What Deacons Need to Know about Reopening; Part 2: Ministry in a Post-Covid World

A few weeks back, when I first heard about churches talking about reopening and holding in-person worship services, I wondered how this would impact deacons. I began putting some thoughts together, but as I started, I also began wondering about deacons regathering for meetings and resuming their ‘regular work’. So began the 2-part series. (Click here for my first article in this series if you missed it!)

Then on Monday of this week, I ran into this article; and I’m so glad I did. Last month on The Network, in an article entitled “What’s on your Doorstep”. Pastor Beth Fellinger, Regional Ministry Leader with Resonate Global Mission, posed the following challenge:

“Many of you are now in conversation that would take you back inside the doors of your church. For some of you, you’re wishing that all would go back to “normal.” (I have been reminded that “normal” is only a setting on a dryer.) Before you only plan for what will happen on the inside of your buildings, can I encourage you to continue looking for what is outside your door and how you might become engaged.”

In the article, she reflected on the story in Acts 3 where Peter and John are going through a typical day which included going to the temple for prayer and in that ordinary ‘thing’, they have a divine appointment with a lame beggar. While Peter and John tell the man they don’t have money to share with him, they DO have something else they are willing to give. In verse 6, Peter heals the man in the name of Jesus Christ. WOW!

Like Peter and John, Fellinger posed, perhaps we also have opportunities right in front of us – right on our doorsteps. “As you step into discussion about what will happen next,” Fellinger writes, “remember ministry is on your doorstep.” And remember what YOU have to share.

A Meeting of the Minds

So as you move forward and begin planning for the upcoming ministry season, two questions are likely swirling around in your head:

  1. Where/How do we meet? and
  2. What do we talk about? (Is it business as usual or …?) 

Where/How Should Deacons Gather?

As churches are experiencing the usual yearly turnover, with new deacons coming on board, and a new ministry year beginning, it is vital that your diaconate come together to talk about what your new future will look like. Meeting online has plenty of advantages but something is lost when we aren’t gathered in the same room, isn’t it? Perhaps a deacon is willing to host a meeting in their backyard or you have a room large enough in your church to allow for a face-to-face gathering with some physical distancing. Whatever your diaconate decides, what’s important is that you DO gather.

What Should Deacons be Talking About?

At your first deacon’s meeting (or meetings), it would be easy to focus on the regular tasks and duties of the deacon. Yet so much has changed, so is that even possible?

Spend Time Lamenting and Reflecting

Now could be the time to do some helpful and hopeful reflection. A great place to start is to look back at what your diaconate was working on when Covid hit. Does it still matter (ie. is it still relevant and important)? If yes, how does it need to change in order to continue? 

For months, staff from Diaconal Ministries Canada and World Renew Canada had been formulating a nationwide survey for deacons. For Diaconal Ministries, it was our hope that this survey would provide helpful feedback from deacons on the resources and support we offer and also provide input and insight into our next strategic plan. And then Covid happened. While the survey was in its final stages and almost ready to go out, both agencies decided to press pause. Months of time and energy and hardwork down the toilet! Yet, we knew that churches and CRC agencies alike were both dealing with a new reality and the survey wouldn’t have produced the fruit we were hoping for.

As you dig a bit deeper into your church’s ‘Pre-Covid Reality’, now might be the time to look at the following questions: (Perhaps this can even be done with the elders and pastor(s)!)

  • What have we ‘lost’ during Covid? Think of plans that were abandoned or dreams that are now delayed. How does our loss of “control” impact our ministries?
  • What is still working? What isn’t? 
  • What needs to be done differently in order to be effective?
  • What is being neglected (gaps)? What has caused this? (lack of money or time, social distancing protocols, etc)
  • What opportunities are available? For example, how has technology superseded geography? What partnerships were formed during Covid that could continue? What new partnerships are opening up because of the change in seasons? (eg. See what one church is doing to partner with a local school!)
  • What are our ‘assets’ that could be shared with other churches and community organizations (eg. one resource the church has at this time is their building!)
  • What do we have an abundance of? (eg. time)
  • What are we hearing from the congregation? If we aren’t hearing anything, is it because we aren’t asking?
  • How are we engaging the congregation to be ‘deacons’ in their various contexts despite the pandemic? Eg. How are we encouraging them to engage with their neighbours and communities? How are we helping them live stewardly and generously, despite the impacts of Covid? What opportunities are we providing to promote mercy and justice and speak up for those who are oppressed or overlooked?

“When we ask better questions, we invite innovation into the new order. We can be led by the future itself into something fresh and exciting. We begin noticing what wants to emerge through us.”

Susan Beaumont

Walking through these questions will help diaconates (and churches) as they begin planning and preparing for another ministry year.

Back to the Drawing Board

Like you, Diaconal Ministries would normally be gearing up for another fall, filled with in-person workshops, classis meetings, Days of Encouragement and more. But, like you, we know this may not be possible for the next while. One thing our staff has been putting together is an updated, online/Zoom-friendly version of our ‘Deacon 101 Workshop’, that walks deacons through the Deacons’ Mandate and their role in the church. Normally this workshop would be held in person but we realized the need to pivot in order to serve deacons across Canada well.

Each diaconate will need to discern and decide their new way of doing things. Some things will change as the weeks and months go on but some things you may keep doing forever! Here are some things we think are worth discussing at your first deacon’s meeting:

  1. Community Engagement & Development: How are the most vulnerable in your church and community being served as the church reopens? Many struggles are not new but have been amplified in the past five months. What response or encouragement could the deacons and church provide and in what ways? (ie. sermon series? support groups? community services?)
    1. People affected mentally by the COVID-19 crisis. Many people are struggling with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. 
    2. You’ve likely been reading that addictions to substances are up as well as porn.
  2. Benevolence – With many in the church and community still not back to work and/or with reduced incomes, churches may be receiving more benevolence requests in the coming months, as CERB and other government assistance runs out. How will your church handle a possible uptick in requests?
  3. Making Visits/Connecting – When making visits this fall, how will these be done? In person (eg. porch visits)? via telephone? Online?
  4. Communication – Was Sunday Morning your usual way to update the congregation? Or did you use church mailslots which are likely no longer being checked? What are some creative ways you can keep the congregation informed and engaged in this primarily ‘online’ world?
  5. Stewardship –
    1. Treasurers/Finances: While we tend to focus only on budget shortfalls, we know that giving our money is an act of worship. How are you cultivating a culture of generosity among your church members?
    2. Time/Talents: With many church and community programs not running in their usual ways, how will your deacons encourage members to steward their time for God’s Kingdom? What opportunities are available for them to show and share the love of Christ with their neighbours?
  6. Orientation – With so much going on, it may be tempting to skip this but it’s important to honour your new deacons and the role they’ll play in your diaconate.

Forging Ahead

One thing we’ve hopefully learned these past months is that you can’t plan for everything. Or can you? Perhaps there is freedom in making plans with built-in flexibility and allowing room for interruptions – and divine appointments. 

So as your diaconate plans for a new ministry year, may you never be too busy or distracted to see what is right on your doorstep and may you use the gifts God has given you to bless and serve your community in His great name.

Need Some Help with Goal-Setting? Not Sure Where to Start?

Contact your local Diaconal Coach for training/assistance.