In a crisis, the easiest response is to go with what you know. But the problem with the COVID-19 crisis is that some of the very things we were most comfortable with in parish life are the very things that we are now restricted from doing. COVID-19 is like a big reset button on everything we do as a parish. At first, that seemed like a problem. But we’ve come to understand the benefits of a re-evaluation of priorities, practices, programs, and services that the reset provides, in order to grow stronger. Three examples:
1) Online Church
When we first started broadcasting Mass online a few years ago, we were very unclear what our objective was, very uneasy we could be “cannibalizing” our in-pew attendance, and very uncertain we should be doing it at all. Since then, the audience has steadily grown, allowing homebound and sick members of our parish to participate in Mass, providing a “front door” for visitors and potential parishioners, as well as the place traveling parishioners, could stay connected. Since COVID our online community has exploded in growth. Now, we consider our online parishioners and our in-person congregation as one church, two ways we are helping people in-person and on-line grow as disciples.
2) Online Giving
For many parishes, not being able to pass the basket would be an impossible challenge. But, truthfully, it’s been a practice we have grown less and less fond of. Pre-COVID we only had one offering in Mass: to support the parish and its mission. We had no second collections, hosted no bake sales by the front door, and didn’t ask for a stewardship commitment more than once per year. These are practices we developed over the course of many years.
COVID has narrowed our fundraising focus even further. We are now almost completely dependent upon online giving for our weekly offertory. We do still collect checks by mail and in no-touch drop-boxes in the back of church. But we now believe that online giving can grow people in their discipleship better than old-fashion checks by making it easier to be a consistent and planned giver.
3) Online Team Work
One of our six staff values is ‘adaptable.’ In normal times, adaptable generally means being open to occasional changes in procedures or plans. In COVID times, it has meant a total re-deployment of our staff resources, staff time, staff efforts. Some of our staff, especially those who are dependent on in-person gatherings like children, students, and missions, have seen their jobs change completely. Others, like our tech and video people, have seen a multiplication of responsibilities and opportunities.
To their credit, they have all responded with total professionalism and adaptability. Rather than retreating to silos and departments, our staff has shown an increased willingness to help out wherever things need to be done. Those with technical expertise have helped those trying out video for the first time. Some of our staff have even dropped what they were doing before and picked up entirely new roles to help one another out. In this way, staff unity and morale has never been higher, even though it’s mostly all online.
It is obviously most important to stay healthy during the pandemic. But it is also possible to grow healthier through this period as well. We call it “COVID-ing” our way to a stronger parish.