Keep the Covid Wins

It has felt liberating to let go of the various covid restrictions on churches, as well as many other areas in our public life, since many restrictions have lifted where I live.

The tendency for many churches may be to go right back to doing what they did pre-covid, leaving behind the new creative ideas they were forced into as they tried to continue doing ministry while respecting the restrictions. This means that there will be some “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”. Some of the creative solutions you came up with to continue to serve your congregation during covid restrictions may be of great value to your church over the long haul. Churches are often slow to introduce new things, but the restrictions required both church leaders and church attenders to be open to try new things because they had to.

Keep the wins!

Each church has made unique changes to respond to and adopt new realities over the last year and a half. It may be difficult to picture what the church will look like going forward, but those who are willing to learn and adopt some new methods for their future will benefit in the long run.

As I have heard stories from various pastors, I realize there have been many creative adventures that can continue post-covid. Here are some examples:

  • Maybe the online option can be continued so that those who are not able to attend on a Sunday can observe from home, or newcomers can check out the church before attending in person.
  • One pastor said they had conducted some services outside on their lawn while adhering to covid restrictions. They bought a transmitter so people could even sit in their cars and listen if they chose. Some unchurched people had tuned in, and joined them when they moved back into the building. This creative idea was so well received that they will continue to have monthly “lawn services” throughout the summer.
  • One church continues to host Zoom small group meetings because they worked so well for them.
  • One children’s ministry volunteer was disappointed that their church no longer requires children to be pre-registered for Sunday School, because this information ensured that there were always enough staff for the number of children attending.
  • Some churches purchased thousands of dollars of gift card to local businesses and then dropped them off for the small business owners. They offered to pray for them as well. This was very well received.
  • One church began a Facebook prayer group for their town. Community member joined the group. They were amazed when the mayor joined the group, but were thrilled when she submitted prayer requests for community concerns she knew about.
  • The church I attend sent little care packages to singles in the church to make sure they knew the church was thinking about them. Many people were struggling with loneliness when quarantined at home, and they knew this could be especially hard for single people.

As you read these examples, you may be surprised at the creativity, or maybe cringe inside – not all ideas will work for all churches. Think through the ideas your church came up with over the past year and keep the ones that worked well, or adapt some for ongoing ministry.

Don’t just revert to the way things have always been done without carefully and prayerfully evaluating the new ideas you came up with, and holding on to the ones that will benefit you long term.

Keep looking up

Andy

3 Steps to Getting People Back After Covid

Covid restrictions were, well…restricting. This meant that people were not able to attend church in the same way they were used to. Some regions did not allow churches to meet at all. Others, had limits on how many could attend and rules about masks and distancing.

Churches responded amazingly well by providing services online, many of whom had never attempted this before. While this allowed people to stay at home and “attend” services, it produced mixed results. For some people, this kept them connected long enough to want to return to live services as soon as possible. For others, this gave them the sense of “attending” church without leaving their house. These people may still be watching online rather than attending. For many, it just got them out of the habit of attending. Some still watch online while others have given up on church all together.

So how do we get people back who have not yet returned? Churchanswers.com suggests that about 15% or so have no desire to return to church. How do we encourage them to come back?

Whether it is covid related, or because of other reasons, we know there are many people who have previously attended our churches but are now absent. Here are 3 steps to getting people back to church.

1. Let them Know they are Missed

Some people have not returned because they had no one from the church connect with them during the restrictions of the last year and a half. They believe that no one cares that they are not returning, and no one cared for them while they were quarantined at home.

Let these people know they are missed. In smaller churches the leadership probably has a good idea of who has not yet returned. Reach out to these people and let them know you care for them. You could encourage those who are attending to reach out to people they have not seen for a while. Leadership could send notes and make calls to people to let them know they are missed.

Do not put them down for staying away! Instead, make it about showing them they are loved by the church. Do not make them feel guilty for staying home, but extend an invitation to return.

2. Pastor, Be Visible

Some church people feel that the “church” does not care about them. I have been frustrated in the past, by the proverbial hospital patient who believes the church has not visited them, even though they had friends and their small group leader visit. Their understanding of the church is reduced to the pastor.

Well, pastor, there may be a few places where your visit may make all the difference. Your phone call may be just the ticket to invite people back. Be present on Sunday mornings to encourage those who come. Some may very well be “testing” things out, to see if they are truly welcomed back. Take time to walk through the foyer before and after the service, making the effort to genuinely connect with people. Welcome them, make them feel noticed. Sunday morning is not the time to be in a pre-service prayer with a handful of committed members, but a time to be the face of the church to those who need it.

3. Plan a Welcome Back Sunday for September

People are more likely to attend a special event than a regular service. Members are more likely to invite others to a special event. Why not plan a Welcome Back Sunday for early September (or Thanksgiving), with some special fun additions to the morning. You could invite a team of people, including some small group leaders, to plan the event. Develop and distribute some well-designed and printed invitation postcards for members to use to invite friends. Send out email and text invitations. Have enough postcards for people to invite at least 3 people. Make sure that those who have not yet returned get at least one, or more, invitations. And invite newcomers as well.

Announce it as a big event for at least four Sundays before. Give some teasers on some of the special activities planned. Put a big splash on your home page of your website and promote it on Facebook.

And pray! Have special prayer times. Pray about the event and the people being invited. Ask God to bring people back, and for all who show up to feel welcomed and encouraged.

Believers need to be part of a church. Hebrews says, “Do not stop meeting together as some are in the habit of doing.” (Hebrews 10:25) Do all you can to invite people back.

Keep looking up

Andy

Your Church Website is Your New Front Door!

I like seeing houses with a bright front door that stands out from the rest of the building.

Every building, every house, every church has a front door. It is not just a great place to put an accent color for your building, but the place that people enter.

In the past, we saw the front door of the church as the place where newcomers first made contact with  your church. That has changed.

Your church’s website is your new front door. People look you up online before they actually come to your building and take in a Sunday service. They can get a sense of what your church is like before they even show up.

How welcoming is your “front door”?

Here are three of the most important things you need on your website.

1. The Physical Address

Make sure the first thing people see when they open your website is your physical address. I know a number of rural churches have a box number for their mailing address, but this is not what people are looking for. It is important that a potential newcomer knows where the church is. Include a Google map with directions to your church, and check for accuracy before posting.

2. Service Times

If someone is considering attending your church, they want to know what time to show up. Not every church meets at 11:00 am today. Churches with multiple services should also include any differences between services, such as different ages available for children’s ministry. Make sure to update this every time a service time changes. There is nothing worse for a newcomer to show up late because you forgot to update your service time!

3. What to Expect

Some churches have a short description of what people wear. A common example could be something like: “Most people come in jeans and shirts, though suit and tie, or a dress, are fine too.” Here is a personal example: If you have never been to a symphony, you might want to know what to wear. I went to my first symphony with my brother-in-law, and I had not come prepared. I had no suit like everyone else was wearing, and I felt really out of place. People who have never been to your church want to know how to dress.

You might also lay out how the morning works. If you have coffee available, let them know they can take it into the auditorium with them. If you send the children out to their classes part-way through the service, explain how that works. Add anything that you think a newcomer might need to know when they show up.

If you have these three, you are way ahead of many churches!

There are a few more items people look for. Easy to find visible links to the following items allow searchers to quickly identify how to find the information they are looking for.

4. Contact information

Have a link to a page with all the information. This includes the church phone number and email address. It might be good to have the same for your staff. And while I think about it, post your pastor’s name somewhere that is easy for people to find. I am surprised at some websites. It seems the pastor’s name is a secret they don’t want to share, or just assume everyone knows. You might even want to have a brief video welcome from your pastor on your home page.

5. Beliefs and Values

When I moved to a new city, I decided to look for a church by first checking out a number of websites. One of the things I was looking for was a church that believed the same way I did.

6. Ministries and Programs

Have links to all ministry or program pages.

Children: Most families want to know what to expect for their children. Be clear about whether they are included in the main service, or if they are dismissed to their own service. There should be no confusion on this issue at any point for. Also, make it clear that families can choose to keep their children with them in the main service.

Make it absolutely clear that you have a plan to protect children from any harm. Describe exactly what your protocols are and how you screen and train your volunteers who will work with the children. Include links to any outside regulations or certifications adhered to by your church and denomination.

Youth: Provide clear information on what ages these programs are for and when they meet. Include the same safety protocols as with the children.

Small Groups: Most churches have some form of small groups. Explain how yours function and how someone can join a group.

Other programs: Let people see what you offer and where they can be involved.

7. Sermons

Have at least a few recent sermons recorded and available to download on your website. People might want to hear a sermon before attending, so they know what to expect.

There are many other options, but remember that the target audience for your website is new people. Yes, there are some pages that might be for in-house information, but the primary audience should be the newcomer.

If you would like to improve your “front door”, you can check out a Website Audit here. Call me if you would like some coaching help to improve your front door welcome.

Keep looking up!

Andy

5 Steps to Own Your Day

Time is precious. Learn to use it purposefully. Own your day!

As a pastor, I sometimes felt that others had more control over my schedule than I did. When you work for someone else, there will always be requirements of you, but hopefully you can find a way to plan out your own day in your own way. You want to accomplish all that has to be done, and even some of what you would just like to get done.

Planning takes time, which may feel counterintuitive, but I assure you that if you plan, you will most likely get more things done that you want to get done. If you do not plan and schedule, then others will take your time. Or you will get caught up in scrolling through Facebook. Plan your day so that you decide what you do today, and when.

1. Acknowledge the Demands of Others

Hopefully you do not have too many of these, but sometimes there are certain requirements placed on you that you need to find time for in your day. If these expectations are placed on you, at least you can plan on when you will give some time to them.

At the same time, evaluate the demand. Is this really something you need to spend your time with, or is it just a suggestion? Days fills up too quickly to take on unnecessary demands of others.

2. Big Items

If you are a pastor, you know that there are certain activities required of you. As the preacher, you will need to give large portions of time to sermon prep.  If you are teaching, that adds to your list of big items. My preference for sermon and teaching prep is to break the process into sections and do them in the morning when freshest. For example, on a typical workweek of Tuesday to Sunday, I do research on Tuesday, finalize an outline by Wednesday, compile the notes into an effective sermon on Thursday, and take Friday to make the final touches. Saturday, I practice, and Sunday I preach. A similar approach of breaking down the process to be completed over time can be done with teaching prep or other Big items.

As a pastor, I realize the work is never done. There is always something else to put on the schedule, so it is important to remember to schedule in your time off as well. Choose a regular day off. I always had Monday off. Choose the day that works for you and your family, and do something to relax and refresh yourself on that day. You might need to intentionally book something relaxing for the day, such as a walk with your spouse, or some golf with friends. Make sure to take a day free from the regular work responsibilities.

3. Personal Passions

This is the fun part. This is where you make sure to schedule in some time to do the things that God has laid on your heart that may not be directly tied to your job description, but are an important part of who you are. You are the one who chooses what to do with your day. Make sure you do what makes you excited. If it’s writing, then write. If it’s spending time with young leaders, then spend time with young leaders.

At one church I had a weekly breakfast with a couple of men where we talked through the next Sunday’s sermon. I loved these times, and learned to see the scripture through other’s eyes. It made my preaching more impactful – and I enjoyed doing it!

What is it that God has laid on your heart? What are some of your God-given dreams that will not take fruit unless you deliberately plan it into your life?

4. Determine what you would like to do but never have time for

If you have scheduled your day with the first three points in mind, you will realize your day is already quite full, and you may find yourself still unable to do everything you want to do. Is there a book you have wanted to read but never found the time? Is there a topic you would like to research but never get to? Is there a person you would like to have coffee with but it just never happens? Plan it in. Own your day. It is yours to live.

I always have a running list of things I want to do, or research, or work on. Then at certain times I would go through the list and make sure I scheduled it into my day or week. Any time you have a slower day or week, glance through this list and pull a few into your schedule. These are the things that no one else will ask you to do, but you think would benefit you. Plan them into your schedule.

And don’t forget to have some fun.

5. Delegate and Outsource

This might be the most important point. Do not be afraid to hand off certain responsibilities to others. Maybe there is someone in your church that can preach for you occasionally, especially if you take the time to coach them through it. At one church I had the privilege of helping teach one of the men how to preach. He already had a desire to teach, and did a great job. It will be extra work for a bit, but then he will be able to do it without your help and you will free up time.

In the small churches I served it was sometimes expected that I choose the songs for Sunday. Did I really need to choose the songs for Sunday? Do you really need to choose the songs for Sunday? Instead, maybe you could give someone else the theme and scripture for Sunday and ask them to choose the songs. If you have a song leader or team, give them the freedom to do that.

When you are used to doing certain things, it might seem difficult to hand them off to others who may not do it exactly as you would, but give them a chance. Coach them along and you will be surprised how much you can hand off to qualified volunteers.

Evaluate your role and what your primary responsibilities are and the additional tasks you have taken on. Maybe there is someone else that can do the bulletin. Hand it off. Ask an elder to do the devotional at the membership meeting. Find a tech-savvy teen to be your Facebook and website administrator. Train a few people to visit those in the hospital.

Find others to do what you don’t have to do – especially if you don’t enjoy doing that anyway!

Find a way to own your day! Plan it out so you can be your best you. Own your day!

Keep looking up

Andy

Welcome to Elevate

Welcome to Elevate. My name is Andy Wiebe. I was a pastor for 25 years, and I loved it. Sure, there were some hard, quite difficult, days, but I loved what I did.

God has now redirected me to serve, not one church at a time, but to serve pastors, churches, and Christian leaders. I want to “help you achieve your God-given dreams.” I can coach you as you work through decisions. I can bring my expertise and tools to help you as a pastor or as a church become what you believe God wants you to be.

I believe God has a dream for each of us.

To be clear, there are some specific directions God gives all of us. We have the Great Commandments, of Matthew 26 – 30: Love God and love others. We have the Great Commission of Matthew 28: 19 – 20: Make disciples of all nations.

I believe that each one has a more specific task God has given us. For some of us, it may just be that we have a passion or burden for something to the point that we can’t help but do something about it. For some of us we have prayed for direction and it has been clear that God is directing us in a certain direction. Each of us have certain skills and abilities, experiences and training, that guide us toward certain places of contribution in this world.

I believe this if for individuals as well as a for a church. I believe that a church can ask God to help her discover it’s place in this world. To hear from God as to what he wants of that church. This will usually tie in to the local community around the church.

God has placed us, as well as churches, in certain neighborhoods. We may not have been part of the decision to plant or move that congregation to that location, but it was no accident that it ended up in that community. God has that church in that community to reach that community with the gospel.

At Elevate Coaching & Consulting, I want to help pastors and Christian leaders be all that God wants them to be. And I want to help churches also be all that God is asking them to be.

I hope to be an encouragement to pastors, Christian leaders, and churches, helping them to achieve their God-given dreams.