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Be aware of those who have disconnected...

How do you lead the church in a post-Covid world? That’s the question we put to American author, speaker and pastor, Ed Stetzer.

As we emerge from the pandemic, what advice do you have for pastors considering how to lead their churches in a post-Covid season?

"I would say the first thing pastors need to be asking is what their strategy is for not just beginning to meet again, but for bringing people back to church.

"As the vaccine rolls out widely, we know summer will be a substantial transition time. With that in mind, it looks like autumn will be a time when people start to resume somewhat more normal activities, so we need to ask how, during the summer, we will prepare to reach people who will re-engage in the autumn.

"What’s probably happened in churches is the committed people – the front 25% of your rows – have stayed committed, then the middle 50% are probably weary and a little disillusioned but are ready to get back into things.

"I would encourage churches to be aware of the people who have disconnected and dropped out – that might be the 25% who sit in the back rows. What is your plan to connect with them over the summer so they re-engage with you by the time we get to autumn?

"People are going to need persuasion, exhortation and assurances that we’re going to be gathering carefully. So, yes, the first thing I’d be asking is what does it look like to reassemble people."

What else should church leaders focus on?

"The second question they should ask is what their strategy is for reaching new people. For a long time, it has been to invite somebody to church, but if you weren’t a Christian, you were unsure about going to church and were looking for an excuse not to go. A global pandemic is a pretty strong reason.

"My advice would be that during the spring and summer, I would really be spending time helping people in your church learn how to share their faith more effectively because we’re still interacting with our neighbours and we’ll be doing that even more when it gets warmer.

"How do we move the responsibility for evangelism from pastors and gathered worship experiences to neighbours, co-workers and family members? I think there could be a great harvest this autumn if we do that."

Mental health issues have escalated during the pandemic. Do you have any advice for pastors in helping people with this?

"Firstly, I’d say we need to first normalise conversations about mental health. In my church, I preached on Philippians 4, ‘be anxious for nothing’. In that sermon, I told people that I’ve been dealing with low-level anxiety since the beginning of the pandemic, and that’s something I keep giving over to the Lord. It’s never been harder to lead, to be a dad and a husband and all those things.

"There’s a stigma about mental health but sermons break stigmas, so I would encourage Christian leaders to talk about mental health issues to normalise the conversation about them.

"Secondly, I would mobilise more people to be engaged in this and to care for one another. Most people struggling with their mental health right now don’t necessarily need to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist. I’m all for engaging with mental health professionals, but most people just need someone to talk to."

Supporting people struggling with mental health issues is a big responsibility for pastors. Is there anything that might help with this?

"Typically pastors or the police are the ones who get the first call, yet often the police have more training in this than pastors. So I do think this is a good time for Christians and churches to energise partnerships with mental health professionals in the community.

"Speaking for myself, I’ve got four graduate degrees, but I don’t have extensive training in mental health, so these partnerships can be really helpful.

"Different people have different philosophies or ways to do that – some people say they’d only work with a Christian organisation, and that’s fine. In that case, just find a reputable Christian organisation that deals with mental health and understands it in a way that you haven’t been trained to.

"Right now, a lot of counselling organisations have been overwhelmed. So another question to ask is how can we come alongside them?

"I think if we walk those paths, we can make it through this, but we also need to have a healthier posture towards mental health and faith."

Do you think the pandemic has created new opportunities for churches?

As we come out of the pandemic, I hope that churches will more intentionally and deploy God’s people for mission.

"At the height of it, it seemed like everything shut down, but actually, what’s been great is that a lot of people stepped up and were serving their neighbours. Churches were more engaged, serving their communities too. So let’s not lose that. Let’s continue having that level of ongoing engagement.

Have you seen that happening in your own church?

"Yes. We used to have this big fellowship area where people would sit around and talk, but obviously, during the pandemic, we didn’t want them to do that anymore, so that has now become a staging area for food that we distribute to our community in partnership with other organisations.

"We were always engaged and always had care centres, but we’re engaged at a much higher level now.

"It’s good that people see that the place we used to sit back, relax and have a cup of coffee in is now the place where we meet from Monday to Friday to serve the poor and our community. I don’t think the pandemic is a good thing, but we’ve all been changed and some of that will be changed for the better.

"Like many other churches, we’ve adapted and embraced technology in a different way. Last Christmas we couldn’t have a Christmas Eve service, so one of the things we did was to ask everybody in the church to record their testimony on Facebook Live. We then invited people to an online evangelism event on a website called christmasandcalvary.com where the gospel was shared.

"The way technology has developed like this has been really encouraging and I would say no one will be going back to a pre-technology age. The question now is how we incorporate that permanently in the life and structure of the church.

"Also, people really have got engaged and involved in ministry and mission at a higher level, which is really encouraging too."

How about you – what have you been working on over the past year?

Most of our focus has been on helping churches. Early on in the pandemic, our organisation – the Wheaton College Billy Graham Centre – pivoted and launched coronavirusandthechurch.com. We did that in partnership with Rick Warren and the Peace Plan in order to help lead the conversation on how churches might best respond and provide resources to help them.

"I did a crazy Facebook Live from my basement that over 200,000 people ended up watching, geared towards pastors and church leaders and how they needed to take the pandemic more seriously.

"I think a lot of them did. My hope was to say to the church, 'Let’s stand up, let’s stand out, let’s stand in the gap and show and share the love of Jesus.' I think five years from now people will talk about how the church was more faithful and more fruitful in this really difficult time."

What do you have planned for the rest of the year?

"I’m writing a book on American evangelicalism and its future. My focus right now is trying to speak prophetically into the movement of evangelicalism so that it might be shaped more about the gospel and less by its public perception and its ongoing errors.

"That’s kind of my passion right now." 

Mission-ready leaders and churches 

How can we creatively share the love of Jesus in a post-pandemic reality, and so be equipped to do what the writer of Hebrews said, to provoke one another to love and good deeds? Watch Ed share this important message at our Elim Leaders Summit in 2021.

PERSONAL REFLECTION

  1. How does understanding the ‘headwinds of evangelism’ better prepare me to lead a mission-ready church/ministry as we engage with our community post-pandemic?
  2. Have I unintentionally cast a vision that says gathering is not important?
  3. How will I work forward in creating a greater engagement in mission?
     

GROUP DISCUSSION

  1. As we relaunch post-pandemic, what do we want to be known for?
  2. What will we do to reach people far from God with demonstration and the proclamation of the gospel?
  3. What has the pandemic challenged about the way we disciple others and as a result, how will we disciple those who are being reached?
     

ACTION

  1. What is one thing I will as a result of this talk and when will I do it?
     
ELS-2021-Ed
 

Who is Ed Stetzer?

Ed has planted, revitalised and pastored churches and trained pastors around the world. He holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission and Evangelism at Wheaton College, where he also serves as the Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry and Leadership. He is also a teaching pastor at Highpoint Church.

As an author, he has written dozens of books, including Christians in the Age of Outrage, Planting Missional Churches and Subversive Kingdom: Becoming Agents of Gospel Transformation. He is also a contributing editor for Christianity Today.

Ed is married to Donna with three daughters. He was a guest speaker at Elim’s Leaders Summit in June 2021.

Book now for our next summit at elimleaders.org.uk

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