Plumb Lines in a Pandemic, part 3
As church leaders begin to re-engage with in-person weekend services, I thought it might be fitting to revisit our Plumb Lines series, specifically applying those steady principles to our current uncertainty.
A plumb line is a construction tool used to determine whether or not something is perfectly upright. In our context, a plumb line is a short, sticky phrase intended to keep us aligned with our guest services values.
Our third plumb line reminds us that it’s often the tiny, unnoticed-by-us details that throw off a good first experience. A cluttered sidewalk, a flickering fluorescent light, and an empty paper towel dispenser are not big deals by themselves, but add up enough of them and they will communicate plenty about your preparation.
In church world, we want to get the details right because we know that those details tell a story. And we want them to support – not detract from – the main story, the biggest story, the story of the gospel.
How does this apply as we re-gather?
Our main story has not changed. If anything, it’s more vital than ever that people know the hope they can find in Jesus. But at the same time we’re proclaiming the main story, we have to realize we’re now telling a series of new stories. Those stories communicate our commitment to safety, our care for our guests, and the precautions we’re taking to minimize the spread of COVID.
Here are three stories to watch for as you plan to re-open your doors.
1. Why you’re re-opening now.
Church leaders vary on why they want to reopen…or wait to do so: some feel the pressure of their congregation (both pro- and against). Some are fearful of the attendance attrition that could happen if we wait any longer. Some are following what other churches, businesses, or schools in the area are doing.
It’s important to know your rationale, and important to speak the truth on all of these things. While you don’t want to overwhelm your congregation with details, they should be informed on how your leadership team came to the decision. Example: “As we’ve watched our case numbers in our area, sought counsel from local health officials, and listened to the result of our congregational surveys, we believe that the time is right to hold limited worship gatherings with enhanced safety protocols. Some of you may not be ready to regather, and that’s understandable. We will continue to provide a quality online experience until you’re ready.”
2. Plans and processes.
In the first two parts of this series, we talked about modifying expectations and showing your work. If you preview the “new story” with the new safety precautions you’ll be taking, then follow the new safety precautions. Don’t make a promise that you can’t or don’t deliver on.
As you follow plans, re-tell the story of why these are important and why you’re doing them. And as circumstances dictate a change in protocol, tell that too.
3. How socially-distanced people can still connect.
I believe that one of the yet-to-be-seen losses we will experience is the lack of intimacy as we regather. People still have pre-COVID church (hugs, handshakes, no face masks, separate kids environments) in mind when they think about getting together again, and that won’t happen for a very long time.
So tell new stories of how people can connect to each other, to small groups, and to the ministries of the church, even if those things look markedly different than they did before. Highlight how the church has continued to be the church, even if we can’t be in the building. And let them know that the mission still goes on, even in the middle of a pandemic.
In this season, there are new stories to be written. What stories are you specifically telling? What stories are you unintentionally writing? What are your details saying that you don’t intend for them to say?