If you are anything like me, one of the biggest challenges for ministry leaders during this season is centered around planning for the fall. We want to do our best to minister to young adults, but we don’t know what the future realities, new regulations, and bank of resources will be by the time September rolls around. We want to create a plan, but it is frustrating when we feel like there isn’t enough certainty to confidently move forward with the plans we have.
I think none of us would say the best thing is to do nothing, but none of us are “COVID scenario planning experts” either. It is in these times that I think we prove to be collectively better together than serving as lone rangers in ministry. One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about the pandemic (are we allowed to say that?) is the number of collaborative conversations I’ve been able to be a part of as we continue to forge ahead in the mission we’ve been given to reach young adults with the gospel. I’ve been blown away by the ingenuity and deep thinking displayed by our tribe during this time. I know for sure we will come out of this period with some new ideas and methods that will help us better minister to young adults in the future.
Specifically, in the last couple of weeks, several of the conversations I’ve been a part of have been focused around how we best plan for ministry in the fall in the midst of so much uncertainty. Again, no one has emerged as an expert, but there have been several tips shared along the way that have been very beneficial to me as I seek to lead into this uncertain future.
Here are a few of the standouts (none of these are original from me…and I don’t think were even original from the people I heard sharing them):
- Think about the type or length of challenge COVID represents. Is it a blizzard, a winter, or an ice age? A blizzard is temporary and you just “hunker down” through it. Winter is a longer season that requires more preparation and has some longer-term effects. An ice age is a total game-changer that creates a new reality on the other side. If you plan for an ice age then you can easily (and quickly) survive a blizzard, but if you plan for a blizzard, you’ll die in the ice age. (I was introduced to this idea by a really helpful TX Roundup session lead by Mark Vance. You can read his notes HERE or watch the whole session HERE.)
- Multiple scenario planning is wise; it is not a waste of time. Every leader I’ve talked to in the past few weeks has shared that they are working on a plan A, B, and C for ministry in the fall. I even saw a helpful article outlining 15 potential scenarios universities are considering for next semester…15! I don’t think that means we need to shift from 3 contingency plans to contingency plans A, B, C…through L, M, N, O. But, especially if you minister to college students, it would be helpful to read through the scenarios in the article, think about the plans that might be most likely for your context, and create a ministry plan for each of those scenarios.
- Don’t just communicate vision; lead people through grief. (This one might be original with Mark Vance and you can see more in the notes and video mentioned above). If people question your plans or changes that you propose, don’t consider the questions an attack. Change is hard. Everyone is grieving the loss of something or some experience right now. Their questions are born out of grief and not a lack of trust in you as a leader. As ministry leaders, we must care well for our people right now which means leaning into their grief and helping them process it.
- Don’t forget what you’ve learned and how you’ve innovated during COVID. You have been my heroes through this crisis and have come up with some of the best ideas and ministry strategies to minister to young adults in a more digital environment. You’ve created new content, you’ve maintained an emphasis on community, and you’ve found new pockets of people that your ministry has been able to share Christ with. Don’t lose those ideas! Be sure to evaluate what you’ve learned during this time and think about ways you might be able to incorporate your best new ideas in ministry on the other side of this crisis.
The idea of planning for an uncertain fall is both challenging and exhilarating. One part overwhelming and one part hope-filled. Our dependency on the Lord has been renewed through this crisis. He never changes. He continues to be our Sustainer and you can continue to trust in Him even as … especially as, you plan for the fall.
Bill Noe is the Collegiate Ministry Specialist at Lifeway Christian Resources. A former campus minister (and current collegiate ministry volunteer at church), Bill loves being a part of seeing college students grow in their walk with the Lord. Connect with Bill on Twitter.