ReGathering Anxiety: Should I Go Back to Church?

This past weekend, hundreds of churches opened their doors and invited their people back. My church was one of those. Normally, my church has two worship services and two Sunday School hours on Sunday morning. We chose to re-establish worship first and continue our groups via digital format, in homes. We offered 4 different worship times. I chose the Saturday night service.

To be honest, driving to church that night, I was anxious. My apprehension was both selfish and congregational. Who would show up? Would they be wearing a mask, like me? Would I be the only one wearing one? Will people follow the guidelines of social distancing? How have the staff and church leaders prepared for this regathering? Will it be safe?

I was blown away, in a good way, not bad. Walking up to the building, I was still anxious, until I started seeing people wearing a mask, like me. Then, I began to recognize people behind those masks. Everyone was waving and excited to see one another. The staff and volunteer leaders did a great job of preparing the church. Greeters were stationed throughout the process from entry to seating to exiting. The church was cleaner than I had ever seen it. I literally touched nothing except my seat. There was an intentional process for how people would arrive, where they would enter, where they would sit, and how they would exit.

After finding my seat, waving at people and getting ready for worship, I was still anxious. Would this be like it used to be? Well, no it wasn’t. People were spread out wearing masks. BUT, once the service started and we began singing, it was incredible. I felt the Spirit of God moving and working. I sensed God was there, in the middle of it all. I WORSHIPPED. It felt so good to be with God’s people, worshipping Almighty God, together, in the same place and at the same time. It felt like “coming home again.”

I hope you experienced the same thing. It was good to be in the house of the Lord. It was good to once again be with my church family. COVID 19 did not take anything away. If anything, things are so much better. We are getting used to a “new normal.” It will not always be this way. One day, I’ll be able to shake hands, hug necks and pat people on the shoulder or back, again. And oh, what a great day that will be.

Until then, don’t be anxious. Place all your cares upon HIM. Go back to church. Nobody can make you, but, you’ll be glad you did.

Can Our Sunday School Class or Small Group Re-gather?

Maybe a better question is, “SHOULD our Sunday school class or small Group Re-gather”? We should know this week (May 11-15) what guidelines the State of Louisiana will suggest in order to Re-gather. Regardless of how you feel about those suggestions, the main question is, can you Re-gather your Sunday school class or small group SAFELY?

If you are considering Re-gathering your class or group, I have one question to ask: Will you do whatever is necessary to make sure that your members have a clean and safe environment in which to interact? Here are four ideas of what your preparation should look like:

  1. Clean obsessively – Clean like you always have. Then, clean some more. Then, clean it again.
  2. Set up for social distancing – Make sure the chairs are 6 to 8 feet away from one another. The further apart, the safer it will be. Don’t expect your members to abide by social distancing if you do not prepare the environment for it.
  3. Create a Non-Touch environment – A great way to communicate that, is, “if you didn’t bring it, don’t touch it.” I know that sounds extreme, but, better someone accidentally touch something than you spend all your time policing actions of people who are touching things they shouldn’t. No food. No coffee…unless they bring it for themselves, of course.
  4. Put up a sign saying, “This is a clean and safe environment”. Put people’s fears to rest. Show them that you have done everything you can to make sure they don’t have to worry.

If you are not willing to commit to “at least” these four things, maybe it would be a good idea to wait a little longer before starting your Sunday school/small groups. Continue to meet digitally and connect weekly. Make sure that people are being cared for and prayed for, regularly. This has been a very difficult time. For some, it has been more difficult than others. Just because someone says we CAN do something, doesn’t mean we SHOULD do something. 23 “Everything is permissible,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything builds up. 1 Corinthians 10:23 (CSBBible)

Just remember, when you do Re-gather, spend most of that time catching up with one another and praying for one another. Get ready for a new normal. Everything has changed. Embrace it. Do you really want everything to go back to the way it was before the pandemic? I don’t. I want to see revival in the church and in every Sunday school class and small group. I want to see a Spiritual Awakening in our State, our Country and our World. Don’t you?

Re-Gathering Ready? Webinars

We enjoyed talking about re-gathering the church in your regular facilities! Topics included general guidelines, how you can safely do so, and much more. See the links below for the webinar that best fits your church. We encourage you to share this info with others in your congregation and pray for wisdom as you proceed.

Additional websites mentioned during the webcast sessions:

Presenter Contact Information:

Dr. Steve Horn
Executive Director
Steve.Horn@LouisianaBaptists.org
318-449-4220

Sean Keith
Sunday School Strategist
Sean.Keith@LouisianaBaptists.org
318-448-3402 (ext. 237)

David Anderson
Children’s Ministry Strategist
David.Anderson@LouisianaBaptists.org
318-448-3402 (ext. 224)

Brandon LewisBrandon Lewis
Youth Strategist
Brandon.Lewis@LouisianaBaptists.org
318-448-3402 (ext. 230)

Jeff Ingram
Adult Ministry Strategist
Jeff.Ingram@LouisianaBaptists.org
318-448-3402 (ext. 295)

Five Old Innovations for Our New Day

It’s a new day. New normals will emerge. Our churches are picking up new technologies and new innovations to help us continue to deliver the gospel. In this season of new, of change, of adaptation, there may also be some OLD innovations that we need to circle back to. As we reset our churches over the coming days, consider resetting these five practices and attitudes:

  1. The Prayer Chain – Principle: Mobilize Prayer for the Church and the Lost. 

Growing up Southern Baptist, every church my family was a part of had a prayer chain. The prayer chain was a phone network built to mobilize prayer quickly when need arose in the congregation or community. How can your congregation be more effective at mobilizing prayer for one another, for the lost, for the community? Today, we have technologies available to us that can greatly enhance the impact of prayer mobilization. We all encourage prayer. How can we move from encouraging prayer to mobilizing prayer? What innovative approaches to prayer can we develop in the new normal?

  1. Discipleship Training – Principle: Train the Faithful to Train Others. 

The creativity of churches has grown tremendously over the last 20 years. Graphic design, stage design, sermon series design. We have to ask the question: Are these innovations actually helping us make disciples and train the faithful to disciple others. Discipleship Training, or Training Union, was designed to deliver the core truths of Christianity to the faithful. Now is a great time to assess our churches effectiveness at training disciples. A disciple is trained when they can train others. How did that go while the church was scattered? How many of your members were able to train their families, neighbors, small groups while the church was closed? How can your church be more effective at disciple making and training?

  1. The Prospect File – Principle: Help People Identify the Lost Around Them.  

We often bemoan the fact that people in yester-years were more apt to attend church than they are today. However, we could also argue that churches of the past were more aggressive at pursuing their lost friends, family and neighbors than we are today. Visitation night was common for churches in past decades. Visitation night was driven by the Prospect File compiled by people in Sunday School classes in the church. Prospect lists were a way for churches to identify lost people in their church field and in the lives of the congregation. Today, the Who’s Your One? Campaign has been a new innovation in this regard. How can your church be more effective at helping people identify the lost around them? As we’ve grown more inward, focusing programs on the already saved, the lost have become more distant from our churches, but also from our minds. It’s time to revive the Prospect File.

  1. Soul-Winning and Personal Evangelism – Principle: Every believer is an evangelist.

Remember the soul-winning rally? I attended several of these as a young person in a Southern Baptist Church. This emphasis helped rally people to the cause of leading others to Christ. There were concerted efforts to help people know how to share their faith and understand the urgency of sharing their faith. Over the years, innovations like Evangelism Explosion, Share Jesus Without Fear, FAITH Evangelism Training, and our own One to One Evangelism, have helped believers in this regard. With less than 10% of believers testifying that they share their faith regularly, and baptisms down another 20% in 2019 across Louisiana, it’s time for every church to train and emphasize personal evangelism for a new era. How can your church reset the idea and the effort to make every believer an evangelist? More than inviting people to church, we need a revival of inviting people to Jesus through personal evangelism.

  1. Start New Units – Principle: The Kingdom Expands through the Multiplication of New Groups and Churches.       

For Southern Baptist in the highest growth days of our Convention, a new unit was a new class or congregation birthed through and for evangelism and disciple making. New groups and new churches lead to new people and different types of people being reached. This needs to be a mindset and a practice. The opposite mindset is institutional thinking. This mindset makes us more concerned about available space, protecting inside opinions, and self-preservation. Multiplication and new unit thinking puts reaching the lost through any means necessary and the growth of the kingdom above all else. We have over 2.5 million lost in Louisiana. Their eternity is in the balance. Consider the possibilities for reaching them in your community. How many new groups are possible in your current space? How can you create more space for new groups? Are there areas, people groups, population segments in your community that needs a new church that can communicate the gospel to them?

Mobilizing Prayer, Training Disciples, Identifying the Lost, Winning Souls, Starting New Units. Old Innovations that are desperately needed for this new day. May they be part of our new normal.

Is it Worth it?

COVID 19 Update – Is what we have been going through worth it?

The answer to the Christian is a resounding yes. I know it is hard.  I have cried out to God myself, WHEN will this be over? Is all the pain, frustration and agony we have experienced during this pandemic really worth it? If one soul becomes a believer because of COVID 19, it is worth it. If a local church is revived because of this, it is worth it. If our country or any country around the world experiences spiritual awakening because of this, it is worth it. Even if we cannot see one positive thing from this experience, it is still worth it.

God is a God who cares. He would never allow this to happen if it were not part of His plan. If nothing else, it is worth it if our hearts are turned to God. Give glory to God. He KNOWS what He is doing. Imagine how Jesus felt the night He was betrayed. As He knelt in prayer while the disciples slept in the Garden of Gethsemane, He felt the weight of the world. 39 Going a little farther, he fell facedown and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39 (CSBBible). In that moment, Jesus asked His Father, is it worth it? Jesus already knew it was worth it. He died for the sins of the world. It is always worth it when it is part of God’s plan.

In Acts 7, Stephen preaches his final sermon and soon afterward, he was stoned to death. The next verse states: 1 On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria. Acts 8:1 (CSBBible). We are going through a tough time. Maybe it’s nothing like what the early disciples experienced, but, look at what happened to the church. When the persecution broke out, the Gospel spread like wildfire. Even today, the Gospel is being spread all over the world. It is reaching places none of us could ever have imagined.

I know that many of us long for the return of what we once had. We long for things to go back to normal. But, that was not what Jesus prayed the night we was betrayed. He prayed, Yet not as I will, but as you will.” It is time for a new normal. Pick your head up. 36 When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. 38 Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” Matthew 9:36-38 (HCSB)

God is at work. Join Him. IT IS WORTH IT!

Face Masks for New Orleans Ministry Sites

With emphasis of personal safety and security continuing for a while, the need for personal face masks is a need by those who work with underserved populations and other ministry. Two of those New Orleans ministries, Baptist Friendship House and Global Maritime Center, are near and dear to our hearts as Louisiana Baptists. Here is a great mission and ministry idea for the women in your church and association.

A good source for patterns and instructions is www.cdc.gov/coronavirus. It includes different patterns and recommendations at this website.

BAPTIST FRIENDSHIP HOUSE, NEW ORLEANS

Women, men and children are served by Baptist Friendship House (BFH) ministries. Many of these are homeless and do not have access to facilities for washing and keeping re-usable cloth facemasks clean and sanitary. Kay Bennett, executive director, says they can use many of these face covering and that the face masks made with elastic around the ears are most comfortable. BFH personnel will be giving away numerous facemasks in coming weeks.

  • BFH serves women, men and children – cloth colors and design should be appropriate for all three age groups and both genders.
  • Please mail completed face coverings to: Baptist Friendship House, 813 Elysian Fields Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70117

GLOBAL MARITIME CENTER, NEW ORLEANS

Philip Vandercook, director of Global Maritime, told me that these will be used as they work with seafarers from the ships and with those who work in the port.

  • They minister to both men and women and the need is great.
  • Filtered face masks are very helpful at this site.
  • Send your completed facemasks to: Global Maritime Center, 3635 Tchoupitoulas St., New Orleans, LA  70115.

Share how your women are ministering in this way by taking pictures of women sewing or of finished products being mailed and post them on Facebook at Louisiana Baptist Women or Louisiana Baptist’s Missions and Ministry.  Also, take a picture and mail to MISSIONS MOSAIC, 100 Missionary Ridge, Birmingham, AL  35242; or email to mosaic@wmu.org. Be sure to include a brief description of your picture, along with you church/association name and city.

Re-gathering the Church

Louisiana Pastors and Church Leaders.,

We have received a number of requests to help churches interpret the phasing aspects related to the re-gathering of congregations. A wise Seminary professor once lectured, “The definition of a fool is he who tries to guess what is going to be on the test.” Therefore, we have intentionally remained silent on what re-entry means to the churches of Louisiana until we heard from the Governor. As you probably know by now, on April 27 he extended the stay-at-home order until May 15 with an update tentatively targeted for May 11.

Suggestions, information and links are currently on our website. You can access them by clicking on the Resources slider and the Re-entry slider.

We have intentionally not passed along every article and post we’ve run across. Much of the information is redundant and we’re hoping to avoid information overload.

While we’re waiting for specifics from the governor’s office, let me offer several words of general guidance as you peruse the mountain of other suggestions.

  1. Re-gathering the church, just like all aspects of our society right now, is likely going to happen in several phases. The governor indicated that congregations may initially be limited to 25% of their seating capacity. Masks and social distancing guidelines will likely be part of the initial phase. Again, these are not the official guidelines, just hints he dropped during his press conference on April 27. Therefore, prepare your congregation now for multiple changes over the next several months. Though not Scripture, the adage, “Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be broken” is going to be necessary for a while.
  2. We are a long way from normal. Just because we anticipate some possible dates and processes that will enable us to come together, re-gathering your church may not be the best option right now. You need to reassess your volunteers. You’ll need to determine your ability to be effective given the guidelines. Some churches may determine that a few more weeks of remote meetings is more effective than immediately gathering given the anticipated guidelines. There is “no one size fits all” approach in determining your response to re-gathering the church.
  3. Understand that not everyone will follow the decision to re-gather. Some will decide to re-gather under strict social distancing guidelines, but others will not. On the flip side, my experience as a pastor reminds me that church members can be an independent bunch. They often make their own guidelines. When this happens, how are you going to respond? Others are going to stay home because of individual health concerns, at least for a while. How are you going to minister to those who make such a decision?
  4. The decision to re-gather is not so much a decision of rules and regulations, but of wisdom and responsibility. Our testimony in the community is far more important than our decision once the stay-at-home order is lifted. If we are asking the question, “Can I do ________________ and still be in compliance?” we are asking the wrong question. The right question is “Is our response the right message to send to our community about our love for God and our love for them?”
  5. There is no manual for leading through a pandemic. No, you did not miss this class in Seminary. Because there is no manual, we are likely to make some mistakes. You are likely to do something different than what you see the church across town is doing. You are likely to be criticized regardless of your decision. Such is the nature of leadership.

Pastor, we are here for you. We are available to pray with you . We’re here to talk through your particular situation, so please contact us if you desire to do so.

We are praying that God gives you the wisdom to understand these times and gives you the courage and grace to minister effectively now and always.

Keep looking up!

Be Careful What You Ask For

Covid 19 Update: Ask and you shall receive!

This morning as I prayed, I asked God for things to please return to normal. I miss my family, my friends, my church, my co-workers, and even my schedule. I long for a return to those things I love the most. I desire the freedom to roam, greet others along the path and minister the way I have for decades. But then, I regretted ever praying that prayer and asked God to lead me to discover a “new normal.”

Things will not and should not go back to the way they were, before the pandemic. Yes, some things will return. We will once again have the freedom to go to work, to church and lots of other places. We will be able to meet and greet people, and, even minister like we use to do.  BUT, we are learning a “new normal.” Let’s not lose it! Things like…

  • Worship in our home with our family.
  • A deeper and more meaningful time alone with God in Bible study and prayer.
  • Connecting with people in new and exciting ways.
  • Discovering new tools and resources that allow us to minister in ways we never thought possible before.

These are just a few of the “new normal” highlights.  Be careful of trying to go “back to normal” in your ministry. If you so, you will discover that there will be no room for the “new normal”.  I have learned that, previously, I did not adequately prioritize my time with my family, with God, with people and in using new tools and resources. Now, I need to find a “new normal” that incorporates all of the great things I have learned and new habits I have developed. I DON’T NEED THINGS TO GO BACK TO NORMAL.

God has allowed us to pass through this trial together. I could not handle this if it were not for my God, family, friends, co-workers and church. Why not allow yourself to learn a “new normal”–one that incorporates the priorities and areas of focus God has taught you during this season? Don’t long for the way things used to be. Instead, long for God to bring revival to the church and spiritual awakening to our country and our world.

Re-Entry

Governor Edwards has extended the stay-at-home order until May 15. An update is expected on May 11. This post will be updated accordingly.

For now, prayerfully review the article and links below to help prepare your people and your buildings for when the order is lifted.

No doubt, we are all looking forward to the day that the “stay home” orders and restrictions are lifted and we can start getting back to our normal routines. This is especially true of our churches, as the Body of Christ longs for corporate worship and fellowship. As much as we would like to return to “business as usual” as soon as possible, there are a few things you should consider as restrictions lessen and we start to meet again.

This will be a gradual process.

Just as we saw these orders gradually become more strict over several weeks when this crisis started, we can expect a gradual “opening up”, especially with larger crowds.

Return, but stay safe.

It will be important to still keep certain protocols in place when we return. Physical distancing and more thorough cleaning and sanitation should be maintained. Keep hand sanitizers and wash stations available, and encourage contactless greetings (no hand shakes or hugs yet). Coffee stations or self-serve food areas may not be a good idea when we first return. Those that are sick or who have symptoms should stay home until they feel better. Special attention should be given to those who are more vulnerable to the virus.

Create spaces for smaller gatherings.

We may need to continue in this mode of creativity and innovation, and create some new worship options, keeping our meetings under the allowed crowd limits. If your congregation exceeds the group limits, you may consider creating some smaller worship “venues” around campus. Maybe provide more time options. If the weather is nice, an outdoor service may be a great idea.

Don’t abandon your digital ministry.

If streaming or posting videos to YouTube and Facebook was new to your church, it may be tempting to drop those tasks once we are able to start meeting again. Don’t stop yet! Continue to provide an option for those in your congregation who can’t attend or don’t feel like they should. Additionally, the online prayer times and video check-ins have been a part of your church’s “new normal” for a while now. Keep it going and see if this might turn in to a new ministry to those outside your Sunday morning crowd.

Continue to connect to individuals.

Even as things return to normal, many will still be struggling. So much has changed. Many have faced difficulties. People will be hurting, confused, and worried about what is next. As all of this begins to sink in, the need for hope will be greater than ever. Find time to connect with people one on one, by phone, video call, or as the restrictions lessen, in person.

Call the church to action.

As we return, it would be a great time to call the church to action. Look for needs in your community your church could embrace. As appropriate, ask volunteers to help with worship service prep, or help with continued digital ministry. Some may be able to help check on others in your congregation. Check in with your normal volunteers and reach out to some new ones. Get them excited about being the hands and feet of Jesus during this time.

Consider these things over the next few weeks, and take time to come up with your own “re-entry” plan for your church. Looking for more? Check out these resources:

When Will This Be Over?

Covid 19 Update: Are We There Yet?

I don’t know about you, but Covid 19 is now a dirty word in my vocabulary. When social distancing first began, over a month ago, I had no idea of what was ahead.  Now, my greatest challenges lie in my personal life, not in my ministry. Don’t get me wrong, I know God is in control. I trust Him. He will see me/us through it. But, my life is different now.

To know what I am feeling, you need to know a little about my personality. I am a people person. I thrive on social interactions. These exchanges feed my spirit, soul and body. This time separated from family and friends is difficult.

I am grateful for my wife. Her constant love and affirmation carry me through this ordeal. And, I truly appreciate the technology that allows me to see my children and my grandchild. Technology has allowed me to stay connected in ministry and to my own church. But, it is not the same. I miss the hugs from my girls. I miss the playful interactions with my granddaughter. I miss the hugs, handshakes and lighthearted punches of friends at work and church. This is hard.

It grieves me to think of the thousands of people who are dying or have died from this virus; unable to have family surround them during their final moments on earth. It pains me to hear of people worried about losing their jobs and how to provide for their family. We have awakened to a new world. What will happen next? How long will this last?

The more important question should be, God, what do I need to learn from this experience? God takes us through the valley and prepares us for the climb up the next hill or mountain. He is molding and making us into the very image of God, through Jesus Christ. I will be stronger, more empathetic, wiser, and more sensitive in my walk with the Lord.

So, what have I learned so far? I have learned that I love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and body. I have learned how much I appreciate my church–not the building, the people. I love and value my family and my friends. I have learned that my calling has not changed. If anything, my calling is stronger and my passion for ministry has grown. It’s not about me. It’s about HIM.

So, what have you learned? Will your life be “different” when this is all over? I certainly hope so. I would hate to think that God allowed us to go through this and not learn something more about His character, His love, His grace and His plan.

God, send a great revival in the church. God, send a spiritual awakening to our communities, our state, our country and our world. AMEN.