A new online decision-making tool helps congregations make the hard choices imposed by the continuing coronavirus pandemic.
What Now? can help churches navigate those tough conversations in productive ways, said Chris Aho, pastor at Oxford Baptist Church in Oxford, N.C. “I don’t think COVID-19 is going anywhere for a while, so we are going to have to continue to find ways to innovate through ministry.”
Aho’s congregation recently experimented with the free design-thinking process that sparks conversations on topics ranging from returning to in-person worship to ministering to local communities in non-standard ways.
“It helps us move from our longings to meaningful solutions,” Aho said.
What Now? was released this month by Rooted Good, a nonprofit organization that designs training and productivity tools for congregations and social entrepreneurs.
The early results are promising, said Shannon Hopkins, co-founder and lead cultivator at Rooted Good.
“The tool is leading to some good, constructive discussions and in several cases we are hearing of ‘ah-ha’ moments that lead to a sense of what is possible,” she said. “It is creating agency for congregations and helping them see possibilities instead of limitations or constraints.”
What Now? was designed specifically to help congregations through the COVID-19 pandemic, said Mark Elsdon, co-founder and lead builder of Rooted Good.
With a series of questions, users are guided through an asset inventory process and conversations designed to inspire innovation in ministry. The focus is on the immediate three- to six-month period ahead. “We built it for congregations who are facing the fall, for those who are trying to figure out what September through Advent is going to look like,” Elsdon said.
The program incorporates the unique programmatical, missional and theological orientation of individual congregations, as well as the particular needs of surrounding communities, he added.
Forest Hills Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., used What Now? as part of the beta testing in June. The program helped identify a yearning in the congregation for face-to-face communication members have lost without normal in-person activities, Senior Pastor Mark White said.
“My church folks, they are missing the physical interaction they used to have with one another. They miss the sacredness of the space their local church provided.”
The brainstorming inspired by What Now? inspired the launch of an experimental drive-in coffee ministry where socially distanced, face-to-face encounters were provided. “They could stay and chat together for a moment while in their cars and then be on their way,” the pastor explained.
While the ministry didn’t work, partly due to summer heat, the experience of a healthy process of introspection and conversation was good for the church, White said. “This tool gave us the freedom to do some brainstorming to see what sticks and what doesn’t.”
At Oxford Baptist Church, What Now? was used in June to explore news ways of living into the church’s motto – “Loving God. Loving Others. Serving All,” Aho said. “We want to leverage our assets and tools to do mission and church in a new way in COVID.”
Participants envisioned a prayer-partner ministry as a way to overcome the isolation imposed by the pandemic. Aho said he plans to convene another group to use What Now? in August or September. “With this tool, it doesn’t matter what circumstances your church is in. There is a mission God has given you, and this can help you find new ways to do that.”
What Now? also helps users avoid getting bogged down in some of the contentious arguments common in the pandemic, Hopkins said. Some discovered it helped them “find new ways forward quickly and to bring people together that were otherwise on different sides of the various debates around the pandemic.”