James Kim describes how new expressions of ministry initiated in the years of Covid helped his two-campus church in Lakewood, Washington, thrive and grow. He explains that the two most important leadership skills were keeping the mission clear and having a willingness to pivot and experiment in the face of a constantly changing context.
Good leadership may not be necessary when things are going according to plan. But it’s critical in difficult, challenging, and uncertain times. Surprisingly, it’s the challenging times that present greater potential for growth because they bring the greatest opportunity for significant change.
While many churches struggled, declined, or even closed during the two years of Covid, the Little Church and Lakewoodgrace grew significantly in average attendance, ministry engagement, and giving. Keeping the mission central allowed the congregation to pivot, shift, and experiment with new approaches to ministry that have borne fruit through and beyond the pandemic.
What must never change?
When confronting a massive disruption, the first key leadership question is not, “How should we change?” The essential question is “What must never change?” Knowing who you are, understanding your DNA, and being certain of the organization’s mission gives you incredible freedom to discover new pathways to express that core identity and mission in fresh ways in a rapidly changing environment. What are your core values? What are your core ideals? What is your core mission?
Keeping the mission clear
In times of crisis, it’s essential for an organization to know why it exists. The mission of the Little Church and Lakewoodgrace is to “make disciples and grow disciples who share the love of Christ with all people.” This is why the Little Church and Lakewoodgrace exist. The mission is not to gather people. Gathering people is a tool to help us make disciples and grow disciples who share the love of Christ with all people. But gathering is not an end unto itself.
Once we made this shift in thinking about how to minister in the midst of a pandemic, I asked the session and the staff at the Little Church and Lakewoodgrace a simple question: “Has God stopped being God because of Covid?” No. God was still God. And God was still at work. The only thing that had changed was our context. Now it was up to the leaders to pivot and discover new ways of being the church who makes disciples, grows disciples who share the love of Christ with all people in a changed context.
A focus on thriving
God didn’t want our church to just survive the global pandemic. God expected our church and all other churches to thrive. We needed to discover creative new ways to help people stay engaged, grow in their faith, and grow in their impact. We needed to be agile and nimble as we experimented and pivoted as new realities thrust upon us.
I asked our staff to temporarily suspend the need to come up with solutions and instead focus on thriving. How do people thrive in our faith journey? We identified four key components: meaningful worship, daily encounters with God through scripture and prayer, meaningful relationships, and meaningful opportunities to serve. Once we identified these components, we considered the pivots necessary to support them when physical gathering was no longer an option.
Shifting and pivoting
Finding a way through and thriving was not only about effort. Giving our best was a given. The differentiating factor would be openness to experimentation and pivoting. We decided to welcome the changed realities. We eagerly received the challenge of discovering new ways of living out our faith in these changed times.
As soon as we realized that Covid wasn’t going away, we made the decision to go all in with online worship. Our worship committee structure was not working. They were stuck trying to gather people to church. So we pivoted and created the Sunday Worship Experience team comprised of the pastors, director of music, contemporary worship director, tech team, and the children’s ministry team. Their goal was to do whatever it took to create the best Sunday worship experience possible.
We launched a daily meditation called the “Verse of the Day” delivered by email. We divided the congregation into neighborhood groups and recruited people who were natural shepherds to check in with everyone in their group weekly. Other volunteers made weekly phone calls. The children’s ministry team created, filmed, and produced a Sunday School lesson video every single week. We continued to provide small groups throughout Zoom, with the unexpected benefit of allowing our “snow birds” to stay throughout the year.
We are a healthier, more vibrant, growing congregation today than we were when we entered the Covid shutdown. We added over 100 new people in the two years of Covid. The average weekend attendance on the two campuses in February 2020 was around 300 people. Today, we average 250 in in-person worship on two campuses, and around 150 online. Our giving increased 6% from 2019 to 2020 and 8% from 2020 to 2021.
Many factors contributed to our ability to thrive during Covid, but the two most important keys were keeping the mission clear and a willingness to pivot and experiment in the face of a constantly changing context.
- How to Get People to Follow You When the Way Is Uncertain by Carey Nieuwhof
- Why the Church’s Mission Really Matters in this Time of Crisis by Tony Hunt
- What Will Your Church Look Like Post-COVID-19? by Barry Winders
If you would like to share this article in your newsletter or other publication, please review our reprint guidelines.