If there’s one word that sums up the experience of the church in 2020 (and now 2021) it may be the word “Pivot.” The foundational assumptions of when, where, and how we facilitate ministry have been upended. Because of COVID, it’s likely your Sunday School classes and community groups haven’t been meeting. If you are having worship gatherings they are likely at a greatly reduced capacity. People simply aren’t coming like they did before COVID.
We have all always known the real church isn’t a building. Every one of us could preach a sermon or lay out a lesson that passionately proclaims the church is the people not the steeple. Even so, that hasn’t kept us from relying on in-person gatherings as the primary way of conducting church. So what can we do in light of the setbacks the church is experiencing.
Your initial reaction may be one of paralysis; choosing to watch and wait and wonder when things will go back to normal again so you can go back to doing ministry the way you have always done it. But there’s danger that comes with getting stuck in this “freeze” response. People need pastoral care, Bible study, and biblical perspective right now.
While people may not be coming to church, they still desperately need the influence of the church in their lives. As people deal with isolation, job losses, health crises, and death, they need Jesus. We as the church need to act with a sense or urgency during this season. If people can’t or won’t come to church, we need to find new ways to take church to them. The gospel is too important. We need to be determined to not allow our ministry to be deterred or deferred. It’s time for us to take active steps to pivot our strategies. We need to warm up to the idea of Plan B.
ASSESS THE SITUATION ACCURATELY
The first step in adjusting your plan so you can pivot properly is to accurately assess the situation. The emphasis here is on accuracy. Tell yourself the truth about the situation. Because your assessment directly impacts your action plan, it is essential that your observations be true and valid representations of the situation and of your available resources.
In Numbers 13, Moses sent out 12 men to spy on Canaan. Ten men came back with a negative perception, and two with favorable one. In that instance, all 12 saw the same things; they did not dispute what they saw, but they interpreted the data differently. The lessons here for us: First, it is wise to not assess a crisis by yourself. Multiple perspectives are important. You don’t need to have twelve advisors, but there is wisdom in conducting assessments with a trusted team, not in isolation. Second, the larger group may make observations, but the data gathered should be interpreted by wise and trusted leaders who are strong people of faith, committed to the cause of your ministry.
REASSESS YOUR KEY ASSUMPTIONS
Making an adjustment from Plan A to Plan B offers you an important opportunity to check your focus. It’s time to ask clarifying questions about what you will choose to categorize as essential and non-essential operations. I call this clarifying your “why.” Before delving deeply into the “what” and “how” of a new plan, it is essential to first bring clarity to a clear and compelling purpose for your plan. You cannot move forward into a viable and effective Plan B without revisiting and clarifying your foundational purpose and goal.
ASSESS AVAILABILITY OF ASSETS
Once you have an accurate idea of the situation, you need to assemble an accurate assessment of what resources you have available. A word of caution here: It can be easy to improperly focus your attention on what you don’t have, rather than what you do have. What matters most in a crisis situation is knowing what options are available. These assets will help you establish a workable action plan.
When Moses stood before God at the burning bush in Exodus 4, he was quick to list the skills and assets he lacked as an explanation of why he could not do what God asked of him. God’s response, however, was to ask Moses, “What’s that in your hand?” God then took the one thing Moses had, his ordinary staff, and used it in miraculous ways as an instrumental tool in accomplishing His plan.
Jesus did this at the feeding of the five thousand. When His disciples came to Him with an impossible problem, Jesus asked them in Mark 6:38, “How many loaves do you have?” He asked. “Go and see.” He then instructed them to bring what they had to Him, and He proceeded to do something big with the little they had available.
As you assess your available options, don’t worry about what you lack; instead, list whatever things you have “in your hand.” Lift whatever resources you have to the Lord, and trust Him to use whatever you have for His glory.
BE ACTION ORIENTED
The purpose of assessment should always be action. We don’t assess merely for the sake of interest, or simply to explain why things aren’t happening. Assess from a standpoint of gathering data that can be used to formulate an actionable plan. This typically means generating a prioritized list of sub-goals and then setting immediate, intermediate, and long-term actions to accomplish them.
In the short term, be careful to only fix what’s really broken and only add what’s needed. Start with essentials. Preserve and secure your necessary functions. Maintain and sustain your base actions, then expand your plan gradually toward operating at full capacity.
Assessment should not be a one-time event, but an ongoing process of recurring evaluation. This is especially true during seasons when we are implementing temporary short-term strategies. In some seasons you may need to re-assess assumptions, available resources, and action plans weekly. Whatever you do, don’t do nothing. Take the first step to a new action plan by assessing the situation, re-examining your core purpose, and identifying your available assets so you can create a solid action plan for the future.
Chuck Peters is Director of Operations for Lifeway Kids. A graduate of Columbia Bible College, Chuck has served vocationally & voluntarily in Student and Children’s Ministry for many years.