Reopening and Re-Engaging Our Churches in the Mission (Part 1)
We’re here at last—starting a new series all about re-engaging the church. Over the next four weeks, Amy and I will be talking about how to re-engage people in serving, in worship services, in giving, as well as how to re-engage our kids and students, now that we’re seeing the country start to open back up and the effects of the pandemic receding. It’s going to look different based on where you are located, since we’re clearly still seeing different phases of reopening in different regions of our country and around the world.
But nevertheless, things seem to be headed in a good direction. I’m excited because, in this series, we’re going to introduce you to some pastors and church leaders who are leading the charge.
We need to acknowledge reality: We didn’t get a summer vacation last year. Most people were kind of stuck at home, in the middle of lockdowns. I’m not going to be surprised if over the summer months churches notice that a lot of their congregation is traveling. They’re vacationing because they haven’t had an opportunity to do that over the last year.
I am also encouraging pastors to take some time off this summer—you and your staff. You can’t lead on empty.
So, in this series, we’re going to talk about re-engagement strategies with an eye on a strong relaunch this fall.
REOPENING AND RE-ENGAGING PEOPLE IN THE MISSION
In Part 1, Amy and I interview lead pastor John Kenney and executive pastor Sarah McDonald from Quest Church near Augusta, GA. They share their church’s story about trying to re-engage people in serving, and then Amy and I unpack some best practices you can apply in your ministry context. Specifically, we share:
- What worked and did not work for Quest Church to get people plugged into serving roles
- The approach they took that led to their highest-ever response rate for new kids ministry volunteers
- Some best practices you can take away from their experience
- One next step EVERY church should consider in the coming months to re-engage people in serving
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Links & Resources from the Episode
- The Unstuck Process
- Quest Church
- Unstuck Teams Assessment: This online tool helps you engage your team in an honest assessment of six critical areas for a high-impact team: personal health, team health, personal performance, team performance, systems, and culture. It’s available through the Unstuck Learning Hub.
- Reopening and Re-Engaging Our Churches in the Mission: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. In 2020, we experienced a disruption in ministry that none of us had ever experienced before. Churches made changes nearly overnight. And they wondered if things would ever return to normal again. Now, as we begin to emerge out of one season of change, many leaders are finding themselves in another, and there are no experts here. Today on the podcast, Tony and Amy begin a new series on how churches are beginning to emerge from a long season of disruption. Each week, they’re interviewing pastors and leaders to learn some practical ways they’re re-engaging their church. Before you listen today, though, make sure you stop and subscribe to get the show notes each week. You’re going to get one email with information to go along with this week’s conversation, all of the resources we mentioned, access to the archive or past podcast resources. Just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for week one of our new series.
Well, Tony, it feels like we’ve been waiting for this day for months. Instead of talking about ministry strategy, how that needs to shift because of the COVID pandemic, today, we’re going to have our first conversation about what church will look like on the other side of the pandemic. How does that feel?
It feels so good, Amy. I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time as well. So yes. In fact, we’re starting a brand new podcast series today. It’s all about re-engaging the church, and we’re going to, over the next four weeks, be talking about how to re-engage people in serving, re-engage people in worship services, re-engage people and giving, and then also re-engage our kids and students as well. And I’m looking forward to the conversations that you and I are going to be having, but also the other pastors and church leaders that we’re going to be involving in these conversations as well. And I think the timing related to your church and re-engagement, it’s going to look different based on where you are. I mean, what we’re seeing of course is there’s different phases of opening in different regions of the world. But my prayer is that every church will be facing these questions about re-engagement sometime in the coming months. Now maybe a little bit of reality here, we didn’t get a summer vacation last year. Most people were kind of stuck in home. We were still in the middle of lockdowns. And so I’m not going to be surprised, Amy, if over the summer months, what churches notice is a lot of their congregation is traveling. They’re vacationing because they haven’t had an opportunity to do that in the past. And in fact, I would be encouraging you, pastors, your staff, you need to take some time off this summer. So, we’re going to be talking about re-engagement strategies and take notes, have conversations with your team, but maybe set these things aside for just a moment so that you can pause and get some time away this summer, both for yourself and for your team. But maybe by fall, as an example, we’re at a place where you’re ready to think about these re-engagement strategies. And if that’s the case, if that’s what the timing looks like for you, I hope that this conversation that we’re going to have over the next several weeks on the podcast will help you consider how you need to be re-engaging your church.
Tony, that is such good advice. I didn’t want to interrupt you, but boy, I’ve been with a church a week most of the year, and that is such a theme of just fatigue. They’re trying to chin up, right? I know the lead pastors are feeling it, but one thing. I’ll just brag on you for a minute. What you do so well with our team is you actually, you demanded it once last year, everyone take a week off sometime in the next eight weeks, not negotiable. And then you just did it again recently and just said, does everyone have their next break scheduled? You know, get that on the calendar. And sometimes achievers need that permission. They need someone to ask them and just remind them that that’s actually a good thing to get off this treadmill of ministry for a week. So yeah, great call.
We all need it right now in the season. So, it feels like maybe in a way that we’re not as active as we have been because a lot of us have been working from home. But what I mean, maybe not physically tired, but emotionally, mentally, spiritually tired, if you will. I think there’s an opportunity for us to break away and we should do that this summer. We should do that this summer.
Yeah. We’ve been, a lot of teams have been taking our Unstuck Team’s assessment, and it’s reflected there as well. Taking a Sabbath, healthy rhythms, those scores are coming in quite low. Not surprising coming through a pandemic, but well, today we’re going to focus on re-engaging people in serving, and apparently this isn’t as easy as it sounds is it?
No, it’s not. And, it’s interesting, Amy, as over the last number of months, we’ve heard from churches that are coming back, that they’re reopening. What we’re also hearing is it’s a big challenge right now for churches to find the volunteers, find the people that will serve. So what they’re saying is some people are willing to come back to attend a worship service, but it’s harder to get people to come back to serving. And you just personally, even on my serving team at my church, it’s me and another couple from a team of about a dozen people that have come back to serve in this current season. And so if that, you know, it’s a small microcosm, but what I’m hearing from other pastors and church leaders is they’re seeing the same thing in their churches as well. Now here’s what I want you to know right now in this season. I hope you find this comforting. There are no experts right now. Some churches mayb e a little bit ahead of where we are in the learning curve, just because they’ve been open for a month or two longer than we have. And my hope is from those churches, though they would tell you we’re not experts, they have a little bit more experience here than some of the rest of us. And I’m hoping that we can learn some best practices from those folks that are a month or two ahead of us in this season as well, especially as we’re talking about re-engaging our church, Amy. And with that in mind for today’s conversation around re-engaging people in serving, I’ve invited John Kenney, who is our senior pastor at Quest Church, near Augusta, Georgia, and Sarah McDonald, who is their executive pastor, to be with us as well. And I interviewed John and Sarah recently and talked with them about this experience that they’ve had overcoming the challenge of rebuilding serving teams. So let’s listen to some of the highlights from that conversation. And then, Amy, I want to come back and talk about one next step every church should consider in the coming months to re-engage people in serving.
All right, John, as the church reopens for physical gatherings, I’m hearing from a lot of other churches that they’re struggling with volunteer engagement. Did you experience that as well at Quest?
We did. Absolutely. It was something that, as we began to reopen, we started to immediately notice that having people re-engage volunteering was going to be really difficult, and to be real direct and honest about it, we were struggling to ask people who were already struggling in life to do one more thing, that kind of thing. So, yeah, definitely. We experienced a lot of struggle with that at the beginning.
Sarah, anything you want to add as far as just that initial experience with folks at your at your church in the different ministry areas?
Yeah, I would say I think we were real naive when we opened back up. We thought that everybody was going to be coming back and that those that were coming back were going to also be serving again. And even though we heard other churches were having that struggle, we just thought that wasn’t going to be the case with us. And so it was very interesting to see people coming back to worship, but yet they weren’t coming back to serving. And so it really kind of put us in a predicament that we honestly weren’t prepared for.
So what was your initial approach when you were talking about coming back for physical gatherings at your church, what was your initial approach to rebuilding volunteer teams? And how did that work initially?
That’s a great question. I think we were, Sarah just said we were naive and I totally agree. We thought we could just ask those had volunteered before to just jump right back in and get involved. And it did not work for a lot of reasons. And we didn’t even know what all the reasons were, but obviously there were good reasons. And so we learned very quickly that simply re-engaging them as volunteers wasn’t enough. We were going to have to come up with something else.
So how did your approach change then? I don’t know, Sarah, are you the best one to help walk us through the pivot that happened?
Yeah, I think it really started. We were having more conversations with churches and honestly, Tony, we were talking with you just about trying to figure out what other churches were doing. And it was crazy because I remember you saying, you just need to ask. And we were like, yes. I mean, we know that. And you were saying, no, like you keep asking the people that have been coming. You’re asking the same people. You need to ask the people that are new. You need to ask the people that are coming back to worship. Those people you need to ask. And it sounded so simple, but yet it was really profound for us to really. We were scared to ask. We were really scared to ask, mainly because what John had said. PTeople were in their own dealing with their own crises and we’re doing all kinds of things. And we just thought this would be one more thing on their plate. And so we just shied away from it. But we knew that if we wanted to keep our doors open then we needed to ask. Because we were finding on Sunday mornings, in our kids’ ministry especially, we were having to turn kids away because we didn’t have enough adults in the space. And so we did an ask.
Yeah. And John, when you did ask, it wasn’t an email message. You didn’t make just an announcement on Sunday morning. It was much more in-depth than that, wasn’t it?
It was, and really, Tony, several of the things that we had been talking about kind of came together that you had been speaking into. You know, the idea of ask for new volunteers, not just re-engaging the old ones who had already been there. This idea of relaunching rather than just reopening, that was something you had talked about. I think those two things together and then this idea of really asking, being intentional about the ask, was a big deal for us. So I put it into a series called “Equipped”, and we’ve been focusing, I told the church, look, I want to talk less about, I just want to not only teach, but equip you, to be the disciples and Christians in this new world we’re in, in a lot of ways. And so what that looks like. And so I did a very intentional day in the services during the “Equipped” series on serving. And that was the big day for us. And we ended up having, we got intentional and simple, I would say too with cards that we handed people. I very intentionally asked people. I actually asked them to serve, not volunteer. I even said something to the effect of Jesus doesn’t need volunteers. He needs servants. That’s what he did. And that’s what we need to do. And it worked. I mean, it blew us away to be honest.
Yeah. So the results, Sarah, are pretty dramatic actually. I mean, you originally shared right after this weekend, the response that you received, could you share what you experienced?
Yeah, we had right at about a hundred people respond and say that they wanted to serve, which was amazing, but we were also really reluctant because we have done these before and we’re like, okay, great. A hundred people said they want to serve. Awesome. But then we started following up with that. And so I just want to give you numbers of just our next gen area. So in our kids ministry, which has been the hardest place to get volunteers for, most churches would agree with me on this. We had exactly 45 people signed up on that Sunday, and 42 are now serving, which is insane. And that means one person just didn’t respond at all. And two of them have delayed serving because of family issues or things like that. So really out of all of that, at 45, 44 have responded back, which is that’s unheard of.
Our Kids Pastor has come to us, right, Sarah, multiple times going, I’ve never seen anything like this and she’s been in kids’ ministry for years and just like, and I’m going, wow. That was a great sermon, I guess. What in the world?
Yeah. Well, and just to give listeners a sense of this, a hundred, that’s a lot of people stepping up to serve, but I think at the time, this was a month or two ago when you did this, about what percentage of the folks that were there for the services at your building on Sunday, would that have been? Do you have any guess on that?
That was adults. And so we were probably only averaging what, about like 250 adults that time?
Forty percent at least.
Yeah, so a significant number of people that responded from that Sunday, and as I recall, what was amazing was the number of new people, the number of folks that had never served before. Do you recall what that stat was? I can’t remember.
I don’t remember the stat from it. I just remember looking through and I was going through the list to give to all of our staff members. And I didn’t recognize the majority of the names on the list. And then again, thinking they’re not going to stick. Like they’re just, they just signed up, but they did. And I will say this, I think a lot of it was the followup process afterwards. And that was on that exact day, on that Sunday, I made an Excel spreadsheet with just everybody and all their information and send it out to the staff, and the staff had until Monday evening to get in contact with people and to set up a time to meet with them via Zoom. And that, I think that immediate response from us, showed that we are serious and showed that their time was worth it.
And, they had, I mean, our poor Kids’ Pastor was on Zoom for weeks, just meeting with them over Zoom, getting to know them and getting them plugged in and had a date for a Sunday for them to jump in and start serving. And I think that is also what pushed us. Because before we would just say, okay, well, like in a month we’re going to have a volunteer training and then you’ll serve the next month and all of this. There was an immediate response and immediate call to action and people received it.
I love that. All right, John, again, so many churches are, as they’re coming back to physical gatherings, I’ve heard from a number of pastors and church leaders, we’re struggling when it comes to re-engaging volunteers. So any last words of encouragement to other church leaders as they’re facing the same challenge in their ministries?
Yes. I think what I would say that has worked for us is to do two things, ask people to serve. And then another thing that we haven’t mentioned yet, but on the back end. So before they serve, you ask them to serve, and be very intentional and do it from the stage. In fact, I went to our team and I said, what do y’all need me to do? And they said, we need you to ask from the stage. And I even said, y’all, I’ve done that before. It hasn’t always worked. But for some reason, right now it is working, and people responded to the intentional ask. On the back end of it, I would say this, appreciate these people. One thing that we do is every Monday, we’ve been doing this for a couple of years, we talk about volunteers and who do we need to appreciate? And the staff writes out cards and we all sign it, and we send them a Starbucks card and just say, thanks for serving. We did this with every single kid’s ministry volunteer when they stepped in. Those 45 people that Sarah mentioned, every one of them. So on the front end, ask. On the back end, appreciate. In the middle, train. I mean, make sure that you’re intentional about training those folks and getting them plugged in. And I would just encourage pastors to do this and to go ahead and do it from the stage. People are ready. People are ready. At least in our context they’ve seemed to be. I was unbelievably impressed and surprised with the response. People have been amazing.
Well, that was great, Tony. I’d like to hear from you what jumped out to you from that conversation?
Amy, let me run through these because John and Sarah, they shared some very practical, next steps that we could consider. So let me just run through these real quick. Number one, we need to build teams rather than trying to get old teams to come back. So in other words, rather than focusing on getting people to come back to their volunteer roles, they tried that at first, they began to focus on engaging people who have come back for physical gatherings and then encourage those folks to join serving teams for the very first time. By the way, this still involves a lot of hard work, and they expressed that in that, secondly, they had to be intentional about making the ask. John talked about including this in his message. In other words, they didn’t send out email messages to people inviting them to serve or post things on Facebook, or they just didn’t leave this as an announcement at the beginning of the service, John actually taught on this and then out of that encouraged people to engage in serving. And so I think you need to be considering the same thing. Sometime in one of your services in the upcoming weeks to have that type of intentionality and not just ask people to serve, but also explain why we want people to serve and how that’s going to impact their lives.
That reminds me of a time I heard T.D. Jakes say that. He said, “Sometimes you got to preach the announcement,” and that’s what he was kind of getting at.
Absolutely right. Amy. The third thing, they mentioned making easy first steps. So they made it easy for people to say, yes, I’m interested. And one of the ways they did that, they used a connect card for new serving opportunities. In fact, in the show notes, we’ll share a sample of the connect card that Quest Church used to encourage easy first steps, and then number four, immediate follow-up. So Sarah mentioned by the end of the next day, everyone was contacted to schedule a one-on-one conversation with one of the staff leaders at Quest Church. Number five, give people a start date. And so this is what I’ve noticed, Amy, in churches, when we engage new people on serving teams, the normal church process for engaging new volunteers takes forever. We try to get them to come to an orientation. Then we do the training. Then we do the background checks. Then we have them shadow. And then sometime in the months ahead, we actually get them on the serving schedule where they get to serve. They get to volunteer. And what I encourage churches to do, and this is kind of the model that Quest has used in recent weeks is treat this like it’s a new job. And two of my kids have taken new jobs in recent months. Their new employers gave them a start date. They told them show up on the start date. And when they showed up, they had to fill out all the paperwork. They had to do all of the training. They had to do all the orientations that started all the shadowing and everything, but they had a start date where they showed up and they knew this is my first day on the job. And same thing we want to do here with volunteers. Give them a start date. Put them on the schedule and let them know this is your first day on the job. Now I do know, for children’s ministry and other ministries, there’s still background checks that you need to do before they’re engaging with kids, as an example, but you can still give them a start date for showing up for the very first time. And then number six, appreciate people who serve. I loved the thought John mentioned, he’s writing handwritten notes to all these folks that are serving for the very first time. And they’re including a Starbucks card with them. But again, showing appreciation for people who are serving for the very first time. So, those six, easy steps are hard work, but it’s the hard work that needs to be done in this season, Amy.
Yeah, I think my favorite one was build a new team. Not trying to go back for everyone else that you had. That’s just reframing the situation in a good way. Well, you mentioned that there’s one next step every church should consider in the coming months to re-engage people in serving. What’s that step for the serving area?
Yeah. So it’s this. Pick a Sunday, put it on the calendar and dedicate the entire message to inviting people to serve. You need to make the ask in this season. And so in that message, I think this is your opportunity to encourage people, remind them, you’re a part of the body of Christ, and everyone should be using their gifts to support the mission of the body of Christ. Remind folks, this is an opportunity for you to grow your faith, and I have seen this, Amy, we’ve talked about this many times in the past, as far as just my personal spiritual formation. A lot of it has come out of that, just taking that next step of engaging with others and using the gifts God’s put in me to serve others. And so this is a part of the discipleship process, and you should remind folks of that and then remind folks, too, this is your opportunity to connect with other people. And especially coming out of the season that we’ve experienced, I think folks are going to be looking for that opportunity to actually engage relationally with other people. So this is what you need to keep in mind as you’re considering the Sunday that you’re going to be inviting people to take this step. There are actually two types of people attending your worship services in person right now. The first type of person is the person that was with you pre-COVID. And for those folks, they remember a day when there were a lot more people gathering for Sunday morning services. And what they’re probably thinking at this point is well, there are fewer people now attending services. And so we probably have already have enough volunteers because there are fewer people, and I don’t need to serve. So you need to help them see the opportunity for them to take a step as well. And part of it is because you actually have a mission you’re trying to accomplish, and you need people to engage in that mission. But again, part of this is because you want to help them take their next steps toward Christ as well. The second type of person that’s a part of your church, they’re brand new to your church. And by the way, I’m hearing from a number of pastors and church leaders right now, they’re seeing a lot of church shopping that’s happening. And so my suspicion is the new people that are in your church right now. Some of them? They’re probably new to the church. They may not even be part of the faith yet, but my suspicion is this, that there are a lot of new people in your church right now that are coming from other churches as well. And whatever the case is, if they’re new to your church, they’re also looking for places to connect. And so keep both of those folks in mind, as you’re considering the ask, you want both groups of people to know about the opportunity to serve others. And they aren’t going to know about the opportunities unless you’re very intentional about making that ask. And when you do, make sure you answer the question, why? Why should I serve? So that’s the one next step, Amy, I want every church to be considering in the coming months.
Yeah. Pick a weekend. All right. Well, Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Yeah. Amy, we want to equip pastors. We want to equip all those church leaders that are listening as you re-engage your church in the coming months. And in addition to the podcast series, we’re also offering a free webinar on July 20th on this topic. And unlike our previous webinars, I won’t be answering any questions. I’m only going to be asking the questions. And that’s because I’ve invited a panel of church leaders from various regions to come and give voice to the unique challenges that they’re facing and the best practices that they’ve discovered as they are re-engaging their churches. So we hope you’ll join us for that free webinar on July 20th. And you can register at theunstuckgroup.com/webinar.
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