Unbelievable! Who would have predicted that between Christmas and Easter we would be reimagining how we do church! In the past, I’ve actually enjoyed thinking through the potential impacts of unforeseen black swan events. But, in all my contingency planning, “pandemic” was not a word that landed on my strategic grid.

Now, many of us are under a stay-at-home order. Our church gatherings have moved online, our staff is working from home, and our church buildings are empty. As we all adjust to this new reality, what does this mean for our church operations? Whether you are a solo pastor of a smaller congregation or an Executive Pastor of a larger church; whether you are the only one bearing the weight of both ministry and operations or you lead a team of support staff to help shoulder the burden, what does effective church management look like during this time?

Remember, this isn’t anything the church hasn’t seen before. Ever since the ascension of Christ, the Church has faced oppression, wars, pandemics, natural disasters and everything else a broken and groaning creation suffers through. But our groaning is in hope…

“…that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God…” (Romans 8:18-25 ESV)

The Church is and will be victorious through the COVID-19 crisis. The Word of God is not bound (2 Timothy 2:19) and even the gates of Hell will not prevail against his Church (Matthew 16:18).

So, knowing the Church stands on the firm and unshakable foundation of the risen Christ, how do we navigate these waters to care for the practical management of the church through this pandemic? As I’ve spent time pondering this, one word keeps coming to mind.

Intentionality

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines intentionality as “the power of minds and mental states to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties, and states of affairs”. In other words, intentionality is keeping your mind sharp to make sure things are taken care of. In times such as these, we must apply careful, purposeful intentionality to all our church operations. And that must begin with us as leaders. Here are 4 key areas of intentional leadership we need to give our attention to in the coming days and weeks:

 

#1 Spiritual Intentionality

Church Leader, care for your soul at this time. The enemy of Christ is the enemy of your soul. What captures your attention first? Are you driven to prayer or to problem solving? Do you gravitate to the news or to the Word? I know for me it seems like my task list is longer than ever, even with the stay-at-home order. But we can’t neglect or take for granted the importance of abiding in the vine of Jesus himself. Church leader, seek your Savior. Take the time, find the time, make the time to delight in him through the Scriptures, prayer, music, meditation, or whatever feeds your soul. Church Leader, you cannot save the church, you cannot build the church…but you must remain close to Him who does and can and will.   

“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” Psalm 127:1

 

#2 Relational Intentionality

When everyone is at the office, “Management By Walking Around” (MBWA) is quite easy. MBWA is an effective management style that allows a leader to casually but intentionally observe how the team is doing. Through unplanned or unstructured “check-ins” with the staff as you walk around the office, you can ask questions, see where they need help, and get a sense of the team morale and direction. Now is the time to think intentionally about how you can relationally lead your team. Think through how you can leverage modern tools such as Google Hangouts or Zoom to check in with your team. Instead of just a text message or an impersonal email, hop on a quick Zoom call to check-in. But it goes beyond making sure the tasks are being completed on time. Think about how your staff has been impacted by this mess, too. Give them the freedom and space to share their anxieties and fears. In some cases, you may need to consider how to adjust the workload to give them space and time to deal with this situation on a personal level. Remember, a good rule of thumb is “People over Policies.” 

  

#3 Operational Intentionality

If we’re honest, we really don’t know how long this will last. Washington’s stay-at-home order is set to expire on May 4th, but the future is uncertain. Even then, what will church ministry look like when we return? Will it be exactly the same or will this cause a permanent shift? This is the time to think intentionally about your organizational infrastructure. I highly recommend the book Trellis and the Vine, by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. This book develops the concept of how an effective and healthy ministry (the vine) is supported by a strong and supportive infrastructure (the trellis). An overemphasis on one at the neglect of the other leads to an unhealthy ministry. During this season, you will need to focus some of your energy on operational intentionality so that the vine-work of gospel ministry can be well supported. There are a few things to consider:

Are your systems set up and ready for several months of working remotely? How will you care for the members of your church at this time? What processes need to be modified to facilitate a more efficient shepherding of your people? How will you engage new visitors through your online gatherings? How will you process new members or new people who want to serve? What about your facility? What are your maintenance needs with your building being empty for extended periods of time? What forms or processes that were office or paper dependent now need to move towards a digital solution? 

These are just a few of the questions you will need to ask to apply operational intentionality. I’m so thankful for our modern technologies that provide digital or online solutions for many of these questions. If you are not tech-savvy, this is the time to learn. There are a lot of tutorials and training videos out there to help. Many companies that provide digital solutions are offering steep discounts to help organizations adjust… and if they aren’t offering a discount on the website, ask anyway. You could also reach out to other churches who may be ahead of the curve in this area. I’m sure there’s even a young adult or two in your congregation that can help modernize your systems for the small fee of a Domino’s pizza. Whatever your situation, large church or small church, think intentionally about your operations to help support the vine-work of gospel ministry.

 

#4 Financial Intentionality

Major economic disruptions will cause a decline in generosity. Now is the time to think intentionally about your financial outlook. Our objective is not to think about finances for finances’ sake. All we do is driven by the gospel of Jesus Christ! Now, more than ever, is the time to be wise stewards of the resources God has given us (Luke 16:8-9; Matthew 25:14-30). 

Is your church financially healthy with a solid reserve fund? Don’t take that for granted! Be intentional in your long-term planning and build contingency plans for your contingency plans. Is your church financially struggling? Don’t just slump into an anxious puddle.Take action! These are Kingdom assets! Psalm 24 reminds us that “the earth is the Lord’s and all the fullness thereof,” and that includes money. So, let’s be super intentional in how we manage the finances of the church by his grace and for his glory. 

First of all, do you have online giving? If not, I highly recommend either PushPay or Planning Center Giving as excellent options. Secondly, are you tracking your giving patterns? Consider identifying those who typically give during the gatherings and sending them a letter with postage-paid envelopes. Consider how you communicate with your people on how they can stay engaged in this gospel opportunity through their continued giving. Who needs a personal phone call or a letter or an online video? Many churches are wary of talking about giving, especially in times of crisis. Studies show that donors are far more likely to give when they understand the need and can see the impact their giving is having on that need. Be intentional when communicating with your people. Share stories about gospel ministry in action during COVID-19 and thank them for their continued donations. This allows them to share in the joy gospel ministry. Ask them to lean into and stay engaged in the mission of the gospel through their continued giving. If a donor asks you how they can help, don’t be afraid to let them know what you need. As always, these conversations need to be handled with grace and wisdom, but don’t err on the side of timidity and fear. Trust the Lord in this. He works through large generous donors and he works through the widow’s mite to accomplish his purposes.

Be sure to run multiple scenario projections on how long you can sustain a downward giving trend against your primary operating budget. As agonizing as it may be, you need to develop a grid of when and how you will make necessary cuts to payroll. Since payroll is often 50% or more of your operating budget you need to run a careful analysis of your cash flow. This means identifying if, how, and when changes may need to be made. However, Relational Intentionality also means making sure you have carefully researched all of the opportunities available for your staff. Do not surprise your staff with any cuts and do not leave them without help! You need to be way ahead of the game when it comes to planning and communication with your staff before any payroll changes are made.

In addition to ensuring your giving base remains engaged and performing analysis on your payroll, you need to consider your discretionary spending trends. To help bring intentionality to our staff’s spending habits we have a grid called Nice, Necessary, Now. Would it be nice to purchase this item? The answer is usually yes. Is this expense truly necessary for effective gospel ministry? It might be nice to spend $45 on a lunch meeting but a $15 trip to a smoothie shop may be just as effective. Lastly, is now the right time? During the COVID-19 crisis, there will be many nice and necessary spending opportunities, but now is not the time. Think intentionally to provide your team with clear guidelines and clear processes to help manage your spending levels.

 

Who Do You Trust?

So, how do I effectively manage the operations of my church? I think we are all asking the same question. Nervous? You are not alone. As you are thinking through intentional church operations, let me encourage you to…

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV)

He’s got this, and spoiler alert… He wins!