By Jesse Campbell
My soul aches to hear my church family singing behind me. I know yours does, too.
In Jesus’ name, that collective voice we hear behind us when our churches worship corporately through music is going to be louder when we reconvene after the Coronavirus abates.
Even amid tragic and trying circumstances, I see God reaching new people through our church.
What we prayed in my previous article, God is doing! People we weren’t reaching before are giving their lives to Christ! That is amazing.
Even as we adapt into online ministry today, we must plan to engage these seekers and new believers in church life tomorrow.
When I launched an online preaching ministry and saw people give their lives to Christ, one of the most rewarding and busying tasks that followed was connecting new believers to nearby churches that faithfully adhered to God’s Word.
If you’ve been wisely focusing your online reach to your immediate geographic proximity, you have an incredible opportunity see God reap a huge harvest in your congregation.
I’m deeply grateful for my team and my advisors, but my heart goes out to pastors and ministry leaders who feel alone in this.
For those who feel overwhelmed at the prospect of an influx of new believers—or are worried they won’t successfully connect with “visitors” who have been tuning in to livestreamed worship services—here are some stratagems for how to engage people into the church family when this present pandemic subsides.
1. SET A WEEKLY RHYTHM THAT EQUIPS; NOT A SPOON-FEEDING CYCLE THAT CREATES DEPENDENTS
Our team is working through a daily rhythm of live video content with morning devotionals, lunchtime podcasts, afternoon worship sessions, and evening Bible studies.
As of late March 2020, this rhythm is proving to be fruitful, but we won’t (and shouldn’t) maintain this pace forever.
There’s a threshold—a saturation point—whereupon the law of diminishing returns sets in and the people in our lives who are far from God turn us off and digitally isolate themselves from us by “unfriending” and muting us on social media.
I don’t know where that threshold lies, but I’m trying to be sensitive to it and I also know there’s a balance to be struck with such constant content when we return to meeting in person.
For the sake of my team and the prevention of burnout long-term, some of these daily events will have to subside when we all emerge from our social distancing to gather at the bonfire.
So, the more we’re currently doing that equips people to read God’s Word on their own, the more sustainable our current efforts will be in the long-haul.
If we are currently training people to be dependent upon us to spoon feed them constantly, then we are setting them up for failure when the virus subsides and we reduce our online efforts.
But if we’re currently training people to grasp God’s Word for themselves, whetting their appetites for corporate worship, and equipping them to hone their spiritual gifts to serve in God’s kingdom when we physically gather again, we’re setting newcomers to the faith up for success.
2. LET “JETHRO” RELAUNCH YOUR GROUPS MINISTRY
When churches reconvene, it could feel like the music just stopped in a massive game of musical chairs. Groups usually grow incrementally, but our churches need to be ready for a leap when life returns to normal.
If your groups ministry or Sunday School strategy is not currently ready to launch new groups/classes or accommodate newcomers, this is the time to rectify that.
Applying the way Jethro counseled Moses to delegate authority, recruit a team leader to oversee the enlistment, vetting, background-checking, training, and oversight of new group leaders.
Pair these new group leaders with veteran group leaders so that rookies may be trained up and shown the ropes.
If “closed” groups who have been meeting together for years and have no interest in onboarding new members are willing to let their leader take on a protégé, these new leaders-in-training would benefit from quietly joining in the Zoom call of an established group to see how it is done.
If you already have a mentor/apprentice culture in your groups ministry, now is the time to prepare the people in sizeable groups to split upon our reemergence.
Remind them of the mission, paint a picture in their minds of what could be, and create space in groups for new believers to connect in authentic relationships through groups in their new church home.
The drift factor is real right now. People who were not fully committed before will take full advantage of this time to excuse their own drift from the fellowship of the church.
So, be both a gardener and a shepherd: reap the harvest and bring home the wayward sheep.
3. PREPARE TO MEET IN REAL LIFE
While online dating is completely different from online church-shopping, I would be willing to bet that they both entail similar senses of anxiety when it comes to meeting in real life.
Remember that, for the curious online guest, physically attending worship after this necessarily entails an in-person meeting with people he or she first encountered online.
They might feel anxious about being seen in person, so prepare your greeting team accordingly.
Simultaneously, realize that they will see what you look like without good lighting. They will see our bad angles, smell our nurseries, and taste our lobby coffee.
When you return to the church building this week to record or broadcast your sermon, take advantage of the opportunity to see things fresh and anew through the eyes of the people who already like your church, but have yet to experience the parking lot and restrooms.
Retool your discovery journey for guests—or launch a new one. Take the agenda for your newcomers’ luncheon and use it in a video conference setting, sending invitations to people who express interest through online responses to your messages.
Optimize your response system through an online form that has a follow-up workflow. We call ours “Connect Cards” and our team distributes them for thoughtful connections with people according to their needs and next steps.
As you boldly proclaim the gospel to the internet, don’t leave behind a diaspora of spiritual orphans. If your church isn’t prepared to disciple new believers saved during this time, please connect them with a church that is prepared.
4. SLAY THE SLACKERS IN YOUR MINISTRY PROGRAMMING
This is your chance to abolish the clubs and reallocate those resources toward outreach. As a side effect, we as churches are currently undergoing a litmus test of our evangelistic mindsets.
Slide your chair back from your desk and look at the what you are currently not doing. Many of those inwardly focused social clubs within our churches that took us off of our disciple-making mission cannot meet right now.
Though some eternally meaningful fellowships were halted by our stay-at-home orders, God also just cut every branch in our churches that was not bearing fruit. Seize the opportunity to reevaluate and refocus your ministry efforts.
The people who come to your church after this know nothing about the longstanding fruitless ministry endeavors that catered only to inwardly-focused church members with nothing to show for it. So, cull the fruitless programs to the glory of God.
A long absence from a fruitful ministry causes your fondness for it to grow. A long absence from something pointless exposes it as such. If you’ve been fine without it during the quarantine, you will excel without it after the quarantine.
While the Bible contains no clear pragmatic instructions for how to re-emerge from exclusively online ministry, it does contain perfectly clear words for what to do with new disciples. We baptize them.
For all the speculation in the meantime, we can fix our hearts upon one certainty: Jesus told us in Matthew 28:18-20 to make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
A funny feeling of familiarity will come over all of us when we can gather in person once more.
For the first time in a long time, we’ll actually know what to do. After months of upheaval, we’ll finally find ourselves in familiar territory for which we are equipped.
I pray that our baptisteries overflow. I pray that the carpet gets utterly soaked to the glory of God.
In Jesus’ name, may we engage new believers and reap a harvest when new people come into their church families equipped for good work and marked in the New Covenant by way of the waters of baptism.