The leaders of North Brisbane Salvation Army church, Donna and Craig Todd, give us some of their reflections on how the COVID-19 restrictions have impacted on their church life and leadership, as well as any encouragement they might give other leaders.

North Brisbane Salvos was identified as one of the healthiest churches in Australia, from the 2016 NCLS results. They took part in the Enliven Churches Project by NCLS Research, in 2019 to discover how they enliven their ministry and mission.

Since then, much of church and community life has been disrupted by social isolation measures. So in 2021 Donna and Craig give us an update- sharing their experiences, learnings and wisdom in leading their church through the COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. How have the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions impacted your church’s health and vitality?

In March 2020, we were no longer able to meet at church because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately we had already been live-streaming our services for a decade so our church was in a position to quickly pivot to completely online services. We were well set up with quality cameras, sound, staging and experienced and willing personnel.

We adapted our online services to be shorter and streamed on both YouTube and Facebook with people moderating the “chat”. Those watching the livestream were encouraged to send in photos of their household watching and these would be shown at the end of the service. Such opportunities to keep our church connected via messaging and photos enabled a sense of community to pervade. Our Children’s Ministry coordinator also created “NBC Kids TV” which we’d show at the end of the online service.

Other aspects of the church quickly pivoted online including our church newsletter. During the lockdown, Craig and I would film a quick video to the church which was sent out via the church social media. This enabled us to communicate information quickly keeping people informed and connected.

We also quickly established care groups within the church who were responsible for keeping in touch with people while the lockdown was on. Although we put a stop to these at the end of 2020, they distributed the pastoral load through the church and encouraged people to look out for each other.

Since going to 100% online we have seen a much higher number tuning in. We have had people from all over the world tune in. We have seen far more people watching “on demand” rather than live and it highlights that people are wanting church to “work in around them”.

We think it is worth noting that we did Alpha online last year and we had great numbers and people also joining our Alpha groups from other countries. We would say that our online servics were a good point for evangelism with people “sharing” the message on their socials or with specific friends, where they would be less incline to do so before.  We think like everyone, we have become far more creative in what we can do and it has been interesting to see the “creatives” in our church come out of the woodwork with ideas and engagement.

Coming back into “in person” service has made us consider in much further depth how we do “in person” and “online” in a way that engages the whole and leads them all closer to Jesus.

2. How has your leadership team responded, reshaped or reacted to the ‘new normal’ churches now find themselves in?

Our leadership team has been supportive, open-minded and willing to try new ways of doing things throughout the pandemic especially when we have had to make quick yet measured decisions.

3. What encouragement, wisdom or learning would you pass on to other church leaders in these unprecedented times?

These have been very challenging times to lead a church. The loss of momentum has been disappointing and cancelling events that have taken hours of planning and preparation has been demoralising. People’s habits have been modified by COVID and it’s been hard to know who in your congregation is still with you, who has moved on and who no longer attends church. We are currently in a fresh lockdown, so more momentum has been lost.

Being resilient has been important. Yes, it’s OK to feel angry and sad for a while, but you have to pick yourself up and lead on again. We have had to constantly remind ourselves that it’s God who builds the church – not us. We can only do our best to communicate the message relevantly, biblically and wisely with prayer and then it’s up to people as to whether they get on board. 

Donna and Craig Todd – August 2021

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