Why Now Is the Time for Long-Term Thinking

What church leaders need to be thinking through in the post-pandemic new normal

When it comes to leadership, there is short-term thinking and long-term thinking. Short-term thinking is usually reactionary. You need to make decisions on any number of things that are presenting themselves before you in a “this day, this hour” dynamic.

Long-term thinking is processing next steps related to vision and strategy, opportunity and planning.

Obviously, both are needed. But what is most pivotal is maintaining long-term thinking in the midst of a season dominated, by necessity, with short-term thinking.

Like now.

The pandemic has called for any number of decisions to be made on the basis of short-term thinking. Meaning, decisions based on the pandemic being thrust on us with little notice, the ramifications for life as we had known it being extreme, causing every leader to scramble to make scores of immediate decisions. With changes in the pandemic itself, coupled with other significant cultural events erupting, leaders are suffering under a case of decision-making whiplash.

All the more reason for leaders to take time to assess the current state of whatever they lead and go beyond the short-term dynamics and think long term.

For example, if you are a church leader, you should be assessing at least three specific areas: 1) online size (or online size combined with in-person percentage), 2) giving and 3) attendance at in-person events (other than weekend services). There are only three scenarios: 1) you are up, 2) you are down, or 3) you are flat.

Flat is easy. Stay the course.

But if you’re up or down, you should not stay the course. That is paramount. Because the uncomfortable truth is that the end of the pandemic will not be the end of your decline. Nor will it erase your increase. Those numbers aren’t to be disregarded just because we’re in a pandemic; they reflect a reality that will carry on past the pandemic.

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To determine your online size, you need to look at your analytics related to how many streams of your services you are having each week, and then analyze those streams.

There is a formula that we’ve found to be helpful and that may serve you as well:

# of Streams x 120% x Size of Average Family

The reason we go with the number of streams per service is because we truly have an online campus through our website—we don’t just park our service out there for anyone to access at any time. We offer set service times, all hosted by pastors and staff in the chat room.

Why multiply by 120%? Well, Google currently estimates that between 11–29% of people streaming your service are not allowing cookies. In other words, they could be streaming you and you would never know it. So, we just split that percentage in half and multiply our streams by 120% (e.g. 1,000 streams x 120% = 1,200) to capture the “hidden” 20% who aren’t being tracked.

And finally, the size of the average attending family will likely vary from church to church depending on the average age of your congregation and the average size of the families who are a part of it.

There’s more that I could go into here, but if you are only holding services online right now, this formula can help give you a picture of just how many people are attending your online services.

Well, next, in terms of giving, obviously it’s very easy to know whether your giving has increased or decreased. If it’s gone down, is it going to go automatically up when the last vaccine is given?

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I don’t think so.

You have to dig deeper into the numbers and try to find out why your giving went down.

Did core donors stop giving? If so, why?

Did they leave your church during the shutdown?

Did they lose their job?

Did they have a massive drop in income?

If your giving went down, and you have any kind of database, dig in. Find out the nature of your drop in giving. It may be discouraging, but facts are your friends.

And finally, if you’ve remained online only this past year, analyzing how many people have shown up when you’ve had in-person events—drive-thru events, outdoor concerts, etc.—is a great indicator of how many people you can expect to return when you reopen for in-person services.

All to say, if your church has trended south in one or more of these areas – online size, giving and in-person events—and you’re burning through reserves, or hoping for an immediate uptick when herd immunity is gained, I wouldn’t try to simply hope for the best. The prudent thing would be to prepare for, again, a new normal—even if for a season—where you will be where you are right now. Which means you should be adjusting to where you are right now for a season of rebuilding.

And realize the pressing need for long-term thinking.

Read more from James Emery White »

This article originally appeared on ChurchAndCulture.org and is reposted here by permission.