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As a global church we are at a unique time in history. We have faced into a global health pandemic that shut down large parts of the planet and only now (certainly in the UK) are things beginning to return to some semblance of normal. Even in writing that down in black and white it looks far too certain!
Post-pandemic churches remerging after a season of forced lockdown are now discovering that getting going is certainly not as simple as flipping the light switch on in our buildings. The world has changed. Our people have changed. At least we think they are still our people?
Churches are facing all sorts of challenges including, much lower numbers now attending church on a Sunday, a lack of volunteers to resource church, a general weariness in everyone including some very tired leaders and a lack of understanding about what has actually changed.
It is a potentially very confusing time to lead.
A Framework For This Season
I was in a conversation with some leaders the other day and one of them mentioned that it feels like they are replanting a church at the moment.
A light bulb went off in my head.
This season is not so much about restarting church activities but replanting church. We find ourselves a year and half on and the world we last led “normal” church in has gone. Some of the people we led have gone and those who have stuck with us are tired.
You have heard of the Great Depression, the Great Recession and the Great Reset, well I think we might be in the season of the Great Replant.
So let me unpack some ways this season is like planting a church and how this can be helpful lens to look at things for the months and years ahead. I’ve personally found this a really helpful way to think about what needs to happen next.
1. Casting A Vision
Everyone is weary and as things re-open lives are suddenly busier than ever. Our lives of hurry are picking up pace (I wrote about leading in an age of hurry here).
In a world where church was forced to fit neatly into an hour broadcast on a Sunday suddenly many other things are competing for people’s time.
The road back isn’t found through guilt, shame or reminding people they have a responsibility. The road back is vision.
So much has changed for people and in that time, for some, the vision of church has become murky, distant or perhaps simply irrelevant.
At the heart of a church plant is vision. It attracts people, it attracts resources and it creates momentum. People don’t join a church plant for an easy life, or to be anonymous. They join a church plant because it’s exciting, it’s dynamic, and it is something worth paying a cost for.
In this season it is our role as leaders to paint a new picture of a new reality.
A vision that is more compelling than the kids football game on a Sunday morning. A vision that looks around and sees opportunity where others see challenge.
As the church we have one of the most dynamic missions and we need to find new ways to express it for the world we find ourselves in.
Like starting a church plant we need to hear the voice of God over our community and announce bolding where God wants to take us.
As we famously hear again and again – without vision people cast off restraint. In other words – they fill their lives with the good rather than the great. They become distracted and busy and church becomes an add on.
Our vision for church can help people see things differently.
2. Recruiting High Capacity Volunteers
Many churches as they look to restart regular Sunday worship suddenly find that the key volunteers they relied on previously are no longer available. After 18 months off many people find the idea of offering 3 hours of their time on a Sunday morning more challenging!
We all do if we are honest, even church leaders!
Church plants rely heavily on high capacity volunteers. The kind of volunteers that are happy to lead, take some weight and move the mission forward. Without key volunteers they can struggle.
When a church plant is getting off the ground there is no space for people who want to sit on the sidelines. Everyone gets to play and everyone is needed to play.
For things to grow and develop it requires volunteers who are willing to take on additional load as most church plants can’t finance additional staff.
So in this season of post-pandemic church one of the greatest needs is for high capacity volunteers. Again this comes back to the vision piece. Capable volunteers will sacrifice for a vision. Where there is no vision the idea of giving up extra time or energy doesn’t feel all that appealing.
3. Focus on Discipleship in Community
If what was previously attracting people to church was the program, the kids work, the quality of the music then this pandemic has probably shaken all that up.
Church plants are normally starting on a smaller scale. They don’t have the resources for a hundred courses, or even an all singing, all dancing kids work.
The thing that attracts people is the community, the love they are shown, the lives being done together. Church plants tend to have a high emphasis on being together and on personal life change.
Similarly the thing that will attract people in this season will not be the flashy programs it will be sense of family that invites us on a journey of discipleship.
I believe a focus on discipleship is going to be central in this season (I wrote about some of the challenges here). Are people growing and having their lives changed?
4. Reshaping and Adapting To The Environment
Church plants by their very nature are pioneering and quick to experiment as opportunities present themselves. As churches become more established and larger they tend to become less flexible unless they are intentional
Structures and systems necessary for growth tend to calcify and can prevent new innovation.
In this post-pandemic season many are waiting to see what the lay of the land is. In an unknown environment with so much change happening the organisations and individuals that can spot opportunities and adapt quickly will tend to fare the best.
If churches in this season can be freed up to try things, innovate and adapt then they are positioned well for change.
Church plants tend to try all sorts of things in a community to see what works, what helps them engage. In this new post-pandemic world this is something we all need to try.
The Great Replant
For me this framework of a church replant has been helpful. Things have changed significantly in the past two years and some of the trends that have accelerated will require a nimble, responsive and dynamic church.
Perhaps this is the season of the Great Replant?
What do you think?
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