Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Why Church Leaders Have an Incredible Window of Opportunity [Podcast]

At ChurchAnswers.com we have been walking with many church leaders who desire to open the window of opportunity presented as a result of the pandemic. Thom Rainer and Kevin Spratt discuss several reasons why church leaders have an incredible opportunity ahead of them. Listen Now

Playing It Safe in Pandemic America: Is It Possible?

A Guide to Staying Safe as States Reopen

Can I eat at a restaurant? Can I go shopping? Can I hug my friends again? Experts weigh in.

May marks a new phase of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. Across the country, retail stores, restaurants, and other businesses are beginning to reopen. According to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, just over half of states had eased their public-health restrictions in one way or another as of the start of this week, with more states to follow soon.

This new phase, though, doesn’t necessarily mean that the ongoing risks of the pandemic have materially changed. “If your favorite watering hole reopens, that’s not a guarantee that it’s safe to go have a beer with your friend,” Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor at UC Irvine, told me. “That’s one possible reason that it’s reopening, but another is that the pressures to reopen businesses have been so enormous.” He said that if the U.S. were solely concerned with containing the virus, “reopening shouldn’t even be in the conversation” yet.

That said, many (but not all) parts of the country have at least gotten out of an “acute emergency phase” for the time being, according to Elizabeth Carlton, a professor at the Colorado School of Public Health. She now sees “a shift towards trying to come up with strategies that allow people to resume some parts of their old lives that are the least risky … We need to find a way to slow the spread of the virus that also allows us to maintain our mental and financial health.” The safest thing to do, if you can manage it, is still to stay at home, but now is the time when—unlike the past six weeks or so—people in some parts of the country can consider cautiously reintroducing some nonessential activities into their life after weighing the risks to themselves and others. Read More

8 Ways to Go Out and Stay Safe during the Coronavirus Pandemic

People are starting to leave their homes again. Here’s how to do that and stay as safe as possible.

Americans are getting tired of staying inside. Support for social distancing requirements is falling in the polls, and survey and cellphone data shows people are starting to trickle out of their homes. Most states, ready or not, are moving to reopen parts of their economies.

For the past two months, experts’ guidance has been absolute: As much as possible, stay home and avoid interacting with anyone you don’t live with. In the new reality, with a vaccine likely still months or years away, some experts caution a new approach is needed to get people to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic — one based on harm reduction.

It might be better for people to stay home all the time, but given that many can’t or won’t, giving them advice on how to reduce the harm to them and others is better than insisting on the ideal. Read More

America’s Patchwork Pandemic Is Fraying Even Further

The coronavirus is coursing through different parts of the U.S. in different ways, making the crisis harder to predict, control, or understand.

There was supposed to be a peak. But the stark turning point, when the number of daily COVID-19 cases in the U.S. finally crested and began descending sharply, never happened. Instead, America spent much of April on a disquieting plateau, with every day bringing about 30,000 new cases and about 2,000 new deaths. The graphs were more mesa than Matterhorn—flat-topped, not sharp-peaked. Only this month has the slope started gently heading downward.

This pattern exists because different states have experienced the coronavirus pandemic in very different ways. In the most severely pummeled places, like New York and New Jersey, COVID-19 is waning. In Texas and North Carolina, it is still taking off. In Oregon and South Carolina, it is holding steady. These trends average into a national plateau, but each state’s pattern is distinct. Currently, Hawaii’s looks like a child’s drawing of a mountain. Minnesota’s looks like the tip of a hockey stick. Maine’s looks like a (two-humped) camel. The U.S. is dealing with a patchwork pandemic.

The patchwork is not static. Next month’s hot spots will not be the same as last month’s. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is already moving from the big coastal cities where it first made its mark into rural heartland areas that had previously gone unscathed. People who only heard about the disease secondhand through the news will start hearing about it firsthand from their family. “Nothing makes me think the suburbs will be spared—it’ll just get there more slowly,” says Ashish Jha, a public-health expert at Harvard. Read More

Also See:
What You Need to Know about the Corona Virus: The Atlantic's guide to understanding COVID-19
Coronavirus pandemic: Tracking the global outbreak

The Coronavirus Is Deadliest Where Democrats Live

Beyond perception and ideology, there are starkly different realities for red and blue America right now.

The staggering American death toll from the coronavirus, now approaching 100,000, has touched every part of the country, but the losses have been especially acute along its coasts, in its major cities, across the industrial Midwest, and in New York City.

The devastation, in other words, has been disproportionately felt in blue America, which helps explain why people on opposing sides of a partisan divide that has intensified in the past two decades are thinking about the virus differently. It is not just that Democrats and Republicans disagree on how to reopen businesses, schools and the country as a whole. Beyond perception, beyond ideology, there are starkly different realities for red and blue America right now.

Democrats are far more likely to live in counties where the virus has ravaged the community, while Republic are more likely to live in counties that have been relatively unscathed by the illness, though they are paying an economic price. Counties won by President Trump in 2016 have reported just 27 percent of the virus infections and 21 percent of the deaths — even though 45 percent of Americans live in these communities, a New York Times analysis has found.

The very real difference in death rates has helped fuel deep disagreement over the dangers of the pandemic and how the country should proceed. Right-wing media, which moved swiftly from downplaying the severity of the crisis to calling it a Democratic plot to bring down the president, has exacerbated the rift. And even as the nation’s top medical experts note the danger of easing restrictions, communities across the country are doing so, creating a patchwork of regulations, often along ideological lines. Read More

Monday, May 25, 2020

Coronavirus: 'Baffling' Observations from the Front Line

When you talk to intensive care doctors across the UK, exhausted after weeks of dealing with the ravages of Covid-19, the phrase that emerges time after time is, "We've never seen anything like this

They knew a new disease was coming, and they were expecting resources to be stretched by an unknown respiratory infection which had first appeared in China at the end of last year.

And as the number of cases increased, doctors up and down the UK were reading first-hand accounts from colleagues in China, and then in Italy - in scientific journals and on social media - about the intensity of infection.

"It felt in some ways like we were trying to prepare for the D-Day landings," says Barbara Miles, clinical director of intensive care at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, "with three weeks to get ready and not a great deal of knowledge about what we would be facing".

But what arrived in the UK as winter turned into spring took even the most experienced ICU specialists by surprise.

Most people infected with the coronavirus have only mild symptoms, or sometimes none at all. But in many thousands of patients who fall critically ill, Covid-19 is a disease of alarming complexity.

What follows is a summary, often in their own words, of what doctors have learnt about how Covid-19 attacks the human body, and what they still need to know. Read More

The Idiot's Guide to Reopening Your Church

As you know by now, re-opening your church building is a far more complex task than closing your building ever was.

The question is, how do you do it well?

When emotions, adrenaline and fatigue run high (and they’re all running high right now), it’s a perfect set up for decisions you may one day regret.

So, loosely inspired by The ScrewTape Letters (with deep apologies to C.S. Lewis) and by Dwight Shrute’s profound leadership insight from The Office tv show:
Whenever I’m about to do something, I think to myself, “Would an idiot do that?” and if they would, I do not do that thing.
…here’s my (tongue-in-cheek) attempt at an idiot’s guide to reopening your church.

This post pokes a bit of fun, but please hear my heart, I really want you to open well and see your church grow. You are working hard and your community needs you.

I hope this provides some clarity and a smile (we all need a bit of fun right now). So please be kind in the comments and offer some examples of other things you really don’t want to do when reopening your facility.

Also, please know I’ve made my share of idiot moves in leadership (like, perhaps, writing a post called The Idiot’s Guide to…). There are clearly some moments I wish I could get back.

With all that said, if you were aiming to be an idiot when reopening your church, here’s exactly how to do it. Read More

Monday's Catch: A Deadly Checkerboard and More

A Deadly ‘Checkerboard’: Covid-19’s New Surge across Rural America

As the death toll nears 100,000, the disease caused by the virus has made a fundamental shift in who it touches and where it reaches in America, according to a Washington Post analysis of case data and interviews with public health professionals in several states. The pandemic that first struck in major metropolises is now increasingly finding its front line in the country’s rural areas; counties with acres of farmland, cramped meatpacking plants, out-of-the-way prisons and few hospital beds. Read More

Five Reasons Your Church Members Are Disagreeing about When to Regather

It has become a common theme at Church Answers. We are hearing from pastors and other church leaders about members who have divergent opinions on the timing for regathering the in-person services. No surprise here. It might be helpful, however, to understand the reasons behind the disagreements. We see five major themes. Read More

What Is the Attractional Church?

An attractional church conducts worship and ministry according to the desires and values of potential consumers. This typically leads to the dominant ethos of pragmatism throughout the church. If a church determines its target audience prefers old-fashioned music, then that’s what they feature in order to attract those people.Read More

The Coming Pastoral Crash

I don’t want to be a prophet of doom, but as a minister in touch with many ministers, I see a coming pastoral crash. And I’m not sure we can stop it. The impact of the world response to COVID-19 will be felt for many years to come. It will be felt in every career field and in every home. This post does not diminish the hard work and adjustments being done by first responders, law enforcement, health care workers, and the educational structures. But from my perspective, those who serve in ministry are, in my thinking, in particular danger for several reasons. Read More

11 Self-Care Steps For Leaders Who Are Barely Holding On

Motivation is hard. And comfort food feels so good. But it’s more important now than ever to stay healthy. Read More

My 4 Step Method for Outlining Sermons [Repost]

Recently I received a question from a reader regarding how I outline my sermons and what I use for notes while I preach. I want to share his question and my answer with you. Read More

As In-Person Services Resume, Kentucky's Largest Church Sets No Timeline to 'Regather'

On a Sunday morning when churches around Kentucky began to open their doors as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease, the state’s largest church remained closed to in-person services, and senior pastor Kyle Idleman, speaking on behalf of church leadership, isn’t yet saying when those might resume. Read More
Among the things that I found interesting in this article was the responses of the members of Kentucky's largest church to the senior pastor's poll.“About a third of you think we should’ve started meeting several weeks ago,” he said. “About a third of you think we need to just monitor the situation and continue to take precautions. And about a third of you think we probably shouldn’t regather until there’s some kind of vaccine or proven treatment...." These responses are consistent with my own observations. A segment of the population does not believe that churches should have suspended their gatherings in the first place. This population segment also tends to dismiss the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic and need for shelter-in-place orders and other public health measures that state and local authorities have implemented to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Victor Gardens and COVID-19

Victory what?

While rationing does not appear to be on the horizon during this pandemic, concerns over the fragility of the American food system continue to grow. Many Americans are feeling powerless in the face of shelter-in-place orders, job loss, overwhelmed medical facilities and the suffering of neighbors and friends. With all of this uncertainty circling, other questions arise, especially around food production. Who will harvest our crops? What happens if the supermarkets can’t keep up with the demand? What can we, as individuals, do in the face of an uncertain future?

In the wake of the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are rediscovering the tradition of victory gardens. Instead of relying on grocery stores to keep food in stock, many Americans are turning their lawns into small victory gardens to create some food security in an uncertain time. “People seem to be preparing for some serious disruptions in the food supply. I’m not alone in feeling concerned with how this may go down,” said Nate Kleinman, co-founder of the nonprofit Experimental Farm Network. These family- and community-centered gardens were popular during both of the World Wars and were an important source of both calories and nutrition for communities during times of scarcity caused by these wars. Read More

Also See:
The 1940's Experiment: Frugal Wartime Recipes to See You Through Challenging Times!
Victory gardens: A war-time hobby that's back in fashion
I have tried a number of the recipes and I recommend them. I was born in the years immediately following World War II and the meals that I ate as a youngster reflected the influence of war-time rationing. My grandfather had been a food officer in both world wars and I suspect that he set an example for others. He was also an avid gardener. My grandmother came from a large family and had a Scottish mother. This background may explain her frugality. "Waste not, want not" was a proverbial saying that I often heard as a child. Very little food was wasted. Half of Sunday's roast chicken was sliced and served cold a day or two later with boiled potatoes and salad. Eggs went into batter puddings; bacon, into steamed puddings. Stale bread became bread puddings. What table scraps were left after meals were fed to the pigs. If my grandparents were alive today, I believe that they would be shocked at the amount of food waste in the United Kingdom and the United States.

How Do You Stay Safe Now That States Are Reopening?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has finally released new guidelines for businesses, bars and schools that are considering reopening. Although following these guidelines should help, it’s frustrating there hasn’t been more clear, concise communication about the risk of infection. And without strict guidelines, it will be up to us to minimize our own risk and the risk of everyone around us.

In large part, this is because there is still so much we scientists and physicians don’t know about the new coronavirus. The pace of new research on the virus, SARS-CoV-2, and the disease it causes, COVID-19, is truly astonishing. There are also times when the science and the necessity of the moment are in conflict; a prime example is the confusion about using face masks while a worldwide shortage of personal protective equipment exists.

And the pattern of disease is extremely localized. Michigan’s outbreak looks different from Iowa’s, which looks different from Colorado’s. Even within states, outbreaks are very distinct. The outbreak I’m experiencing in southeast Michigan is not like the one my grandparents are experiencing two hours north of here. As a research scientist, I study herd immunity and vaccine effectiveness. As we slowly begin to return to normal life – albeit a new normal – I can tell you there are ways we can minimize our risk.

As a survivor of leukemia and a bone marrow transplant, I am part of a high-risk population, so my risk calculation is likely different from yours. As my state starts to relax restrictions, I will continue to limit my interactions with others as much as I can. Here are things you can consider. Read More

Also See:
While U.S. struggles to roll out coronavirus contact tracing, Germany has been doing it from the start
Poll: Many Americans won’t venture into public despite businesses reopening
A guide to backyard camping: Turns out you don’t have to go very far to get away from it all
What we can learn from conspiracy theories
The author of the lead article introduces the fascinating concept of "layers of intervention," which explains why we need to take a number of measures to protect ourselves and our families from COVID-19. Sadly the COVID-19 pandemic caught the United States with its pants down. Confusion and division over the seriousness of the pandemic and how we should respond to it continues to hamper efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Despite the urging of politicians and pundits many Americans are not comfortable with leaving the relative safety of their home where they have some control over their exposure to COVID-19 for the larger world where they have negligible control. When the girls were younger, we sometimes camped in the backyard. It was a lot of fun. Conspiracy theories abound on Facebook and other social media platforms. A number of people appear willing not only to believe but also spread their favorite conspiracy theory than come to terms with the fact a dangerous highly infectious virus is spreading across the United States and that only coordinated, unified response will mitigate its effects. One encounters arguments that COVID-19 is no worse than a bad case of the flu and that the United States can reduce the number of fatalities from the pandemic by allowing the virus to go unchecked. 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

A Plea for Unity in the Midst of the COVID-19 Crisis

By Robin G. Jordan

I am convinced that the United States is heading for a major catastrophe that will impact the nation for generations to come. Based upon the evidence that I seen to date, the United States has yet to come to grips with the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of bots on Twitter that are spreading all kinds of conspiracy theories and other forms of misinformation indicate that foreign powers are not only exploiting the confusion and division in the United States but also fueling it. There is much to be gained from a United States preoccupied with the battle against an epidemic of catastrophic proportions and the accompanying economic woes.

As the old saying goes, “when the cat is away, the mice will play.” A virus-ravished United States will be focused on itself and not what is happening elsewhere. The ultimate aim of these foreign powers is a permanently weakened United States, one that is no longer a power to reckon with in the world.

I am amazed at a number of the posts that I have been reading on Facebook. Some clearly suggest a well-organized campaign of disinformation, statistics that have been cherry-picked to suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic is far less serious than the health experts maintain and that Americans do not need to adopt the kind of measures to protect themselves, their families, and their communities that the health experts recommend. As researchers are documenting how badly COVID-19 can damage the human body, the claim that COVID-19 is no worse than a bad case of the flu continues to circulate on the internet.

Intelligent, thoughtful people are arguing that there should have been a debate over the need for a lockdown before it was implemented. When people are seriously ill and dying and doctors and other health care workers are struggling to care for them, a nation does not debate what measures it should take. It takes those measures that have proven effective in the past in mitigating an outbreak of a dangerous, highly-infectious virus.

The failure of the nation to come to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic accounts for why the virus continues to spread in many parts of the United States. Measures taken to prevent the spread of the virus during the early days of the pandemic were not only inadequate but they may have actually hastened the virus’ spread. The lack of a coordinated, uniform response nation-wide is hampering those trying to mitigate the virus’ spread in their state. A restless public that does not fully appreciate the seriousness of the pandemic is also contributing to its spread.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the weakness of the United States—a divided people who cannot agree on the seriousness of the threat that the pandemic poses to the nation and how to respond to that threat. Let us pray that it also reveals what has in the past been the nation’s strength—the ability to rise above its divisions and to unite against a common enemy. If not, the pandemic will leave a lasting scar on the American psyche—a scar that will not heal in this century or beyond.

As we honor on Memorial Day those who laid down their lives in the service of their country, may their example and sacrifice inspire us to a greater unity in combating this latest threat to our nation. As we joined together to defend our country's freedom in the last century, let us join together to defeat COVID-19 in this century.

5 Signs You Are Becoming an Irrelevant Leader

So how relevant are you as a leader?

Any idea how you’d answer that accurately?

You can debate how important relevance is all day long (and many do), but the truth is irrelevant leaders make almost no impact on the people or causes around them.

Why is that?

Well, it’s not about being current or cool. Relevance matters for one reason: it’s permission to speak into the culture. Our culture has a habit of not listening to people it deems irrelevant.

Relevance simply gains you a hearing. It determines whether or not people pay attention to you or whether they ignore you.

Relevance isn’t necessarily an age thing. You can be relevant at 65 and irrelevant at 25. It’s more a mindset than it is anything else.

One often ignored factor that can push you toward irrelevance is, paradoxically, success.

Leaders who are part of growing or large organizations are especially prone to irrelevance unless they guard against it.

In fact, as we’ve discussed here more than a few times, the great enemy of your future success is your current success because your success makes you conservative.

When you had nothing to lose, change was easy. Now that you have something to lose, change is that much harder.

Your past success doesn’t guarantee your future success.

So whether your organization has momentum or whether it’s losing steam, here are 5 signs you’re becoming an irrelevant leader. Read More

Saturday Lagniappe: The Dilemma Churches Face over Reopening and More

President Trump, Governors, and Churches: We Don't Need an Immediate Opening, But We Do Need Communication and Collaboration

We don't want to rush ahead of the governor, but there is a significant and growing angst among many church attenders and many church leaders. Read More

Trump Declares Churches ‘Essential’ as CDC Releases Reopening Guidelines

More than 1,000 pastors in Minnesota and California plan to resume worship by Pentecost Sunday, despite state restrictions. Read More
I am concerned that the recommendation for a phased reopening was dropped from the CDC reopening guidelines for churches. It is the safest approach and the one which health experts recommend. One does not put a baby in a tub of water without testing the temperature of the water first. I seen the injuries babies have received when a caregiver ignored this simple precaution or deliberately put a baby in a tub of scalding hot water. By reopening a church incrementally in phases, church leaders reduce the risk of infection to their congregation and to the community.
‘Free in Christ’ to Defy State Closures? Latino Churches Offer Insight.

Our churches are essential, but whether it is critical to gather is another question. Read More

The Nightmare That Colleges Face This Fall

University presidents are scrambling for answers on everything from on-campus housing to revenue-generating sports. Read More
I live in a town which is home to a state university. The university is the largest employer in the area. In recent years the university has been struggling due to reduced enrollment and funding cuts. The university has been forced to raise its tuition and fees, exacerbating its enrollment difficulties as more student choose to attend community colleges close to where their parents live rather than attend a state university away from home. If the university returns to in-person classes and reopens its residence halls, it may see an influx of students not just from Kentucky but also other states. These students may bring COVID-19 with them. On the other hand, the university may have difficulty in coaxing parents to permit their children to attend the university. Even if attendance falls below expectations, the return of students to the community increases the likelihood that the community will see an uptick in COVID-19 cases. Students generally live in close quarters with each other in the residence halls on campus or shared apartments off campus. A number of them do not follow guidelines for reducing the spread of infectious diseases like influenza and the common cold. A number of them dismiss the need for such guidelines. Because they are adolescents, they see themselves as invulnerable. They also show little or no concern for how their behavior affects other people. This creates a real dilemma. On one hand, the community's economy is dependent upon the university and the students; on the other hand, their return may pose a a threat to the health and safety of the community. The university is in the unenviable position of having to protect the students from themselves, the community from the students, and the students from the community. In some ways it is a position similar to that of churches in the United States.
Rick Warren: Sin of Prejudice Particularly Acute Right Now

As the global pandemic drags on, Pastor Rick Warren believes an old and ubiquitous sin is rearing its ugly head. The Bible refers to this sin as partiality, but we are more familiar with partiality’s synonyms: prejudice, discrimination, and bigotry. Read More

Friday, May 22, 2020

What I Have Learned during the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Robin G. Jordan

An early observation that I read online when churches first began to grasp the full magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic was “all churches are now start-ups.” In other words, they face the same conditions that start-ups do. With a few exceptions, this observation, I believe, is accurate. One can always find exceptions but their existence does not negate the overall accuracy of the observation.

I believe that a number of pastors and other church leaders are struggling to come to terms with this reality. It may at least in part account for why they are in a hurry to return to what they regard as “normalcy.” I, however, see in the new reality a tremendous opportunity to unlearn the things that have not worked for us in reaching the unchurched and spiritually disconnected and to learn things that do work. My own learning curve has gone up during the last few weeks and I am hoping to continue to learn.

I thought that I would share with you some of things that I have learned since they may prove helpful to readers in their ministry.

1. Rare is the church that has not gone to some form of online giving.

2. Most churches that moved their services online have reduced their length and simplified them, eliminating unnecessary elements. Only a small number of churches have kept their services at their usual length or lengthened them. When people attended our in-person services or gatherings for the first time, we could expect them to stay for the entire service or gathering. If they were not attracted to what we were doing, they would not return for a second visit the following Sunday. If they visit our online services or gatherings and they are not attracted within the first sixty seconds to what we are doing, a mouse click and they are gone. They have a plethora of online services and gatherings from which they can choose.

3. First time guests do not experience our services in the same way as long-time attendees. If they are not accustomed to liturgical services, they are apt to experience them as long and boring If they contain too many elements, even long-time attendees may experience them as tedious. When you move the same services online, both first time guests and long-time attendees are likely to experience them as long and boring. I can attest to this from personal experience. I sometimes attended services at a local Methodist church. I know one of the choir members and the choir director is a professor of music at my university. This church was livestreaming its services online before the COVID-19 pandemic. I occasionally watched them. The services, when the congregation attended them, were a comfortable length. But in the absence of the congregation they now feel unnecessarily long. The services, for instance, do not need to begin with a prelude played on the piano, followed by one played on the organ. This made sense when there was a congregation as it gave the congregation an opportunity to settle down. The two preludes are extraneous when there is no congregation.

4. Churches are revamping and upgrading their websites and Facebook pages. Their websites and Facebook pages are now their front door. Potential first-time guests are going to visit a church’s website and Facebook page first. If they are not attracted to what they find, they are not going checkout the church’s online services or gatherings. They are going to checkout another church’s website or Facebook page.

5. Pastors and other preachers are shortening their sermons. They are also preaching to the camera in less formal settings than the church sanctuary or worship center. As Charles Stone pointed out in a webinar on virtual preaching, it is not that people’s attention spans have grown shorter but that TV and the Internet have shaped their expectations. Online sermons should be short and concise. Their language should be easy to understand. They should also have only a single point. How long we can hold our listeners’ attention will depend upon how interesting they find the content of our sermon. Pastors and other preachers are finding that when they preach in a less formal setting, their audience who is often as not sitting on a sofa in front of a screen is more receptive to their message. They are also adopting a more conversational preaching style. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fireside chats is sometimes cited as an example of the best kind of approach to take.

6. A growing number of churches are doing online communion. Below are links to four articles about online communion to which I have previously posted links on Anglicans Ablaze. The first is Archbishop Glenn Davies' pastoral letter to the clergy and people of the Diocese of Sydney. The second and third articles weigh in on whether and how to do online communion. The fourth article shares helpful tips for online communion based upon the experience of DisciplesNet Church.


In online communions each participating household gathers in front of the TV or computer screen with a plate of bread and a cup or cups of wine or unfermented grape juice, depending upon the church’s tradition. The bread can be ordinary bread that is used in the household. It does not have to be unleaven. Pita bread is a good choice if a household is able to purchase it. The pastor also has bread and wine or unfermented grape juice in front of him, in front of the camera. The pastor says the prayer of consecration and then each household shares the elements—first the bread and then the wine or unfermented grape juice. Households have reported that the experience, while different from what they were accustomed to, was a deeply moving experience.

The thing to remember is that the Body of Christ is foremost a spiritual entity. Whether we are gathered in the same room or in separate rooms, we are still a part of the Body of Christ. We are united to our Lord and to each other by our baptism and the Holy Spirit. While we may be prevented from gathering physically, we can still gather digitally and spiritually with the intention to do what the church has always done—to partake of bread and wine in remembrance of Christ’s suffering and death and in proclamation of his atoning death for our sins and to feed spiritually upon Christ by faith with thanksgiving.

If a church uses the 1928 Book of Common Prayer in its worship, I recommend using the form for the Communion of the Sick, which is what a Continuing Anglican bishop with who I am acquainted did when he officiated at home communions. This enables the priest or in his case, the bishop, to shorten the service. I would also recommend using the 1662 Communion of the Sick since the prayer of consecration is shorter and communion immediately follows the prayer of consecration. Its use, of course, is something that the officiating minister must decide for himself.

If a contemporary language liturgy is desired, the Lord’s Supper, Form 4, from Common Prayer: Resources for Gospel-Shaped Gatherings may easily be adapted for use online.

I recommend the following modifications—substitute a brief invitation to confession for the exhortation, allow the participants time to examine themselves and to confess their sins to God in silence, conclude this time of self-examination and confession with suitable words of assurance of God’s forgiveness, invite the participants to join in the Prayer of Preparation, read the Prayer of Consecration, and then invite the participants to receive, omitting the “come” from “come let us eat and drink in remembrance that Christ died for us, and feed on him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving.”

After the minister says these words, “Take and eat this, in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed upon him your heart by faith, with thanksgiving,” all say “amen” and eat the bread together. After the minister says these words, “Drink this, in remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for you and be thankful,” all say “amen” and drink the cup together. After Communion the minister invites the participants to join him in the Post-Communion Prayer.

What may be the most important thing that I have learned is not to compare in-person services or gatherings and on-line ones but to enter fully into worshiping God whatever the circumstances are. This entails turning off the negative talk in my head that is telling me, "But this is so different from what I am used to" and entering into the moment. Whether we gather together in a church sanctuary or worship center or via Zoom or some other video conferencing platform, God is present. He is not bound by time or space. He will meet us where we are. He will near to us as we draw near to him.

Let us not forget that it is not a building in which God in the person of the Holy Spirit dwells. It is in the inmost being of the believer. As Christians we have become so building-centered that we are apt to forget this most important truth. God may be using COVID-19 to remind us of it.

Trump Ramps Up Pressure on Governors to Permit Hasty Reopening of Churches

After high-profile delays and disputes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expected to release a roadmap soon for reopening religious organizations during the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this week, the CDC published guidelines for a variety of other institutions and programs, and administration officials said none would be issued for faith-based groups.

But during a visit to Michigan yesterday, President Trump indicated that plans had changed. “I said, ‘You better put it out,’ and they’re doing it,” he said of the CDC. “We got to get our churches open.” Churches are “essential” and “so important to the psyche of our country,” the president added.

Trump, who had hoped to have churches and the country back open by Easter, said on Thursday, “People want to be in their churches. It’s wonderful to sit home and watch something on a laptop, but it can never be the same as being in a church or be with your friends and they want to have it open and I think that’s going to be happening very shortly.” The president also blamed “a lot of Democrat governors” for keeping churches closed and for not treating churches “with respect.” Read More

Also See:
Trump slams governors, demands they open houses of worship ‘right now’
President Trump is doing churches no favor by urging governors to relax restrictions on large church gatherings. He is playing to the evangelical wing of his base which has been agitating against state and local restrictions on such gatherings.

But if churches that do not take adequate measures to safeguard their congregations and communities become the epicenter of new clusters of COVID-19 cases and deaths as has been the case in Arkansas, California, Georgia, and Texas, do not expect him to share the blame. It is well documented that he is adept at shifting the blame from himself to others. The governors, church leaders, and the churches themselves will bear the full brunt of the blame.

Church leaders who have committed themselves to proceed with caution in reopening their churches should stay the course. States that are reopening are already seeing an uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. One study suggests that COVID-19 may be out of control in as many as 24 states. Public health experts are warning that we can expect a second and even deadlier wave of COVID-19 in the fall.

It will be far more damaging to the psyche of the United States if churches open prematurely, become major spreaders of COVID-19 in their communities, and are forced to close again. They will lose the trust and confidence of their communities, which they may never regain.

President Trump's rhetoric is politically-motivated. He is seeking to present himself as the champion of the free exercise of religion in the United States and to retain the support of the evangelical wing of his base. His reelection prospects, not churchgoers' physical and spiritual well-being, is his prime consideration.

Some readers may disagree with this analysis but I believe that it is a fair and accurate one, based upon President Trump's past actions.

The Original 2020 Is History. 7 New Disruptive Church Trends Every Church Leader Should Watch

So, in light of everything that’s changed and been disrupted so far in 2020, what the future church trends should you be watching as a leader?

I usually do a church trends post every January, but with the almost surreal events of 2020 unfolding as they have it’s time to rethink what’s ahead again. Hence a fresh post outlining 7 trends to watch.

Crisis, after all, is not just a disruptor, it’s an accelerator.

Some of the changes that were likely arriving in 5-10 years (like the normalization of remote work) arrived in days.

The shift from facility-entered ministry to home-based ministry happened in hours.

And while there will be a return to some version of normal, normal as we knew is likely gone, at least for a while. It’s hard to go back to normal when normal disappeared.

And because the future is unkind to the unprepared, the best thing a leader can do is prepare.

Disruption is hard because disruption is inconvenient. It’s far easier to keep doing what you’re doing hoping for better results or going back to normal as quickly as possible to regain what you’ve lost.

The good news is that leaders who embrace change, who find the energy, passion and time to keep pivoting will likely end up advancing their mission in the future.

So what are the new 2020 church trends you should watch in what is shaping up to be a very pivotal year?

Here are 7. Read More

How Rural Churches Can Plan to Reopen

Currently, the largest debate in our country is whether or not — and how — to reopen our seemingly dormant communities. Colleges and schools are making plans for the fall, balancing a desire to return to normal operations with a desire for safety. Government leaders, meanwhile, are shaping policies for restaurants and businesses that encourage both safety and a desire to limit economic fallout.

Churches, too, are having to make plans to reopen. Already webinars and blogs are sharing helpful questions that churches should consider. Regional and denominational leaders are creating guidelines for churches in their areas. Likewise, the CDC has issued detailed guidance that congregations would do well to heed.

As always, though, context matters. When planning their next steps, rural churches should pay close attention to how rural communities have been impacted by COVID-19.

The reality is that for many rural communities, the worst of the pandemic has yet to hit. Because of their built-in physical distance, rural communities are usually spared the initial brunt of any virus. But this shield only lasts for so long. Once the virus enters, it can stretch the already thin health care in many rural places, overwhelming local hospitals. While the coronavirus spared rural America in March, April brought an eightfold increase of cases to rural America. Read More

Also See:
CDC Document Outlines Guidance for Reopening of Churches
Rural Towns Insulated From Coronavirus Now May Take A Harder Hit Later
Covid-19 Update: April Saw Rural America’s Infection Rate Increase 8-Fold

The county in which I live is largely rural--woods, farms, and small unincorporated communities. I live on the outskirts of its largest town which is also the county seat, the commercial center of the county, and the home of a state university. While the town has some light industry (Pell, Morning Star Foods), its largest employer is the state university. The town has its own independent school system, including a middle school and a high school, and the county's middle school and high school are located on its outskirts. In addition to being the site of the county hospital, the town has a nursing home, a hospice, and several retirement and assisted living communities. 
The university which has a sizable number of foreign exchange students and robust study abroad program was first to recognize the need to lock-down to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Before the spring break it advised its students not to make any trips during the spring break but to stay in their homes and to stay away from other people. This advice received a mixed response from its students. Most followed the advice. An undetermined number, however, joined other university students on the beaches and in the bars in Florida. During the spring break the university moved its classes online. It also closed its residence halls except to a few students who had nowhere else to go. 
To date the county has forty-four confirmed cases and one death.
I have identified several ways that the virus may have spread to the county. They includes people traveling back and forth to Nashville and to communities across the Tennessee-Kentucky border. The town is within two and half hour drive from Nashville and a half an hour drive from the Kentucky-Tennessee border. Other possible sources of infection are students who live in the county but traveled during the spring break, people traveling back and forth to Paducah which is an hours drive away and which is across the Mississippi River from Missouri and across the Ohio River from Illinois, and visitors to the county. 
The first confirmed case was such a visitor who had been tested positive but ignored his doctor's advice to self-isolate and visited a relative in the county. He was not feeling sick so he saw no reason to postpone the visit. While visiting the relative, he attended the relative's church, exposing its congregation to the virus. At least 100 people attended the service which he attended. The second confirmed case was the relative whom he visited.
During the flu and cold seasons the university's student population is typically the epicenter of flue and cold outbreaks in the community. The students who live in the residence halls live together in close quarters. The students are also not known for receiving seasonal flu shots or observing recommended measures for the prevention of the spread of the flu or the cold coronavirus such as coughing or sneezing into a tissue and then disposing of the tissue, washing their hands, using hand sanitizer, wearing face masks, and not leaving their rooms when they are sick.

The university is planning to restart its in-person classes and reopen its residence halls in the fall.

Friday's Catch: No Going Back and More

Going Forward Means We Can’t Go Back

"But we can’t go back. Normal doesn’t exist anymore. There’s only the future now and moving forward means we can’t go back." Read More

4 BIG Questions To Help You Successfully Re-open Your Church

I’ve read a couple of good posts with more detailed lists of questions we should be asking from “Do we pass the offering plate anymore?” to “What about serving coffee?” These lists are great and very much needed. In this post, I’d like to offer something different. I’d like to give you 4 big questions that are more macro in nature. Read More

How Caffeine Might Make you a Better Leader

I’m a leader. I want to maximize my brain power. And I care about how I treat my body. I don’t drink coffee or tea, yet I do strategically use caffeine with diet caffeine drinks and 5-Hour Energy (Disclaimer: I am in no way related to the company who produces 5-Hour Energy). I believe my strategic use of caffeine has helped enhance my cognitive resources as a leader. In this post I look at three areas: what caffeine does to your brain, cautions about its use, and how to strategically use it. Read More

Giving an Effective Online Gospel Invitation

One of the key aspects of serving this new audience well is giving an effective gospel invitation online. Here are several applicable practices to keep in mind.... Read More

Zoom Tips for Newbies

Are you new to Zoom? Video conferencing can be a great way to keep people engaged, even when we’re practicing social distancing. Read More

Tallahassee Churches 'Bear One Another's Burdens' through City-Wide Virtual VBS

Joy Allmond describes how Tallahassee churches are partnering with each other across denominational lines to offer a virtual VBS program for children in the Tallahassee area this summer. Read More

Four Concepts to Assess Your Personal Risk as the U.S. Reopens

By the end of this week, all 50 states will be reopening to some degree. I’ve argued that since none of them has met the metrics to safely reopen but are starting to do so anyway, the United States needs to move to the public health strategy of harm reduction. So what does that mean in terms of choices each of us makes — what’s safe to do and what’s not?

Here are four concepts from other harm-reduction strategies that can help to guide our decisions.... Read More

Also See:
Coronavirus live updates: CDC chief issues stark warning on possible second wave and more lockdowns as global cases top 5 million
Coronavirus: Could there be a second wave? [Video]
CDC estimates that 35% of coronavirus patients don't have symptoms
CDC acknowledges mixing up coronavirus testing data
At least 4 states combined numbers from two tests, possibly providing a misleading picture of coronavirus spread
How The Novel Coronavirus And The Flu Are Alike ... And Different
More evidence emerges on why covid-19 is so much worse than the flu
Doctors keep discovering new ways the coronavirus attacks the body
Young adults are also affected by Kawasaki-like disease linked to coronavirus, doctors say
Where states are reopening after America’s shutdown

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Need to Feel Safe and Church Reopenings

By Robin G. Jordan

Pastors and other church leaders who are considering reopening their churches need to pay attention to the need of would-be attendees to feel safe. This is very real need and should not be dismissed as a lack of faith as some church leaders appear prone to do. COVID-19 has greatly shaken our world and heightened our need to feel safe.  If church leaders ignore this need and do not take adequate measures to ensure the safety of would-be attendees, they are going to lose the trust of these individuals. One has only to look at what has happened to the Catholic Church as a result of its hierarchy’s poor handling of child sexual abuse perpetrators in the Catholic clergy to see the damage a loss of trust can do.

Unfortunately the decision to reopen a church (or keep a church open) in a number of cases has not been motivated by a desire to meet the spiritual needs of the congregation but to make a political statement. Church leaders involved in these decisions have bought into conspiracy theories that deny seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic and attribute the reports of the heavy toll in human lives in the United States and other countries as exaggerated and politically motivated.

The failure of some church leaders to take the COVID-19 pandemic with the seriousness that a highly infectious disease like COVID-19 warrants is going to greatly damage the public images of churches across the United States. I personally witnessed the damage that the election, confirmation, and consecration of a bishop openly in a same sex relationship with another man did to the public image of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Louisiana in 2003 and the negative impact that this development had upon churches in the diocese.

Church leaders who argue that COVID-19 is no worse than a bad case of the flu and that the kind of measures that health experts are urging businesses, schools and churches to adopt are unnecessary are not only underestimating the seriousness of COVID-19 but also of the flu. Every year the flu takes a toll in human lives. I began receiving annual flu shots after one of my grandnephews was diagnosed with leukemia. Due to his chemotherapy regimen his immunity to infectious diseases was seriously compromised and a bout with the flu could have killed him.

While church leaders may not be able to keep would-be attendees 100% safe from COVID-19, this knowledge should not prevent them from doing everything that they can possibly do to protect would-be attendees from infection. They should aim for keeping would-be attendees 100% safe. Such an attitude will inspire confidence and build trust. It conveys to would-be attendees that the church leaders in question value their lives. It will convey to the larger community that Christians do care about their fellow human beings.

Eight Ways to Lead in the New Digital Default Church

Like it or not (and a lot of church leaders don’t seem to like it), digital is your new default as a leader.

As the country and world slowly reopens, I’ve been fielding a lot of questions on digital church.

With reduced in-person seating, social distancing and substantial evidence that not everyone wants to come back to in-person services, digital church appears to be as much a part of the future as it is the present.

So what’s the key to leading digital church well moving forward?

Here are 8 ways to lead in the new digital default church. Read More

Also See:
When Your Church Reopens, What Will Be Left and Who Will Still Come? Some Thoughts
Five 21st Century Culture Shifts (that are impacting the effectiveness of 20th century models)

Thursday's Catch: Concerns, Questions, Investments and More Questions

9 Concerns Pastors Have about Their Church Gathering Again

LifeWay Research spoke with around a dozen pastors to hear their largest concerns or fears about beginning to welcome their congregations back for in-person services. Here are some of the concerns they shared. Read More

As Churches Re-Open: Are We Asking The Right Questions?

With all the growing questions about how churches will emerge from this crisis, Dawn Nicole Baldwin – our growth strategist at Cooke Media Group – is asking different questions. In fact, her thoughts were so important, I wanted her to share them with my readers.... Read More

5 Ministry Investments Your Church Should Consider Making Right Now

As the church reopens, here are five investments your church and mine should consider making right now, so that we can see those investments pay great dividends as we minister to people. Read More

11 Questions I Never Thought I'd Ask in Ministry

Today, I’m just thinking about questions I never thought I’d have to ask in ministry, like.... Read More

20 Questions to Ask Before Kids Come Back to Church

There will be things that are new to everyone as we walk into this new normal. It's important to think through what your strategy will be when they return. What should you do? What should you not do? Your answers to these questions can help you formulate what your strategy will be. Read More

How the Fall Affected Evangelism

From the account of Adam and Eve’s fall in the garden, there are at least four reasons why believers may not be sharing the gospe. Read More

U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Is Far Higher Than Reported, C.D.C. Data Suggests

Total deaths in seven states that have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic are nearly 50 percent higher than normal for the five weeks from March 8 through April 11, according to new death statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is 9,000 more deaths than were reported as of April 11 in official counts of deaths from the coronavirus.

The new data is partial and most likely undercounts the recent death toll significantly. But it still illustrates how the coronavirus is causing a surge in deaths in the places it has struck, probably killing more people than the reported statistics capture. These increases belie arguments that the virus is only killing people who would have died anyway from other causes. Instead, the virus has brought a pattern of deaths unlike anything seen in recent years. Read More

Also See:
Fight over Viruses's Death Toll Opens Grim New Front in Election Battle
Coronavirus vaccine and quarantine protesters in America form an unholy COVID-19 alliance
Lockdown Delays Cost at Least 36,000 Lives, Data Show
Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count
Sweden recorded the most coronavirus deaths in Europe per capita over the past week, according to Oxford data
Swedish antibody study shows little sign of herd immunity
CDC reports higher hospitalization rate from COVID-19 than flu for adults 18-64

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Cautious Churches Close Again After Being Open for Several Weeks

At least two churches have closed their doors again after reopening at the end of April/beginning of May. Since the reopenings, several people affiliated with Holy Ghost Church in Texas and Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle in Georgia have tested positive for COVID-19, and one church leader has passed away in what might have been a virus-related death.

“Our hearts are heavy as some of our families are dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 virus, and we ask for your prayers for each of them as they follow the prescribed protocol and recuperate at home,” Catoosa Baptist said in a statement, as reported by an ABC News affiliate. “Though we feel very confident of the safe environment we are able to offer in our facilities, the decision was made last night that we would discontinue all in-person services again until further notice in an effort of extreme caution for the safety and well being of our families.” Read More
These churches report that they were following social distancing guidelines and taking other precautions but since the reports do not go into detail as to what steps they took, it is difficult to assess whether the steps they took were adequate enough. One of the challenges that face churches that are reopening is that federal, state, and local guidelines are based upon the state of our knowledge of how COVID-19 spreads at the time of their issuance. Since then, however, we have learned more about how the virus spreads and what we can to do mitigate its spread but this knowledge is not being passed onto churches in a systematic way so that they can benefit from the knowledge.

Another challenge is that the present administration is holding back information because its release does not serve its political and economic agenda. The White House dropped the CDC’s recommendations for churches from the CDC’s proposed guidelines for the reopening of the states and watered down other sections of the proposed guidelines. The recommendations for churches were dropped because they were ostensibly “too precise” and may infringe upon the free exercise of religion. A panel of three health experts who reviewed the modified guidelines concluded that they were “too ambiguous” and were practically worthless. See https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/trump-rejected-cdc-s-first-coronavirus-reopening-america-guide-second-ncna1209626.
If churches are going to safeguard their congregations and their communities, they need precise guidelines, recommendations that are based upon the most recent knowledge of the transmission of COVID-19 and which are upgraded as our knowledge grows. With the White House shifting its focus away from mitigating the spread of COVID-19 to kick-starting the economy, denominations and other church networks need to develop their own guidelines for reopening their churches, based upon the latest research into COVID-19 and its transmission. Otherwise, churches will be reopening based upon inadequate guidelines and we will be reading more reports of churches that became epicenters of COVID-19 case clusters upon reopening. A slew of these reports is bound to damage the witness of churches across the United States and we will lose any benefits that we might have gained from the renewed interest in spiritual matters that Americans are now showing.

Why Are Your Online Attendance Numbers Suddenly Dropping? Five Reasons

You’re already seeing the trend: After an initial surge in online viewing numbers when the Coronavirus shut down church buildings, online viewing numbers are dropping.

The spike was significant. Heading into Easter 2020, half of all churches reported online attendance that was greater than their in normal attendance would be.

Now, that’s no longer the case.

As we head into month 3 of lockdown and the slow reopening of some churches, only 29% of church leaders report their attendance is higher than it would normally be. 71% report it’s now flat or lower. (Barna President, David Kinnaman, and I bring you fresh data and insights every week on the changes in The ChurchPulse Weekly Podcast. You can listen for free here.)

You can argue that everyone’s measurements might be to blame (here’s more on how to accurately measure online church attendance), but when the numbers change that dramatically, there’s a bigger trend happening than just ‘adjusted’ reporting.

So...what’s going on?

Here are 5 reasons online attendance is dropping, and what you can do to respond. Read More

Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of COVID-19 on the Church in America

As we slowly emerge out from sheltering in place to a “new” normal, what will the new normal look like for churches in America?

As I write, there are states, regions, cities, and towns either “reopening” or gearing up to reopen. This means the reemergence of life from the grasps of “shelter in place.”

Thus, people are going back to work, dining in at a restaurant, working out at a gym, receiving a haircut, and even gathering together with the church—but they are doing so with new policies and procedures that seek to protect each other from contracting the virus.

So as we slowly emerge out from sheltering in place to a “new” normal—which is the term people use—what will the new normal look like for churches in America?

Before I discuss both short-term and long-term effects that COVID-19 will have on the church, I want to address some of my counter-thoughts to what I (as well as many) have heard throughout the crisis the “new” normal will be. Read More

4 Keys to Connecting People No One Else Is Connecting

"To reach people no one else is reaching we must do things no one else is doing."

That was the line I heard from Craig Groeschel at Willow Creek's Leadership Summit in 2008. I remember where I was sitting in the Bayside Community Church auditorium when I heard the line. I can't tell you anything else I heard at the Leadership Summit that year, but I'll never forget that single line.

As it turned out, I wasn't the only one rocked by the line. Andy Stanley referenced it in a memorable Drive Conference session. You can listen to him recount its impact right here: What no one else is doing.

"To reach people no one else is reaching we must do things no one else is doing." If there was ever an idea that was self-evident, that was and is one. Read More