St John’s by the gas station is a church that has a lot in common with many other churches in the United States. They have had a rich history of worship and Bible studies. There was a long stretch of time where they had the best day care in town. Everyone seemed to want to send their kids there. For a while they also had this awesome Wednesday night supper that would regularly run out of food. Christmas and Easter they would run out of room.

But that is becoming a long time ago. Well before the pandemic the attendance was growing sparse. It’s not so much the pastor’s fault, although he catches a lot of the blame. It just seems that the energy of that time has come and gone. Now as this pandemic stretches on, the in person worship is really thin and the online numbers are too and while people are giving, the base of support is getting smaller and smaller. 

Some are whispering that our options for responding appropriately and thoughtfully are also really limited. We can’t make people come to church and we can’t make them give. It doesn’t seem to be working.

Yet the coaching leader asks, “Where are you looking?”

If a mechanic opened up your trunk to look and see why the motor was running roughly you might wonder about the wisdom of the mechanic. But if he pulled out the scanner looking for error codes to diagnose the problem and then opened the hood of the car and within two minutes identified your problem and the solution you might think he was either crazy or a genius.

Knowing where to look makes all the difference in the world.

The problem with “church” is that we keep looking at the wrong thing. We know the attendance and giving figures are weak. Then we know our attempts to address it don’t always work. So we are tempted to just ignore the problem or throw up our hands in defeat.

But the coaching leader asks deeper questions to know what’s going on. Attendance and giving are lagging indicators of what is called engagement. Small steps in engagement over time raise those numbers. But that means you need to intentionally look, learn and adjust your approach in order to increase engagement. Call it a new dashboard to indicate where people are in their journey with you and growing closer to Jesus.

But how? How do you measure engagement during a pandemic? There are as many ways as your curiosity and creativity can design!

It’s not just online views and length of views through YouTube or Facebook. How have you invited engagement through a free downloadable resource? How have you invited an email request for more information? Then how many downloads and emails have taken place? How many forum posts for prayer requests have been made on your online forum? How many new names or unique visits? How many calls have come in? From whom? How many have registered for that service or activity you promoted in both your online and in person service? How many unique logins and comments were made during your live stream? Then even more importantly, how did you respond in the moment? How did you engage with them?

The new dashboard is far less about “group” and gathering and far more about “individuals” and engagement. Look under the hood. Notice, design and build in onramps for engagement. Then consistently and persistently invite people to journey with you through a next step. Work hard at meeting and loving those individuals, even if it is only digitally. This is the new dashboard to look at to make friends who may not yet be close friends with Jesus. One life at a time. One contact at a time. One day at a time. It is only limited by your creativity and intentionality. God bless your engagement! 

Scott specializes in leadership coaching, consulting, coach and leadership training. He is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church and others as an independent contractor. Listen to The Coaching Leader podcast and contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. scottgress@me.com or scottgress.com. Check out his YouTube channel and new online Church Leadership Training at scottgress.teachable.com

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