Leading a Church Community Through a Pandemic

pandemic Oct 22, 2021
Church leadership through a pandemic

Let’s get right to the big question of this moment: "How do you lead a congregation out of the pandemic and into the new normal?"

The first thing I need to say to you is this: if your congregation stopped worshipping in person for more than 2 months - regardless of what you did together in that time - do not assume that the congregation returning to in-person worship is the same congregation as before.

 Let me repeat that: do not assume that your congregation, returning to in-person worshipping, is the same congregation as before - because it’s not. Essentially, all our congregations are parish restarts now.

 Every one of us has been through a trauma. A big one. And some have been through trauma after trauma during the pandemic. All of us have been changed by this.

 Now, when our communities come back together, we will all naturally assume we’ll more or less function together as we did before - but we won’t.   We aren’t those people any more.

 Before, we knew that Harold always blows up when X happens, but Lee is steady as a rock; and that you can always count on Rosie to back you up, and when she does more or less everyone falls in line because they trust her. That’s how stable community life generally works, and that’s how we learn how to lead a congregation. But none of those things might be true of those people any longer.

For all you know, Harold may have learned some perspective from a near-death experience; and Lee might have lost 4 family members this year and be falling apart inside; And maybe Rosie lost the confidence of the community by a bad choice early in the pandemic. We’re all different people than we were before.

 In addition, the pandemic has catalyzed an enormous parishioner swap.

 In almost every congregation, some parishioners have left, for any number of reasons. Don’t take it personally; and don’t make it a big deal. Meanwhile you probably got some newcomers - or a lot of newcomers - and they need to be made welcome.

 In short, the individuals within your congregation have all changed,

and the composition of your congregation has changed - and you have changed.

 So, number one leadership lesson for the post-pandemic world: don’t assume that the congregation is the same community as before.   Don’t try to lead it the same as you led before. In fact, you’ll be way further ahead if you check your assumptions at the door, and lead as if it’s a whole new community to you.

 Allow it to be different, and pastor your people through the shock of realizing it’s not going to be the same as before. And then, use all the leadership practices and skills that you know, or that you’re going to learn on this site, to the very best of your ability.

 Begin by building up your foundation of trust and respect. No matter what’s going on, I recommend starting here every time.

 Listen, not only with your ears, but with your whole body, to what’s going on in the community, as if it’s a brand new community to you, because it more or less is.

 Get curious about how people are responding to things and why - cause their responses will be different than they used to be. Form hypotheses and test them, and discern constantly.

Then, don’t just do what everyone else says to do! Tailor your leadership interventions to the life of your community, listening and learning and recalibrating constantly.

You’re going to learn all these practices on this site, because leading out of a global pandemic is actually no different than leading at any other time.

 Except, wait: with everything being so different, and so new, and our congregations all being parish restarts now, there are opportunities for change like we’ve never seen before. Put that way, you could say it’s a brilliant time for leadership!

It may feel overwhelming, but the opportunities are incredible. All you gotta do is lead.

I hope that helps.

Be encouraged. Be resolved. Persevere, friends.

See you next time.