I remember attending a seminar led by Dr. Len Sweet, professor and author, as he talked about our church and world moving quickly off the map. He explained that as our world changes rapidly, we are moving to a place and facing challenges we have never encountered before. This global COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this, and in just days we found ourselves facing social distancing, needing to wear masks and working to creatively retool ministry and mission.
We have never moved through the end of summer and into a September like this. As you do so, pastors, congregational leaders and staff, I want to encourage you to care for three areas–GIVE, GATHER, GROW
GIVE: “For God so loved the world, He GAVE…!” We have a giving God, and as we are created in God’s image, we are woven together also to give and find purpose and meaning in generosity. So many of you and your congregations are stepping up with feeding ministries for your community and have launched or updated your online giving. Some congregations are sharing in the midst of these challenging times their giving is ahead of last year at this time. When I inquired with several of these, I asked, “How is this happening?”, “What are you doing?” They shared we are asking people to step up their giving in response to God’s faithfulness, even in the midst of this season of disease.” “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.(Matthew 7:7). Click here for New Testament Bible verses about “Asking God.” Are you being clear with people about how your church has stepped up and is ministering in this time? Do people know the needs and challenges being faced? Are you connecting generosity and stewardship as a response to God’s GRACE and provision?
- Start planning now for a Fall (October or November Stewardship Campaign)!
- Organize or reconvene a Stewardship & Generosity Team and have them attend the online Stewardship workshop with GNJ’s United Methodist Foundation.
- Keep it spiritual. Have your members write daily devotionals to use during a 3-4 week focus on generosity in response to God. Here are some resources:
- Breakthrough’s “Greater Than” Sermon Series for Stewardship/Generosity
- Horizons’ Webinars on Giving and Stewardship during COVID-19
- Horizons’ resources for Annual Stewardship in the ‘New Normal’
- Principles for generosity and stewardship as we find ourselves in unchartered territory
GATHER: People are longing to connect with other people! Zoom and online conversations got us through several months, and people are longing to see others (at a social distance, with masks, in safe and healthy ways). Congregations are considering next steps and ways to gather indoors safely. This is a great OPPORTUNITY to be creative, leverage your Wesleyan Spiritual DNA of “field” preaching and camp meetings and get outside. Form a small team to work with your pastor and think out of the box and out of the church. Is there a community park, the high school football stadium, a lawn or parking lot on your property where you could hold outside worship? Imagine a special Sunday late afternoon Harvest service with people showing up, firepits going, stacks of corn stalks and people being asked to each bring an offering of canned goods or a special gift for your ministry with the community.
Envision Advent and Christmas Eve this year with a 5:00 p.m. Sunday service in a football stadium, a park overlooking a lake, your front lawn with Christmas lights and Christmas carols played on instruments and a message about God, in Jesus Christ, coming into this world and our lives. Advertise and market through your members, use social media and have each one bring one. Use the example of Zion UMC in Egg Harbor Township as they put together 180 bags with tissues, small hand sanitizer, a note that said “God bless you!” and contact information about the church and placed them on door knobs as a gift in their area. Regardless of what you decide to do, the KEY is to start planning with a TEAM now. People are hungry for Good News, hurting and needing hope.
GROW: Fall is a time to reseed the lawn, plant mums and has been a time to ramp up Sunday School, Bible Studies and other ways to help people grow in their faith. This year, these are more important than ever! How will you grow your Sunday School online or with social distancing? Never held a Disciple Bible Study? There is no better time to organize, advertise and begin by the end of September. Want to hold dinner groups (small group studies with a meal)? Have people online or as some are doing, invite people to a picnic The effort and resources you put into opportunities for people to grow in their faith in these uncertain times will produce a high return on investment of changed lives and spiritually maturing disciples.
GO: This is the time and we are God’s people! Jesus says, “Behold, I say unto you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are ripe already to harvest.” John 4:35 Go get em! Reach out and live out “loving your neighbors…”!
“The future is not something we enter. The future is something we create.”― Leonard I. Sweet