One of the main struggles for pastors and church leaders in this crisis is to narrow and refine their ministry priorities. The rush to move services online has been followed by a slow evolution in the rest of church ministries and outreach to adapt to the new socially isolated reality.
Thus, when we asked pastors and church leaders to rank their three top current priorities, the weekend service and church membership care were the far most common top priority (30 percent and 29 percent respectively) followed by evangelism (18 percent). No other selection registered above six percent as a top priority.
When accounting for either a first or second priority, 48 percent of pastors or church leaders selected weekend services, 54 percent selected church membership care, and 29 selected evangelism. In other words, these three ministry areas are the leading priorities among pastors and church leaders during this season of remote ministry.
While pastors and church leaders are prioritizing Sunday services, they continue to look for help in how to engage their people and communities despite social distancing restrictions. The survey asked, “What kinds of resources do you need to lead your church, staff, or organization in this challenging time?”
The top two answers remained how to create engaging online conversations and gatherings (61 percent) and practical ways to be on mission in this season (55 percent). Thus, even as churches have had several weeks to innovate in their gatherings and outreach, pastors and church leaders are still highly motivated to improve.
Many churches are familiar with the UP (worship), IN (practicing “one anothers”), and OUT (evangelism and mercy) framework for ministry and discipleship. These first weeks were a significant effort to develop the UP and IN rhythms in this new norm. During Holy Week, many discovered through their OUT engagement that the unchurched have a unique spiritual interest right now.
It is a worthwhile effort for you to keep the OUT posture from Holy Week into the spring and summer months, both in word and in deed. See Mike Frost’s list of 35 Ways to Love Your Neighbors Right Now, Ed Stetzer’s “Evangelism in the Time of Coronavirus,” and Rick Richardson’s “Witness in the Time of the Coronavirus.”
However, there is a discernable emphasis upon community based learning among pastors and church leaders as effective formats. Pastor cohorts/regular support groups (53 percent), webinars (48 percent), and conference calls/roundtables (39 percent) were the next three responses, signaling a desire among pastors and church leaders to engage other leaders with their questions and ideas rather than strictly consume media. This is further reflected in the low response to online courses (12 percent) and newsletters (11 percent).
Moreover, content producers should be warned that pastors and church leaders overwhelmingly report an oversaturation with the level of content for church leaders. Nineteen percent of respondents strongly agreed while 42 percent somewhat agreed that they were feeling oversaturated compared to only 10 percent that disagreed to any extent.
Pastors and church leaders are looking for good information and support systems. If you are a network leader, it’s not too late to develop pastoral cohorts to think through an intentional strategy for how to lead through and out of the pandemic.
This is a vital opportunity for pastors and church leaders to make long lasting changes that will further decentralize ministry work in the direction of member mobilization and missional engagement. You can learn more from Catapult Group about designing pastoral cohorts in the midst of this crisis: wearecatapult.org/6weekcoachinggroups.
This crisis has predictably resulted in a significant increase in workload for pastors and church leaders. As the burden to not only lead their organizations through a fundamental reorientation of how they operate, pastors and church leaders are also tasked with caring for their people during an unprecedented season of fear, loss, and isolation.
As a result, more than three of every five pastors and church leaders report a significant increase in their workload with 11 percent stating that it has only continued to grow in recent weeks. While the largest block report that this workload is beginning to slow (28 percent), it is not clear what new equilibrium will be established nor whether pastors and church leaders are going to be able to recuperate from the energy expended over the past month.
Despite this increase, pastors and church leaders are optimistic in describing their mental state. The three most common answers (Hopeful – 46 percent; Encouraged – 38 percent; and Resilient – 33 percent) are positive and speak to the attitude many pastors and church leaders have to the possibility for this crisis to bear fruit in their churches and communities despite it’s the current challenges.
In contrast, few pastors and church leaders selected the negative attributes commonly associated with burnout such as Lonely (four percent) or Struggling (seven percent). It is important to note, however, that the two leading negative attributes, Exhausted (21 percent) and Uncertain (20 percent) reflect the toll this season has had upon pastoral health even as they remain generally positive.
This tension was reflected in the qualitative answers as many pastors and church leaders remarked that they were tired but were quick to temper this admission with a positive attribute such as determined or focused.
Anticipating this burden, we asked pastors and church leaders what top three sources have been the most helpful to them as they lead through this crisis. Despite the widespread online communities and fellowships, many of the most common responses emphasized local relationships within the congregation with over two thirds (68 percent) selecting support from church staff and leaders and 41 percent citing support from church members.
These were followed by resources from denomination/church networks (41 percent) and resources from other churches (33 percent). That governmental sources (19 percent) and resources from non-church ministries (16 percent) were the lowest responses may signal that in times of uncertainty, pastors and church leaders are turning to networks and sources with whom they have longstanding trust and relationship.
What started as a sprint has turned into a marathon. Pastors and church leaders who are continuing at an unsustainable pace are needing to begin to make place for long term sustainability both for their organizations and themselves. This means that conversations and practices around self-care and soul care are vital perhaps more vital than ever.
More than a month into responding to the crisis, it is essential that you, your family, and your leaders find a new normal rhythm for ministry. Especially one that is healthy enough to want to keep after the pandemic is over. We have partnered with many other reputable groups to develop resources for pastors and leaders to focus on their own health during this time: resilientchurchleadership.com.
Like much of the world, church leadership is in flux. There are significant and ongoing questions about how best to respond. As financial giving is trending down, pastors and church leaders have remained positive. However, if downward trends continue, that will probably change.
In some ways, the data shows that pastors and church leaders have successfully adapted their ministries and people to the situation. At the same time, there remains a strong impulse to search for more innovative and effective ways to nurture congregations and engage communities.
This need will only continue to place major burdens on pastors and church leaders as questions of reemergence begin to take precedence. Thus, it is more important than ever in the coming weeks for leaders to develop healthy rhythms of ministry and rest. This would be greatly aided by the continued seeking out of ongoing resources and communities that equip and refresh pastors to meet the demands of effective ministry during such an unprecedented season.