The world is different. COVID-19 has put its indelible mark on our American society and on the world. We are living through a moment in time that will be captured in the history books of the next generation. Yet, it is simply too early to know exactly how everything will be different when this virus recedes, a vaccine is developed, and the world no longer lives in fear of this disease. Beyond the health fears, the negative economic impact of our public health strategy is starting to come into focus. This week, it was reported that unemployment has crossed the 20% threshold, the highest number in 85 years. And that’s just one measure of the financial discomfort that Americans, and Oregon Conference members are beginning to feel.
It’s important to say: the financial implications of this crisis for the church are not the most important story. The most important story is that individuals and families are being deeply impacted by illness and economic hardship. It’s in these hard times that we need to work together as a community of faith to hold each other up, to encourage each other in the Lord, and especially to rally to the aid of those who are most affected.
While we are caring for and encouraging the families most affected, church leaders and responsible committees and boards at all levels, must also prayerfully look toward the future of the church and respond strategically to potential economic changes so that the spiritual ministry of the church can continue to meet the needs of our members and communities.
We are so very grateful for the faithfulness of every church member that returns tithe and offerings to support the ministry of the church. We’ve been encouraged that in the early days of this crisis, we’ve seen more connection to church community and broader financial support. Yet, that was prior to the significant closures of many streams of employment. These developments have necessitated contingency planning, in anticipation that an economic recession and lost family income could have a significant impact on tithe returns as well.
Here’s what we’re doing now to increase strategic efficiency for missional effectiveness as we plan for an uncertain future.
- Reducing conference department expenses and personnel.
- Re-drawing some church districts. Some 2-church districts will become 3-church districts. In other cases, two churches will be brought together to form a new 2-church district.
- Actively re-assigning our conference workforce (pastors & office staff) as necessary to meet the changing needs of the entire Oregon Conference territory.
These first strategic moves will be implemented over the next eight weeks and will, no doubt, cause distress across our conference. Reducing personnel means that real people, faithful to the work of God in the church, will lose jobs. Changing district configurations means that churches will “share a pastor” more than they are accustomed to. Re-assigning staff may mean that pastors move across town or across the state(s), even though ministry where they were was flourishing.
These plans are necessary so that God’s mission can continue to flourish in the Oregon Conference. Daily, we are reminded that the focus of earth’s story isn’t about us. It’s all about Jesus! When times are good, it’s all about Him. When life is a struggle, it’s still all about Him!
While we don’t know what the rest of 2020 holds, we trust that God will show Himself faithful as we navigate the difficult road ahead together.