people you want or wish you had. If your online following is Gen Z, then work with them and help them even if you really wanted young couples with children. The same goes for ultra-educated urban professionals when you really wanted people who will be ok with pat answers. Additionally, online is here to stay and only going to grow larger. Consider a membership category for people who attend virtually.

  12. Vicki on October 16, 2020 at 9:47 am

    Thank you.
    Love your insights.
    Stay faithful.


  13. Jeff Hook on October 16, 2020 at 9:41 am

    Carey, Another good post! In these uncertain times, God has given us another opportunity to learn to completely trust Him. The uncertainty tests our faith; as in education, testing reinforces learning and learning makes us better. Let’s look at this as an opportunity to learn to love the Lord with all of our minds.

  14. Patrick Oboth on October 16, 2020 at 9:11 am

    Very powerful nugget of faith and direction

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