by Mark Houpt
companion post: DOES GOD STILL HEAL (an essay by e2 Exec Dir Dr Johnson)
Last week our blog discussed what to do before things go wrong. We discussed determining your Mission Essential Functions and preparing for the inability to access those in need and having church services outside of the church building. I am sure that many of you reading that article were thinking that those recommendations were only necessary for a localized worst-case scenario, if even that. Surely, with our advanced science and technology, this type of catastrophe could never happen at this scale in our modern world.
Here we are, seven days later, and things have indeed gone wrong across the globe according to earthly definition. Despite the fact that we are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, God is still in control. This is a crisis that is seeing earthly wealth wiped off of the balance sheets, jobs lost and businesses closed or curtailed by government decree. Churches are also physically closed and scrambling to adjust to this new way of life that is going to be with us for at least a few weeks, if not months. In today’s blog, we will take an honest, practical look at what earthly things we should do in response to manage the event in our churches.
Respond vs. React
First and foremost, God calls us as followers and the church to respond rather than react to the events that are around us and done to us. Many people do not understand the difference between response and reaction. A reaction is mostly an emotional action, many times involuntary and uncalculated; what one does in retort to something done to them. Most of us have been in the doctor’s office with our legs hanging over the side of the examination table when the doctor uses his little triangle hammer and taps our knees. Our lower leg kicks out in what we call a knee jerk reaction to that tap. It is largely involuntary and done in haste. Reactions that occur between people or people groups frequently escalated tensions and devolve into conflict. A reaction to a slap in the face is a slap back to that assailant. Reaction, in short, is nearly always our “flesh.” Contrast that with a response where a slap in the face leads to turning the other cheek. Typically, a response is a calculated, thoughtful reply. Frequently, responses elicit cooperation, compassion, and caring.
Both a reaction and response is demonstrated for us in the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 26:50-51. We see that Peter reacts to the mob arresting Jesus by swinging his sword in anger and cutting off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Jesus then responds to this by calming the situation and healing that ear.
As Elders, we must respond rather than react to this crisis that is before us. If our congregants see our reactions in frustration to being ordered to shutter our churches, ceasing meeting in groups larger than ten, or potentially even helping the sick and dying, they will also react in the same manner. Congregants will lash out and potentially rise up in civil disobedience if we as leaders are not thoughtfully responsive. If our sheep see us responding calmly, leading the flock through the stormy waters, showing them how we can still meet and serve, then our flock will also remain calm and be more effective.
Set up a Command Structure and War Room
In times of chaos, people need leaders and need to know who is in charge so that they can be confident that they are taken care of. In my business, when we are being attacked by a cyber threat, we establish three things – a command structure, an on-call rotation, and a command location called a war room.
A command structure is vitally important so that people know to whom to turn when they are in need. The command structure must include a person that has the authority to speak on behalf of the organization and make decisions as well as other volunteers that can carry out what the leader needs accomplished. A group of Elders could use this function to ensure that church staff can get vital questions answered, and the church congregant that may be hurting can get the help they need. The command structure is vital to smooth, clear, and concise communications.
A rotation of people to staff the command structure is of paramount importance. You do not want your people to get burned out due to being called upon at all hours of the day and night for days or weeks on end. The rotation allows people to rest their physical selves as well as their minds. Failure to have an on-call rotation will result in people getting sick due to weariness and could result in harmed relationships by reacting rather than clearly and adequately responding to situations the church needs to address in these trying times.
A war room is a location where the command structure resides. This is likely a virtual technology space like Zoom or Skype considering our social distancing requirements at this moment. However, as things change, and we are allowed to come back together, do not hesitate to make this a physical office space. The war room is where your on-call personnel will congregate, items and notes are on boards, pass down between on-call teams occurs and will be a place those in need of your assistance will know they can come to be attended to.
Over-Communicate to Address the FUD factor
Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt – the FUD factor – is strong in our nation and our churches right now. Address this head-on with frequent and transparent communications. We are all weary of “spin.” This health crisis is and will continue to be a marathon, not a sprint. We will be in this uncertain, ever-changing state for weeks if not months as our world struggles to right the ship and get back on our feet. Inspire confidence in your flock. The more accurate information a person has, the more likely they are to stay engaged and be confident. Over-communication and transparency develops a trust and relationship that makes people believe that we are in this together.
Plan for Giving Disruption
In any major disaster, a church should plan for disruption of giving and having to use the savings fund, if there is one. In this current situation, the church should be looking towards a 90% or more reduction in giving, if you do not act now. There are three key things you need to do this week to counter this threat.
- Establish online giving options if you have not already. A number of resources are available for processing online giving through banks or software providers such as Square and Paypal, PushPay and more. Square and PayPal are familiar to people and are great options for a quick response. I would also recommend contacting your church accountant for recommendations or conducting a Google search for church online giving options.
- Extend giving options. Many times banks can take automated transfers or allow persons to setup automated checking withdrawals. In the church I attend, we currently have five methods of giving: traditional cash/check, through the website, through an app, text to give, and electronic banking.
- Teach or Instruct your people that giving is still important. Unfortunately, many people will believe that because they are not in the building, giving is not necessary. As an Elder, we need to teach our people that giving is not determined by whether you are in the building on Sunday or not. I would recommend that your elder team record a short, five-minute video that addresses the biblical importance of giving, instructs your flock to give, and teaches how to use the methods of giving.
As Gary introduced me last week, I am a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) in a large, nationwide data center provider. I deal with risk analysis day in and day out, even under normal conditions. Typically, the risk analysis that I conduct is related to cyber attacks against computer infrastructure and systems. Risk analysis is also used in many of your jobs in the financial sector, general business, and elsewhere. So why are we not using it in the church to guide our decisions?
Risk analysis comes in two forms: qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative risk analysis is more of a subjective process while quantitative analysis is very much fact-based. Typically, a qualitative analysis will lead to a quantitative analysis when it can. Both are formulas. One takes a threat such as a pandemic, determines the vulnerability that the organization has to the threat, and gains a risk (Threat x Vulnerability = Risk). To that, you can add what you believe the impact would be to the church.
In our current situation, I would recommend that you consider qualitative risk analysis to determine a multitude of impacts to your church and when to start recovering or coming back to traditional in-person meeting and corporate worship. A quantitative risk analysis should be conducted against financial loss due to the possible loss of giving or inability to pay bills due to that loss. Both methods are essential for elders to understand the health of the church, and to make well-informed decisions.
The next few weeks and months are going to try us and stretch us. Our spiritually weaker and/or spiritually younger members of the flock will be prone to wander. Some physically vulnerable members may not be with us at the end of this. Through all of that, Praise Him Through the Storm (Casting Crowns 2005). Remember, God is in control, and through Him, we can do all things. There will be painful moments because we live in a fallen world. But our hope is not here; it is eternally with Jesus in His glory. As elders and leaders, it is our job to guide our flock to that eternal glory.
Go forth and be the church!