In post-COVID 19 world, pastors see new realities

As clergy wrapped up a two-day Reynolds Ministries leadership gathering Oct. 25-26, many said they would return home with a clearer sense of the new realities facing their churches in a post-COVID 19 world.

Pulling off a successful Sunday morning is a lot more complicated than it used to be, says Rev. John McGill of Waxhaw UMC. Pastors have to engage people in the pews while also devoting attention to online worshippers who bring their own preferences and expectations.

“You really have to think about, especially as people come back to church, what does both/and look like?” John said. “How do we communicate well in these spaces and equally value people here (in person) as well as people online?”

The gathering was part of the Reynolds Leadership Academy for Evangelism and Discipleship, a Foundation offering designed around the idea that wise leaders should dedicate time to learning from one another.

John Wesley himself would have appreciated the small group conversations, said Rev. Alan Mears, pastor of Mineral Springs UMC in Monroe.

“It’s the old Wesley adage — the world is our parish now,” Alan said. “You never know who’s actually worshipping with you… and that’s an opportunity for ministry.”

It's the old Wesley adage -- the world is our parish now.

- Rev. Alan Mears

Pastors need to broaden the term “visitor” to include folks who never actually set foot in the building. In other cases, “we’re having visitors come and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, we heard you online. We want to check it out and give it a sample,’” Alan said.

The gathering was a mix of small group sessions and discussions facilitated by Jason Byassee, formerly the senior pastor of Boone United Methodist Church. His focus is reinvigorating today’s church with the best of ancient and contemporary wisdom.

Engaging with congregants online, particularly on social media, brings a whole new set of challenges, said Rev. Diron Chloe, a campus pastor previously on staff at Metropolitan UMC in Greensboro.

How do you come across as real and authentic while also living up to expectations that come with being the leader of a church?

“I’ve always struggled with that tension,” said Diron. “A lot of people in younger generations, they don’t want you to just highlight who you’re trying to become. They want to connect to who you are. Sometimes we make everything seem so perfect that they can’t connect to it.”

Amid all the new practices and innovations, it’s essential to leave space for God, said Rev. Andy Conder of St. Francis UMC in Charlotte. That means, for example, surrendering control or just being comfortable with uncertainty.

“We become so much about the nuts and bolts that we forget about the holistic piece of the Spirit,” she said. “We make it more about us than about God.”

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