We Accidentally Restarted the Puppet Ministry

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic—as our church family wrestled through how to effectively minister online—I found myself repeating a phrase I never thought I’d utter:

“We’ve restarted our puppet ministry.”

It’s not that I dislike puppets. I’m an avid Kermit fan. It’s just that a puppet ministry reminds me of the early 90’s—a cliche and cheesy era of church ministry. There would always be some turf war between the puppet and drama ministries. But eventually, both ministries got shut down (in most churches), so frankly, I just didn’t want that kind of a headache.

But COVID-19 made me re-evaluate that position.

Our children’s pastor was trying to figure out ways to engage kids with her content. Her content was good but just needed a little something extra for an online context. And we just so happened to have created puppet versions of some of our staff for a bit in one of our service openers. (You can watch that here.)

Enter the puppets.

They were an old method that found new life in the midst of a pandemic.

Over the past year, all of us have found that we’ve had to re-evaluate how we do ministry. With restrictions coming and going, cultural shifts around large gatherings, and the changing needs of people in the COVID-19-era have all contributed to our need to re-evaluate our ministries.

Many of us have been so busy dealing with the practical realities of this season that we haven’t had a minute to think about the implications of this season on your ministry. If that’s you, let me invite you to look at five areas of ministry that we should consider changing. (And one area that may have shaken your theology.)

1. Family ministry

For our church, the changes to our kids and youth ministries have been monumental.

How does your youth leader connect with a teenager when they can’t see them on Wednesday night? How do you teach a five-year-old basic ideas around faith if you’re never in the same room as them?

It is incredibly challenging, and we have re-evaluated and adapted our strategies several times over in the past year. We still don’t have it figured out. There is a constant flux of requirements and needs that we’re responding to, so we’ve had to be highly adaptable in these areas.

How are you adjusting your family ministry strategies to current and future realities?

2. Giving

We’ve all had to evaluate our giving processes and expectations, even though many churches already had online giving as an option.

At the start of the pandemic, some churches went through the difficult process of getting online giving set up for the first time. Beyond just getting it set up, those churches also had to coach their congregation through the process (while remaining mostly all online). Others got creative and found ways to safely do drop-offs at the door. Other churches were already in a decent position and moved exclusively to their online offering options. Regardless of what scenario your church fell into, almost every church I’ve spoken to has seen at least a drop in giving, if not a dramatic loss.

Beyond simply offering an option to give online, our entire approach to tithes and offerings needs to be re-evaluated. Some major questions to ask are: Why do people continue to give? If we’re not worshipping together in person, how do we offer the value proposition to give? How do we encourage faithfulness in giving when the easy tools to remind people to give like announcements and passing the offering plates don’t exist?

And to be clear, guilt isn’t the solution. Bemoaning how your staff are going to lose their jobs to people who have already lost theirs won’t endear more funds. What has been effective, and always will be, is to cast vision. Show what your church is doing to impact your community. Share testimony of how lives have changed because of the financial support given to the church. Cast a vision that people will be excited to partner in, and they’ll support it.

How are you approaching giving during COVID-19?

3. Online ministry

Remember a year and a half ago when you weren’t sure online ministry was a viable way to build the Kingdom of God? Sounds laughable now doesn’t it?

The reality is that an online or hybrid model of ministry was coming down the pipe for most churches. The COVID-19 issue just accelerated that by ten years.

In the last year, we’ve seen that online ministry is not only viable but can be incredibly fruitful. That isn’t to say that there have been no challenges with the shift to online ministry, or that it will be smooth sailing from here on out. But, similar to working from home for many people, the concept of online and hybrid ministry has been proven.

Where before our social media, websites, and online services were seen as secondary add-ons, now even the late-adopter-skeptics see how vital they are to ministry.

The question going forward is not whether your church should be online, but how you minister online. How are we intentional with our online engagement? Are we now in a routine that we’ll just continue in perpetuity? What changes do we need to make to continue to build into our online ministry?

What does effective online ministry look like post-pandemic?

4. Loyalty and priority

In the midst of COVID-19, many churches have seen a shift in the loyalty to—and priority of—the local church in the lives of their congregations.

Where a person might continue to attend the same church for years (out of a sense of loyalty to it), the need for that loyalty has been challenged. Pre-pandemic, church shopping took a lot more effort. Today, it’s simply searching a church on YouTube to watch their services. Your people are asking themselves some hard questions: Do I really need to attend only my church if I can watch any church online? Will I still grow in my faith if I watch a church based on its production value? There are probably several other churches in your community (let alone around the globe) that many people wouldn’t have considered before.

Where a person might have given large chunks of their life and time to the church before the pandemic, that need to prioritize has changed. Your people have been forced to reconsider their obligations. Why does it feel so good to not have as crazy a schedule anymore? Was it really healthy for me to be serving in four different ministries? Do I really want everything I prioritized before to continue to be a high priority?

These questions are perhaps the most challenging for our churches to solve. But we need to find meaningful ways to engage these questions even if they aren’t being verbalized directly to us. We need to shift our ministries to continue to add value if our people don’t engage out of perceived obligation. And we need to adjust our expectations of our people as well.

How has your church responded to lower levels of loyalty and prioritization? What healthy changes can you make to your church culture in these areas?

5. Decentralized church

The core concept of the decentralized church isn’t anything new. Many churches have been running small groups and house churches as an aspect of their ministry for years. But this last year has emphasized the need for the church to decentralize.

For many of us, we’ve had to take our model of ministry, toss it in the trash can, and start over. But in most churches I’ve talked to, some form of small group or house church has been a consistent piece of our ministry model that has not only survived but actually thrived.

Think about it. As varying levels of restriction come into play on gathering sizes, often smaller groups are still allowed to gather. If there are already structures in place that allow a quick shift to meeting in homes, your life as a pastor or leader is simplified. Now play that out with me. If your entire model of ministry is based around meeting in homes, there would be no real change needed.

I’m not suggesting we all go and sell our buildings and never gather as a whole church. However, the viability and efficacy of a decentralized model has been proven rather accidentally through COVID-19. We’ve all operated as decentralized churches at varying levels over the past year. So what if this decentralized model was a method we could build our strategy around going forward?

How can you decentralize your ministry in a healthy way?

One more thing

There is a real possibility that your worldview has changed over the last year. One aspect of that change in your worldview has likely been that your theology has been challenged in big and small ways. The practical theology through a pandemic has shifted what we believe.

For some of us, the thought of participating in communion online was reprehensible but has now come to be an integral part of our online ministry. Some of us may have believed that if we did not meet in person, we would be abandoning a foundational tenet of what the church is meant to be. We may not have believed that attempting to lead someone to Christ online was a responsible or ethical thing to do.

And yet here we are.

There have been many events over the last year that have challenged and shaped us. As we wrestle with how our churches have shifted and been shaped through all these changes, we need to take time to examine how our theology and practice have changed in our own lives. This global traumatic event has absolutely left a mark on us. Our relationship with God is not immune to that. Take time to reflect on how your beliefs have shifted over the past year, and walk through that with Jesus. He will want to meet you there.

The past year has brought immeasurable changes to our world. We will be examining the effects of this era on our churches for decades. And as we step into the new things Jesus is doing through these changes I’m convinced we’ll see Jesus lifted high, the Kingdom of God advanced, and lives transformed.

And maybe, we’ll see a couple more puppet ministries start up again.

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