As we grapple with the uncertainties around COVID-19 lifting, below is a tool for you to start sketching a plan for the way back for your church, along with some considerations for what to consider.  We use a modified version of this tool with church planters pre-launch to help them consider what they’ll do as they build a launch team, soft launch and then publicly launch.  My hope with this tool is that you’ll work through this for yourself, share what you come up with, see what others come up with and keep sharpening your plans as we pray towards relaunching churches across Australia.

Download the tool below using the buttons – view our example, then create your own as a team. Before you do, have a read of the below considerations and steps for how to use the tool.

Here’s some considerations as your church uses this tool in your context:

What comes after doesn’t have to look like what came before.

One of the opportunities afforded us at the moment is that we get a clean restart.  While change in established churches would normally be a years-long process, the current situation has thrust change upon us at an unprecedented rate.  So as we think about what church will look like in the coming years, there will be some forced changes (i.e. impact of social distancing) but it will also provide us with an opportunity to restart ministries and implement structures in a way that facilitates maturity and mission more effectively.  So as you work through this tool, begin with the end in mind…but that end doesn’t have to be what it was before.  Use the opportunity for change presented to you to move towards a new future.

Less is More... so use this as an opportunity to review your current structures and systems and get back to your core mission.

Less really is more in this context… I know…it’s a cliche…but here it’s definitely true. When we’re helping church planters consider their launch, we talk to them about the ministries they’ll create & maintain to drive their mission.  One of the key drivers is not to default to creating more as you grow, but to do what you’re currently doing more effectively.  I’ve put an example below of what I mean by that for the tool we use with planters, but the key is this: decide what will make the most impact, do it, and keep sharpening it to make it work better for you, rather than pursuing the next great thing.  This is hard, and goes against the grain of entrepreneurs, but it’s about creating alignment with your ministries and using effectively the limited resources you’ve got.

Expect the unexpected.

One of the many things we’ve learnt during this time is that things change rapidly.  While there are many experts in this situation, and one of them is bound to be right, no-one is really quite sure which one.  So whatever plans we make need to have (multiple) contingency plans.  Eg. If social distancing is eased but then there is another outbreak, we’ll need to quickly move back to a different stage. A useful aspect of this tool is being able to not only see what you’ll move to as restrictions ease but also articulate what it will look like should they be put back in place. 

Do this with your team.

Whether the team around you is paid or not, this is an exercise that’s worth doing with other people, both to get their insight and input, as well as take them along on the journey.

Here’s the steps of how to use this tool in your church context:

First, the funnel.

You’ll find more information on the vertical funnel in the Wed-Fri morning talks on that link.  The goal of the funnel is to help you identify the different activities and ministries that help individuals take steps toward knowing Jesus, the church community be involved and engaged in this process, and the community itself grow towards maturity in Christ together.  Whether you’ve used this tool before, your church will previously have had something in each of these boxes.  These might not have been helpfully weighted, and there might not have been a cohesive plan to move people down the mission funnel, or engage the whole community in the process of that mission – but every church will have something in each of these boxes.  So before you start filling out this tool, it might be a helpful exercise to layout what you previously did in each of these categories, how they connected to one another, and how effective they were.  This will help you both get a feel for the tool, as well as start to think into what you might want to move to recreate, adjust or do away with as you move towards relaunching.  Some steps for how to do this process are at the end of this article.

Second, the stages.

While we’re not sure what the numbers in allowed gatherings will be as isolation lifts, there’s a high level of confidence that it will be staggered over a period of 4-6 months (at least).  There are three variables in the tool you’ll need to consider: 1) The number of stages (# of columns); 2) the numbers at those stages (how many can gather?); 3) The dates those stages begin.

These variables will be informed by both government advice which will differ from state to state, but also by wisdom for your own context.  For the latter, this is going to need to be informed by a number of factors in your context, but there are two factors connected and common to everyone that are worth highlighting.  The first is people’s nervousness around gathering in groups.  The second is allowing for growth within stages.  Even now you’ll be experiencing the impact on people’s interaction and behaviour.  This won’t disappear when restrictions lift, and so we need to consider how we care for people in this, particularly those who might be new to our church communities.  

For example, if the limit on gatherings is 100 people, but your church is around 80 people, while we could conceivably gather all regulars together on a Sunday, it may be wise to (at that stage) create two gatherings not one.  Our prayer is that those who have been exploring Jesus in this time might join us when we gather, so not pushing the limits of size gatherings will allow them to join us while caring for those who might be feeling anxious.

Third, the seams/transitions between the stages.

When working with the normal funnel tool, it’s the vertical seams that we pay attention to.  i.e. how does someone move from our contact ministries to our connect ministries etc.  This is still hugely important for the funnel to be cohesive and effective within one stage.  But in our current situation, we have a second dimension to consider (as planters do in a modified fashion in the previous example) – the stages.  As we lay out our plans, the consideration from a horizontal perspective is, how are we helping people transition from one stage to the other?  

That is, for those people might have contacted on their street during this time, what will it look like for them to gather with them when gatherings of 10 are allowed?  Or as another example, for those who have been exploring Jesus online with us, what is it going to look like to gather them in a group, alongside regulars from our church, to keep exploring when things begin to open up, and how do we help them make that step?  

The seams between these transitions are as important as the ministries and plans within the stages.  We want to connect with people now, and we don’t want to lose that connection as the opportunities to meet face-to-face open up.  In fact, we want to make the most of those opportunities when they come.

A Final consideration...

Finally, one complication and consideration when considering the seams and transitions as you use this tool is that some of the transitions will be diagonally, hopefully towards the bottom right.  That is, if by God’s good grace someone was contacted through viral kindness, connects with someone in person when restrictions lift, comes to a Christianity Explored course in the next stage, and then joins in the church community when norm returns – each of those diagonal seams will need to be considered.  This is complex, but hopefully the tool will help you consider the areas that might need to be addressed based on your plans as well as what eventuates.

Next steps

So, the next steps from here are: work through this with your team, share it with other leaders, and together we can start sharpening our plans to relaunch church across Australia, with the hope and prayer that many will come to know Jesus.

APPENDIX: Steps for reflecting on your current funnel:

  1. Build a list of all the ministry structures and programs that currently exist.
  2. For each, classify them into one of the following four categories: Contact, Connection, Conversion/Integration, Community/Life of the Church.
  3. Place these onto the funnel in the correct boxes.
  4. Identify how one event connects & leads to others…or doesn’t.  If possible (and time permitting) it might be worth putting some numbers down next to some of these ministries to see the flow of people through them.
  5. Begin to assess the most effective structures/events to build community and mission heat.
  6. Start working back from there in the tool to the other stages so you end at this point when you do a full launch.