Reach: Learning how to lead a scattered church

May 20, 2020

By: Karla Hovde

This article is the first in multi-part series that will take place throughout 2020-21 in conjunction with the virtual Reach! webinar series. Watch for an article next week featuring tips and ideas that Rev. Dr. Michael Beck presented in the May 14 webinar.

The disruption caused by COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. “What that means is that this is an amazing opportunity for us to learn how to lead a scattered church, and it just might be the thing that helps us reach new people and truly make missional disciples.”
That’s what Gina Mueller told nearly 100 Dakotas and Minnesota church leaders in a Reach! webinar on May 14. Mueller is team leader for North America with 3D Movements, which helps churches and leaders figure out practical strategies for building a missional discipleship culture in their contexts.
In 2020-21, a series of seven Reach! webinars is bringing expert speakers to present practical and inspiring strategies for the challenging work of sharing Jesus with new people. Mueller and Rev. Dr. Michael Beck co-presented in the first webinar (watch here), and Dr. Phil Maynard will be featured in the second on June 4.
Mueller offered these four strategies that can be applied in your own context:
Strategy 1: Development over delivery. This strategy values the development of every follower of Jesus above delivery by the experts. When a church is decentralized and scattered, each of its people is deployed into the world. This is the season to equip, train, and empower the everyday Jesus follower. How can church leaders train their faith communities to live as disciples of Jesus during this time, rather than simply delivering content for them to watch? Can you help your congregation grow a skill or spiritual discipline? 
For example, rather than simply leading prayer during an online worship service, use the opportunity to teach people how to pray out loud from their living room. Guide them through praying themselves. You could also offer training for people wanting to lead worship services for their household.
Strategy 2: Offer an imitable example. As you focus on development, it helps to offer real-life examples with plenty of detail so people have something to imitate. When someone is trying a skill or spiritual discipline for the first time, a detailed example from a church leader provides a good place to start.
An example Mueller gave is her own church inviting people to pray for an hour, which feels like a long time if someone has never done it before. The church provided simple videos of several members who were already comfortable praying for an hour, who shared specific examples of what they do in that timeframe.

This is a season of pruning branches so they can be even more fruitful in the future.
Strategy 3: Recognize the season. Mueller noted that this is a season of pruning branches so they can be even more fruitful in the future (John 15:1-2). She pointed out that everything we are accustomed to doing as a church has been pruned or stripped away, so it is time to step back and ask God what we truly need and don’t need in our efforts to make disciples and help followers of Jesus live missional lives.
“I’m not confident that the best decision is to take everything we were doing before and figure out how to make every single thing virtual,” she said. “I’m not sure that is wise leadership or paying attention to the season.” She instead urged church leaders to put in place during this season only those things that make disciples and that help congregants live missional lives.
Strategy 4: Train, Equip, Empower. “When leading a scattered church, the primary role of the senior leader is to equip their team,” said Mueller. In the Book of Acts, when it came time for the church to scatter, the church multiplied because Jesus had created leaders who knew what to do. “Under pressure, when all the rules changed, they simply carried on,” she pointed out.
Today, this means that church leaders need to resource, train, and equip people rather than burning out while trying to do it all themselves. For example, pastors can support and train group leaders who then shepherd and care for the people within their groups. Pastors can give group leaders space to process how it’s going and offer guidance, but then step back and let them lead.
Watch the full webinar with Q&A for more details and advice from Mueller, and find the dates for the six upcoming Reach! webinars on the Reach website.

Karla Hovde is the communications specialist for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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