By Mark Dance
The title of this post sounds unreasonably optimistic in light of COVID’s imposing finish to 2020.
A recent survey from LifeWay Research shows how Americans are changing the way they’ll celebrate Christmas, whether through family events or corporate worship services. And churches are pivoting, yet again, to figure out what the remainder of the year looks like.
Although most of us are eager to move on to a new year, there are a few ways December can become a strong wrap-up for this year as well as a kick-off for next year — even in light of the recent COVID spikes.
Like many of you, I am a long-term planner, which makes short-term decision making all the more frustrating. This is the season, however, in which we’re serving, so let’s consider a few options for the month of December.
1. Go back to online only.
You know your congregation and community well enough to do what is best for them, but if you are considering going back to online-only through the end of the year, you’re not crazy or alone.
I preached to a camera and empty pews last morning in Tulsa, and God blessed it. That church has gone back and forth on their schedules and strategies as COVID numbers have risen and fallen. Our call to flexibility is no different than what our schools, communities, and businesses are dealing with.
2. Go to worship service only.
Many of you don’t have the consensus needed to close your church doors again, so perhaps providing a worship-only opportunity on campus each Sunday is your best option. In light of recent COVID spikes, the rationale for suspending in-person groups is solid for these reasons:
- The CDC is begging Americans to not gather anywhere right now, even with our extended families. We aren’t medical professionals, but we must consider their apolitical advice for our biological families to be the same as for our faith families.
- Children cannot be effectively socially distanced. Your plan is only as good as the wildest child in the room. Younger parents and volunteers know this already, which is why so many are staying at home anyway.
- Seniors are scared because COVID is exponentially more dangerous for them.
- If you’ve been having in-person Bible study groups or have postponed them indefinitely, consider moving those online.
3. Plan for an online Christmas.
If you are envisioning a packed Christmas service(s) this year, you need a fresh, new vision, in my opinion. Many of your senior adults and younger families are not coming to these services—and even if they do, should they?
The COVID coast will not likely be clear by Christmas, so start working on making COVID lemonade now. You rocked it at Easter, and you still have a short window to rock it again for Christmas. Get on this now instead of simply hoping for a better forecast and hastily throwing something together during the holidays.
The more optimistic among us are expecting the COVID-19 vaccine to provide an overnight solution, while others are gearing up for Armageddon. You and I have no idea what COVID-19 will do, but our job as pastors is simply to “be ready in season and out of season.”
4. Lead on.
The primary key to responsible shepherding is to care enough about our sheep to love them deeply and to lead them responsibly. Unfortunately, there is no decision you and your leaders will make that everyone will agree with.
Pastors are caregivers by nature and calling, but we are not running for office. If you need approval or applause, move to Hollywood or Nashville. Responsible shepherding sometimes means frustrating the sheep we are protecting.
If you do not have a leadership team of some kind who can make short-term decisions for your entire church, this is a great time to deploy one. Seeking counsel is a sign of strength and maturity.
The mind of the discerning acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks it. (Proverbs 18:15)
Now is not too soon to cast a hope-filled vision of a future without pandemics, protests, and politics—and that day is coming! Until it does—keep loving, leading, and feeding your people while remembering Jesus is doing the real heavy lifting behind the scenes for His Bride.
MARK DANCE (@markdance) speaks at churches, conferences, and retreats—often with his wife Janet. Mark has contributed to several books and offers weekly encouragement at MarkDance.net. He’s currently serving as director of pastoral development for the Oklahoma Baptist Convention.