The Church Thriving Inspite of Social Distancing

Ugh! The Movement Control Order (MCO) has been extended for another two weeks till 28 April. Even for an introvert like me it’s getting a bit too much of time alone! But that’s not the point of this blogpost.

Even when the MCO is finally lifted there is a real possibility that Putrajaya may ban large gatherings for the rest of 2020.

What constitutes a large gathering? According to a report in TheEdgeMarkets it is anything above 250 people (13 March 2020).  However, according to theStar online it is anything above 50 people (4 April 2020). On top of this the authorities may still require people to keep a distance of at least one metre (maybe even two metres) from one another. If this is implemented the capacity of a church’s worship hall will immediately be reduced to hold at most one third of the usual crowd at any one time.

I believe churches will want to abide by the directives, and also to keep their members safe. What can we do to adjust to the situation, and yet thrive in it? Here are some suggestions for the worship service.1

  1. Have multiple services.
  2. Provide overflow rooms with close-circuit TV or live-streaming facilities.
  3. Live stream the service so that members2 can join the service at home. Those who prefer to play it safe can stay home and join the service online. Perhaps, it ought to be made mandatory for the less healthy and elderly.
  4. Members to take turns to attend a live worship. One suggestion is for people to pre-register until the quota is filled, with preference given to those who do not have the technical resources to join the live-stream.

An alternative is to schedule attendance at the live worship by cell groups. What about those who are not in a cell? It then depends on a church’s philosophy of ministry. Either some places are set aside for those who are not in a cell, or they be asked to join a cell as a pre-step to attend a live worship.

The implications of “no large gatherings” is going to be huge on the church. I’ve not begun to address two other important groups, the youth and the children (maybe in another post). And also about outreach—how will we be doing it in the day of social distancing? Here’s the bottom line: I don’t think we can do church in the same way as we did pre-MCO.

Clearly, church is not just about the worship service. Church ultimately is about relationships (vertical and horizontal), discipleship (or discipling) and reaching out to the world (to win the spiritually lost and to impact our world). If worship services are cut shorter to cater for multiple services and the live-stream “audience”, coupled with social distancing and quick exits from the church building, the worship services are not going to cut it as far as the above mentioned objectives are concerned.

A couple of pastors shared with me that this is where the small group ministry is critically important. Small groups can fulfil all the three objectives. We used to think that the establishment of cells was in preparation for persecution. Little did we know that they would also be critical for a time like this.

I want, however, to add that these small groups must be intentional about discipling, if the church wants to thrive, and not to simply ride out this period of uncertainty. A critical factor rests on a very important person—the small group leader. The above-mentioned pastors said that helping their small group leaders to recalibrate and to empower them for their role will be their primary focus. I’m sure one of the areas of training will be about making effective use of online facilities to connect and disciple their members.

So, during the ban on large gatherings there are at least two things your church should do. One, restructure your worship service and make use of the online platform. And two, recalibrate and strengthen your small group ministry with the focus on caring, discipling and reaching out to others.

1 These include suggestions from the pastors who responded to my query.

2 By “members” I do not mean registered members but all who worship regularly at your church.

Lim Soon Hock Empowering Churches

The Church, Covid-19 & IT

The government’s Movement Control Order (MCO) counter-measure against Covid-19 has affected how we do church. As a result of this national lockdown Christians are not be able to meet for corporate worship and small group meetings. Needless to say the huge majority of churches in Malaysia have been caught unprepared. Most have not kept up with the digital revolution nor learnt how to make use of the digital platform to further the work of the church.

A few days ago I asked some pastors and church leaders how they are: 1.Connecting with their members, 2. Conducting their small group and prayer meetings, and 3. Doing their “corporate” worship service. I was particularly interested to know how they are using online facilities to help them accomplish the above objectives.

Relaying information to church members is probably the easiest thing to do. WhatsApp, Facebook and the like are already in common use by many, and a church can easily send out information via these multiple social media platforms.

It’s the group meetings that is more challenging, and especially an online substitute for the corporate worship service.

It appears that the application of choice (among the small number of pastors and church leaders that responded to my research) for small group meetings, whether cell meetings or prayer meetings, is Zoom. It is a video conferencing software.

Among the first things you read on its website is that since Covid-19 the number of users have grown rapidly. You can register with Zoom for an account and host a session for free but your conference or meeting is limited to 40 minutes. Beyond that you need to sign up on one of its pay-plans. The good news is that only the host needs to be on the pay-plan. The other participants don’t even need to have an account—you only need to click and join the meeting set up by the host. Skype has been around longer and it serves the same purpose. You can read up and decide which is better or more suited for your purpose.

The bottom line is that your church needs to capitalise on these online platforms in times like this. During normal times they are still needful and useful for the occasional online meetings when everyone’s hard pressed for time or to avoid wasting time stuck in the horrendous urban traffic.

I know of at least one church that is providing daily video devotions for its members. The pastors record a short devotional message using their smartphone and upload it onto google drive. The link is sent to the members for them to view the video anytime of the day. Whether you do it daily or once during mid-week it helps your church member feel connected to you as their pastor during this time of no face-to-face contact.

Before Covid-19 only a handful of churches in Malaysia were live-streaming their worship services. Then, as I have learnt, the Sunday just prior to MCO a few more churches did their first live-streaming. I believe the leaders were already anticipating what was coming. Although the restricted movement has brought a temporary halt to live-streaming it has nonetheless given the church a look at what could be done in the future and also what can be done using online applications under the present lockdown.

Since last Sunday a number of churches are now recording their sermons and uploading them on Facebook and YouTube. Some have piggy-back on Pastor Craig Groeschel’s Church Online Platform (https://churchonlineplatform.com/). Over the next few Sundays, if MCO persists, even more churches will be using one of these online platforms. (As I write this the Prime Minister has announced that the MCO will be extended by another two weeks till April 14. It is clear that your church cannot afford not to use these online facilities.)

Recording and uploading onto Facebook or YouTube is not that difficult. A Baby-Boomer pastor can still learn how to do it. If not find a younger person (in or outside your church) to teach you or help you do it.

Worship might be a little trickier, but it can be done. If you don’t want to break the rules of the MCO then you may have to resort to a one-man band, leading and playing on a musical instrument. Unless your church is fortunate enough to have a worship leader who is surrounded by a musical family! Record the songs and upload them. Then send the links for both the worship and sermon to your members. If you have people who are IT-savvy they will be able to add in the song lyrics  and splice the worship, sermon and announcements into one seamless presentation.

What about the most important part of the worship service—the offering? (Please read that tongue- in-cheek). I think it’s time to provide an option for online giving. The offering done this way is no less an act of worship.

I believe the church needs to make the best use of IT and the online platform to advance the Kingdom of God. IT can be used for good or bad. If the church doesn’t use it for good and the Kingdom, the devil will certainly use it for his own evil purpose. Your choice.

Lim Soon Hock Empowering Churches

Rooting for the Small Church!

What is the place of the small church? Should we hypothesise that all churches are meant to grow, and therefore, we must do all we can to breakthrough the barriers that keep a small church from growing?

Or, should we say that the small church has its place and accept that, “My church is, and shall remain, a small church”?

Or, after having evaluated our church we come to the conclusion, “Although we may be a small church, we are nonetheless effective.” Now, (and please do not think that I am being insensitive or negative) if we are effective why then are we not growing? Are there valid and happy reasons?

I don’t have the statistics, but from my observation most of the churches in Malaysia are small. (I wish our national and denominational bodies will do more statistical studies so that we can have a better picture of the state of the Church in Malaysia). By definition a small church is numerically under 200 people; from babies to senior citizens (or as someone once said to me, “We count everything that moves!”). Using this metric, depending on who you quote, 80-90% of the churches in the US are small churches. My guess is that, it is probably the same in Malaysia. If we were to add all the churches in the small towns and villages in both Peninsula and East Malaysia they will certainly make up a very large  percentage of churches in the country. Even in the urban centres most of the churches are small.

There is no shame in being small.

All churches started small! Unless a large church decided to send out more than 200 people to start a new church plant; which has been done before, but it is not the norm. Hence, we are not to despise humble beginnings. However, note that it was never the intention of the parent church or the new church plant for it to remain small. It was planted to win more people to the Lord and to add them to the church. Churches that have lost its passion need to recapture the spirit and vision of those early pioneering days.

There is a huge difference between a small dynamic church that is making impact in its community and even beyond, and a small inward-looking church whose main focus are the needs of the members and trying to survive till Jesus returns.

There are good reasons why a church should remain small, and there are wrong reasons for a church to remain small. Below are some valid reasons:

  1. The community where the church is located, serves and is trying to reach with the Gospel is small; such as a small town or village. Even if the church is located in a large urban centre, the particular ethnic group that it is attempting to reach may be small; such as a migrant community.
  1. The church leaders believe that a small church is stronger relationally, can attain a higher level of member-participation, and achieve greater effectiveness in outreach. In other words, remaining small is a philosophy of ministry where growth is an objective. An outcome of such a philosophy would be church planting. Instead of growing into a large church, the parent church keeps on training and sending its members out to plant new churches. This is called extension growth. Or, the main church starts new ethnic-language congregations. This has been termed bridging growth. An example is when a Malaysian English-speaking church spawns a Tamil- or a Myanmarese-speaking congregation.
  1. Most pastors (and church leaders) are not large church leaders. Fewer still are megachurch pastors. If that is the case then, it is better to have many small churches that have pastors who are able to lead with vision and passion for growth and multiplication, than to load them with guilt that they are not growing their church into a large church.
  1. Small churches are easier to manage and lead. And if most pastors don’t have the capacity to lead large churches, it is best to accept our God-given abilities and work with small churches. Some people think that pastoring a mega church has built-in advantages because it has mega resources. But as I once heard Daniel Ho (former Senior Pastor of DUMC) say, “…we also have mega problems!” And not every (read, “most”) pastors (or lay leaders) are able to handle mega challenges.
  1. Some people don’t want to go to a large church. They prefer the I-know-everyone-in-the-church kind of atmosphere and where the pastor is everyone’s personal shepherd. Should the church grow too big for them, they move out to a smaller church.

Small churches are here to stay—and for good reasons. The thing is, we need to ensure that our church is small for the right reasons, and never at the expense of fulfilling the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.

Clarity

Short-sightedness, astigmatism, floaters and cataracts are eye conditions. When we have them they blur our vision—we can’t see things clearly. We consult an optometrist or an ophthalmologist, depending on the problem, to make a pair of eye glasses (or contact lenses) or to have laser eye surgery done. We do this because we want visual clarity—to see, to read, to drive, to enjoy the beauty around us.

The need for clarity is not just limited to our physical sight. Just as much, we need mental and spiritual clarity; and this, not only for the individual, but also for a corporate entity like the church. Without clarity, the people perish, may not be quite what the Bible says, but it is the truth! And I am afraid this happens all too often in the church, to the detriment of relationships and the church’s effectiveness.

Without Clarity

Without clarity there is confusion. The Senior Pastor makes decisions on matters like this? I thought it was the Chairman of the Board who makes the call.

Without clarity there is misalignment. My CG is studying the book of Jonah. I didn’t know that it was mandatory for all the CGs to do the study on “Unity” this month.

Without clarity there can be no efficiency. I’ve been walking around in the church building for the last 10 minutes because the signages are so poor, I can’t figure out where I’m supposed to be heading.

Without clarity there can be no teamwork. Chong Beng, you were supposed to bring the pizza. Joe was to bring the drinks. Now we have too much coke and no pizza for our Youth leaders’ meeting!

This is by no means exhaustive, and I am sure you can think of a few more nasty consequences that come from a lack of clarity in the church. Often it has to do with communication; that is, the poor quality and the ineffective means of communication. However, more serious is the lack of clarity at the source; that is, the people who are giving the instructions, making the decisions, leading the direction—they are not clear themselves. And, it is inevitable that they will not be able to provide clarity to others.

Areas That Need Clarity

Some of the areas that a church needs corporate clarity includes:

Clarity of purpose. Some churches don’t have a clear purpose about what they are doing or where they are heading. Those that do often just hang up their vision statement on the wall or emblazon it on their website’s homepage. But the leaders don’t talk about it or rally the people to pursue it. Fewer still have achievable and measurable goals to lead the members to fulfil what they like to do (or what they think the Lord wants them to do).

Clarity of Values. By values I don’t mean the church’s doctrinal beliefs. These are important, and no church should be without absolute clarity about their theological beliefs. However, the values I am referring to here are about a church’s organisational beliefs as a corporate body or group of people who have banded together to serve the Lord and His purpose. People will only stick together and work with one another to the extent that they share the same values. If they don’t, they won’t. Confusion in this area leads to uncertainty and disillusionment. Clarity and acceptance of the shared values is like glue that holds the team together.

Clarity of Philosophy of Ministry. Conflicts in the church today have very much less to do with doctrinal issues. Sometimes it is over values. But really, most times it is over the philosophy of ministry—the way things are done. Hence, if it is unclear it is a cause for misunderstandings and dragging-of-the-feet which can escalate into outright conflicts. Worship-wars is in part due to a conflict of philosophies of ministry. So is the multiplication of cell groups, the number of paid staff the church may engage, and the amount of money the church should save as against giving it away to support missions. Every church needs clear philosophies of ministry for all the critical areas of church life and organisation. (Read my earlier blogpost on Philosophy of Ministry here.)

Clarity in the Lines of Authority. This an obvious biggie! Who’s in-charge? Who’s responsible? Where does the buck stop? Who’s got the final say? Every church needs to get it right and make it absolutely clear to everyone.

Again, the above list is not exhaustive. But I hope it is plain enough that your church needs clarity! Here’s a point of application for you. What is one area in your church that lacks clarity? Work on it today. What’s unclear that needs clarity? Who are the stakeholders that should be consulted? Write three to five statements to provide clarity and get all the stakeholders to agree on them. Communicate it to the church clearly, repeatedly, creatively, and in as many ways as possible. Then repeat the process in another area. It will get you clarity and save you a lot of headaches and heartaches.

 

Team Management Model

The following is taken from Feeding & Leading by Kenneth O. Gangel, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1989 (Chapter 1: Understanding Administrative Process, pp25-27). The diagrammatical presentation that he titled as “Team Management Model” shows what might be the best approach to the administrative-management-leadership when we take into consideration both “concern for people” (people-oriented) and “concern for production” (task-oriented).

Starting with the left bottom segment, Gangel wrote, “…1,1 or low-low with impoverished management. Here the administrative leader carries out only the minimal effort to do what is absolutely essential to keep the ministry going. He is low in both concern for people…and concern for production….

“Moving along the line to 1,9 the autocratic leader is heavy on authority-obedience. A pastor concerns himself only with what people can give to the church and insists they be there ever time the doors are open. He tends to be legalistic and demanding.

“His counterpart is 9,1, called by the creators of this chart country club management. Picture a pastor who lovingly relates to everyone while forgetting appointments, never preparing for business meetings, and failing to develop lay leadership. People may put up with him because they love him but they understand the church’s goals are not being achieved.

“On this model we don’t want to aim for the middle. To do so is to choose mediocrity. The 5,5 organization man management is probably a step ahead of the other three…but has not achieved the highest point on this chart which is 9,9—team management. Team leadership is the genius of the New Testament. Exemplified first in Jesus and the disciples, it continues in the ministry of the apostles both in the early church and all of the missionary journeys. It creates what Lyle Schaller calls “ownership” in the organization.

(For a brief biography and contributions of Kenneth O Gangel (1935-2009) you can go to the link here.)

Complementary Leadership Style Model

The following is taken from Feeding & Leading by Kenneth O. Gangel, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1989 (Chapter 1: Understanding Administrative Process, pp23-25). The diagrammatical presentation he gives (below) is a great help in understanding various administrative/leadership styles. And how, with understanding, we can pull them together to provide a more balanced and complementary practise of leadership.

Gangel wrote, “Beginning with the lower left quadrant we see the amiable administrative style. Essentially giving a free rein in leadership, the amiable administrator tends to sit back, talk about people and feelings, and openly show reactions and emotions everyone can see. He is warm, approachable, and likeable, but a bit slow to act and undisciplined in time and procedures.

“Moving counterclockwise we find the expressive administrator whose heavy sentiment and empathy make him a feeling personality. He speaks quickly and easily to and about people, generally wants his opinions to be accepted, and appears generally impulsive, approachable, and warm. His major abilities lie in teaching, persuading, arousing enthusiasm, and communicating new ideas.

“The driving style administrator is the intuitive type we often associate with strong, natural leadership. Action-oriented, cool, competitive, and decisive, he wants to give the impression of being in charge an eager to led group process. As the visionary possibility-thinker of the organization, he looks ahead, nudges the group toward things which seem impossible, and furnishes the organization with new ideas.

“Finally we have the analytical or logical administrative style. He speaks slowly, cautiously, and often seems wrapped up in his own logic and argument. He’s interested in research and rarely like to act without a strong supply of facts and data within reach. He helps us to find flaws in group thinking, like to organize and reorganize, holds consistently to the policy handbook, and though no Christian leaders likes to do it, is the most adept t firing people when necessary.

“…Which one is the best? For the participation-oriented Christian leader, a constant pushing from an extreme toward the middle…the balanced middle brings together the best qualities of each style….

“But even more importantly the model shows us how administrative and leadership styles complement one another.”

(For a brief biography and contributions of Kenneth O Gangel (1935-2009) you can go to the link here.)

 

The Organised Church (Part 2): Critical Components of Church Organisation

In Part 1 I wrote about the need for pastors and church leaders to seriously look into the organisational aspect of the church. It is my observation that churches that fail to organise themselves well, despite the fact that they may be solidly founded on sound theology and/or pray a lot, disadvantage themselves,

The New Testament-mention of the spiritual gift of administration (1 Cor 12:28) underscores the importance for good organisation in the church. What’s the point of the gift if the Lord did not think that effective administration (organisation) of the church is necessary and important? The meaning of the root word in Greek for the gift of administration is connected to the work of a shipmaster or captain. The job then, of the person with this gift is to help steer or lead the church (or a ministry). If he is not the leader of the church, then his job is to assist the leader to develop strategies, organise the people and implement the process.

Broadly speaking, there are three critical components in the organisation of a church: structures, systems and processes.

  1. Structures

These refer to the organisational structures of the church, such as the leadership, departments, ministries, small groups and communications. (This list is not meant to be exhaustive. Similarly for the lists in “Systems” and “Processes” below.)

Let me flesh out a couple of examples to help you understand what I mean.

The leadership structure concerns matters like the lines of authority and communication; which is often presented in the form of an organisational chart. It also asks questions like: Who leads the leadership team? What is the role of the pastor and the chairman respectively? How is the pastor accountable to the church board? Is the church effectively led by one person or by a team?

In the broader context of the church it asks: What is the role of the congregation in making decisions? What kind of decisions does the congregation make?

With regards to the small groups structure: How is the ministry structured? Are the group leaders accountable to the pastor or to a small group ministry head? If there are a large number of small groups does the church divide them into areas (or zones)? Within each small group, are mature Christians assigned to care for younger believers?

  1. Systems

These refer to the working systems of the church, such as the financial, leadership, small group, worship service and assimilation of new people .

The first thing you probably noticed is that I have included leadership and small group here, even though I had already mentioned them under “structures”. That is because they (and others) are systems in the body of the church that must be properly structured.

Under “systems”, however, we ask a different set of questions. For the small group ministry the focus here is on the workings of the system. We want to know: What level of importance does the church place on the small group ministry? (Is everyone expected to be part of a small group? Is participation in a small group a pre-requisite for membership in the church?) Is the nature, purpose and programme of the small groups standardised or does each group have autonomy? Is attendance monitored? Are small group leaders expected to send in monthly or quarterly reports? Are small groups expected to multiply within a certain period? What is the church’s philosophy of small group ministry?

With regards to finances we are concerned about the efficient and effective collection of the members’ tithes and offering, proper recording of the collection, accounting of income and expenditure, and not just the proper use of church funds but their purposeful use to advance the Kingdom.

We ask the questions: How is the money apportioned? Does the church have a budget? What’s the financial and accounting policy of the church? How is the money collected (physically at worship services and/or bank transfers and/or credit card payments)? What is the procedure to count and record the collection?  Who can authorise a payment and what is the quantum? What policies are in place to ensure the purposeful use of church funds?

  1. Processes

These refer to the steps taken to accomplish an objective, such as the assimilation of new people, discipleship, and ministry and leadership development.

For example, pastors tell me that they want to make disciples, but when I ask them how they are making disciples, they cannot articulate it—either they don’t have a process in place or it’s so vague they cannot tell you. Every church needs to have a discipleship process. If you don’t have one you may start with Rick Warren’s “baseball diamond” found in his book, The Purpose Driven Church.

Disciple making, leadership development (read, raising up next generation leaders for succession planning) cannot be left ad hoc! Neither can we leave the assimilation of new people to chance. That’s the reason many would-be-additions to the church fall through the cracks. Every church needs well thought-out and workable processes for things like these.

Every church needs to be well organised. This will happen when pastors and church leaders do what is necessary to ensure that their church’s structures, systems and processes are efficient and effective. There is no one size-fits all because of the differences in the make-up of our churches. Start with the Bible. Study your own church. Learn from other churches. Get the leadership team to read and discuss one or more relevant books on the matter, and implement what is helpful. This is the road to the administrative health of your church.