COVID-19
  • New findings on young Americans two years into the COVID-19 pandemic

    Late last month, Springtide Research Institute released its The New Normal, Updated & Expanded: 10 Ways to Care for Gen Z in a Post-Pandemic World, the second installment of its investigation into the perspectives and experiences of young people during this COVID-19 pandemic. The report highlights survey findings from 1,796 young people ages 13-25. Consonant with Springtide Research’s mission, this report gives special attention to the religious and spiritual lives of young people, which leaves us with a complex picture in 2022. While more young people say they grew in their faith during the pandemic, this wasn’t accompanied by increased confidence in faith communities — their virtual services had little appeal. Without qualification, mental health is the story to pay attention to in young people’s lives heading into the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Staggering numbers say they’re depressed, stressed, and lonely — though for young people of faith, religion and spirituality provide healing and hope. Finally, Gen Z’s trust in institutions continues to erode. Despite the efforts of two different presidential administrations, young people trusted the government very little to keep them safe during the pandemic. More young people now trust the government less. Faith communities, by comparison, are now more trustworthy according to young people. The New Normal provides adults in the lives of young people with a view into what they’re thinking and experiencing, as well as practical guidance for how to best care for and walk alongside of young people as the pandemic enters a new stage. More young people grew in their faith More young people told Springtide that their faith became stronger during the pandemic (30%) than weaker (18%) or lost completely (8%). This includes a growing number who agree, “I know a higher power exists and I have no doubts about it,” from 22% in 2021 to 28% in 2022, and a higher percentage who say they feel “highly connected” to a higher power, from 13% in 2021 to 18% in 2022. Conversely, the percentage of those who say they “don’t feel connected at all” to a higher power dropped from 36% in 2021 to 27% in 2022. Even so, Gen Zs trend away from faith communities continues The pandemic wasn’t the impetus for young people’s lack of enthusiasm about religious services, but it did accelerate trends already at work. Young people attend religious services less frequently now than during the first year of the pandemic. The percentage of those attending religious services daily, weekly, monthly, or less than monthly each dropped 1%-5% from 2021 to 2022, while the percentage who say they never attend religious services rose somewhat dramatically from 30% in 2021 to 44% in 2022. In 2021, just 10% of young people say a faith leader reached out to them personally during the first year of the pandemic. Now, 26% of young people say their relationship with faith leaders has become weaker during the pandemic — though nearly the same percentage, 23% of young people, say these relationships have become stronger. Virtual religious gatherings aren’t appealing to young people The most popular pandemic practice that young people want to keep is cooking more (39%), while virtual religious gatherings are what young people least want to keep (6%). Only 10% of young people say they found joy in virtual religious gatherings during the pandemic. The growing hypothesis that digital faith is the silver bullet for reaching young people does not find support in Springtide’s data. Though social media continues to dominate the attention of Gen Z — nearly four in 10 (38%) say they use social media for 5-6 hours a day or more — only about one-third say they would consider joining a totally online religious or spiritual community (35%) or that a totally online religious community is preferable (34%). Even fewer young people are confident that such a community could meet all of their religious and spiritual needs (32%). When we asked young people to share their level of interest in a totally online religious/community on a 1-5 scale, only 26% selected a 4 or a 5. When asked if an app/site would draw their participation in a totally online religious community, this percentage of 4s and 5s dropped to 16%. Mental health is what young people are struggling with most, but religion helps More than half of young people (53%) told Springtide that one of the biggest challenges during the pandemic has been their mental health, the most popular response in a list of ten options. Alarmingly, nearly half of young people (48%) told Springtide that they are moderately or extremely depressed, while about one-quarter of young people say they are “extremely” stressed (25%), extremely anxious (26%), or extremely lonely (21%). Sadly, most young people (61%) agree, “The adults in my life don’t truly know how much I am struggling with my mental health.” For young people of faith, a majority agree that their religious/spiritual life matters for their mental health (67%). Nearly three quarters (73%) agree, “My religious/spiritual practices positively impact my mental health.” This isn’t totally surprising. Data from our State of Religion & Young People 2021 report demonstrates a clear correlation between religiosity and mental healthiness. Young people who tell us they are “very religious” are more likely to tell us they are flourishing in their mental health. The inversion is true for those who say they are “not religious at all” — they are more likely to say they are not flourishing in their mental health. Young people are now less trusting of the government and more trusting of faith communities In their evaluation of how they think institutions handled the pandemic, only 17% of young people now trust the government more or completely, while a whopping 47% now trust the government less or not at all. A similar trend was found in their perception of schools: More say they trust their school less or not at all because of their handling of the pandemic (34%) than trust them more or completely Read More >

Leadership
  • Church construction forecast: 2022

    It’s all about timing! By Rodney C. James As they say, “timing is everything.”  When forecasting for church construction this year, there can’t be a more accurate statement. In 2021, we all saw crazy increases in the prices of construction materials, sometimes daily. While some of the chaos of pricing fluctuation has stabilized, the new challenge for 2022 is the availability of materials.   Have you gone to the store recently and the items you needed weren’t in stock? Ordered something online that normally shipped next day and now might take two weeks or more to reach your door? Imagine managing the plethora of materials — from simple to complex — needed on a construction site, in a timely manner, to keep the project on schedule and on budget. The days of “just-in-time” are no more. The challenge has become that we have no certainty when or if certain materials can be delivered. One order of material might arrive in one week at one jobsite, while the same order on another project might be three months away from delivery. A multi-week delay for materials can be devastating to a project schedule and budget. Our team has been working tirelessly throughout the past year to set up new supply chains, create relationships with national buying power, and develop pre-purchase processes to begin securing materials in advance of construction. While it does cause us to invest a little more in storing and insuring those stored materials, it has helped us ensure that a project doesn’t sit idle, costing our clients by extending the timeline. When materials are purchased in advance, it’s critical that they’re stored securely, insured, and that all documentation is in order to mitigate the risk of possible loss due to theft, fire, or the company holding the materials incurring financial difficulties. It’s challenging, but the reward quickly outweighs the risk when you consider the cost per week of delays. No time like the present The arrival of materials isn’t the only consideration; the second hand of the clock is always ticking to prepare facilities for future growth and new ministry opportunities.   Our firm is currently contracted with more than 20 churches that are planning, designing and building new or renovated facilities. We see tremendous Kingdom growth and momentum moving into this year. Multiple churches for which we have completed one phase of construction are moving directly into the next phase, without pause. Other churches are partnering with us to plan facilities that will be constructed in 2023 and even into 2024.  While our team is busy every day helping churches vision, plan, purchase land or buildings, raise funds, design their spaces, or build their new facilities, it’s extremely exciting to see that God is indeed moving His Kingdom forward. Churches that have their facilities prepared and ready for the advancement of the Kingdom are putting themselves in a position for God to use and bless. Financial fuel remains strong The final element of timing we’ve observed among the many ministries we’re serving is that generosity and giving is strong, enabling and empowering churches to better facilitate ministry. Many of the current capital campaigns and generosity initiatives for ministry facility projects are encountering supernatural results. Millennial and Gen-Z donors are empowered when they see the effect their gifts can make in the lives of people.  Every building project in the Bible was funded by the entire nation of Israel. Everyone wanted to be a part of what God was doing. Those leaders — like Moses, David, Solomon, and Nehemiah — simply shared the vision God had given, and the provision for the project came in abundance.   The call is sounded, and the time is now for you, as pastoral leaders, to articulate the vision God is putting in your hearts to take the next step in your ministry facilities. When the vision is clear and the “why” behind your building or renovation project is focused on people and changed lives, God moves the hearts of His people to bring the provision! As Solomon says in Ecclesiastes, There is a time for everything … a time to tear down and a time to build. While 2022 might have its challenges for building or renovating, there’s no better time to ask God for a vision, to share that vision, and to watch Him fund the work.   Having the right partner will be invaluable as you navigate your journey — one who understands the current challenges and is planning, developing processes, and seeking Godly wisdom to overcome these hurdles. Rodney C. James, a former pastor, is president and founder of Master’s Plan Church Design & Construction in Tulsa, Okla. 

Risk Management
  • CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE & STUDENT MINISTRY: High Risk and Low Barriers

    By Gregory S. Love & Kimberlee D. Norris Youth Leader Arrested for Sexual Abuse of 14-Year-Old Girl screams the frontpage headline of a major metropolitan newspaper — yet again.  As detectives investigate, several other teen girls come forward with additional allegations. Parents of students in the program express hurt, anger and bewilderment: how could this happen in a ministry program?  While it’s incomprehensible why offenders sexually abuse children, it’s easy to understand why offenders seek access to children where the barriers of protection are lowest. Sadly, this is often the Church, which commonly lacks any real understanding of sexual abuse risk. Further, the Church provides an environment offering forgiveness and welcome, saying “Come as you are” and “No perfect people here,” unintentionally creating easy access to children for offenders. Question: Within the Church, which ministry program carries a higher risk for sexual abuse?  Answer: Student Ministry. Why is  sexual abuse risk higher in Student Ministry? Why are Student Ministers unprepared to address this risk? What tools are available to resource Student Ministries to reduce this risk? Sexual abuse risk is real for churches of all sizes. Not all churches offer classic Children’s Ministry and Student Ministry, and there is no one-size-fits-all Student Ministry program. Sexual abuse risk unfolds in varying contexts based on size, staffing and program offerings. DEMOGRAPHICS Research reveals that the majority of churches are comprised of less than 100 individuals — small churches. In a small church (up to 200 worshippers), ministry is commonly bifurcated into ‘church for adults’ and ‘church for kids’ with a parent volunteer or part-time employee gathering kids of all ages into a room where age-appropriate lessons or activities are provided. In other small-church settings, a staff member or volunteer provides music and lessons for children under a certain age. Programming for children and youth in a small church tends to vary depending upon the demographic served, ministry priority, facility and budget. A mid-sized church (200 to 600 worshippers) generally provides some form of Children’s Ministry and Student Ministry, often overseen by a full or part-time Student Minister or Pastor. Programming often relies heavily on church volunteers. A large church (600+ worshippers) often has a dedicated Children’s Minister and Student Minister who oversee distinct programs. In a large church, both Children’s Ministry and Student Ministry depend heavily on volunteer workers and leaders. WHY SEXUAL ABUSE RISK IS HIGHER IN STUDENT MINISTRY Equipped with an understanding of the offender’s grooming process, this becomes clear. Preferential Offenders — those who prefer a child (or youth) as a sexual partner — tend to gravitate toward child-serving programs that serve children who are within their age and gender of preference. If a Preferential Offender is serving within a ministry program, he or she is there for the purpose of accessing children or youth. Within the program, the offender looks for opportunities to create trusted time alone with the targeted child. Student Ministry, with less structure and greater opportunity for trusted time alone, presents a higher-risk environment. In Student Ministry, the reality of ‘contact work’ and relational ministry, often overtly encouraged by the Church, create opportunities for access. A Dangerous Combination: Trust and Access The Preferential Offender, as opposed to the Abduction Offender (giving rise to ‘snatch and grab’ offenses), represents a real and significant risk to the Church. The Preferential Offender, seeking access to a specific age and gender of child, quickly identifies the Church as an obvious target, because the Church has gathered the children or youth for the Offender. Having targeted a child-serving program or Church, the Preferential Offender engages in the grooming process, the process whereby the Offender (1) gains access to children within his age and gender of preference; (2) selects one or more children; (3) introduces nudity and sexual touch while isolating the child; and then (4) keeps the child silent.   The Preferential Offender looks for opportunities to serve in a position of trust, where he or she might create trusted time alone, with a targeted child. For the Preferential Offender, Student Ministry provides a soft target, easily exploited.  Children’s Ministry vs. Student Ministry Children’s ministry — even in a mid-sized church — is usually structured, with dedicated rooms, a child check-in system, cameras, limited access, and predictable schedule and location. Additionally, there is no need for electronic communication with younger children (texting, Facebook, etc.), and programming is typically provided on Sunday morning on the church campus. Student ministry, by contrast, is intentionally relaxed in order to create an inviting environment; often meets in less structured or off-campus locations; includes ‘cool’ activities mid-week or on weekends; and involves small group Bible study and discipleship, which might meet in private homes. Given the developmental stage of students, issues related to purity, intimacy and sexuality are regular topics of discussion. In some churches, student ministry participants attend conferences, mission trips, beach and ski trips, retreats and other activities requiring overnight accommodations, changing of clothes and unstructured free time. Because students in middle school and high school are immersed in online culture, the use of electronic communication and social media present countless ways to interact privately with a student. Any of these elements make Student Ministry an attractive target for the offender; in combination, the risk is compounded. In this environment, the offender grooms the gatekeepers, winning the trust of parents and church leaders alike, providing opportunities for trusted time alone, thereby enabling sexual abuse. Peer-to-Peer Sexual Abuse Peer Sexual Abuse — children or youth sexually molesting other children — remains largely unknown to Student Ministry leadership and presents another significant risk in ministry environments.   STUDENT MINISTERS REMAIN UNPREPARED Church leaders — and parents — typically place responsibility on the Student Minister to protect students from sexual abuse. Unfortunately, Student Ministers commonly lack the appropriate background, education and experience to understand child sexual abuse, sexual abusers and sexual abuse risk.  Student Ministers — Who Are They? When a church is ‘mid-sized,’ it often hires a dedicated Student Minister. Depending on the church’s Read More >

Pastor-Friendly A/V
  • SANDY THAILING & CHURCH OF THE RESURRECTION: Maximizing the video team’s creative potential — despite COVID challenges

    Content creation without barriers By RaeAnn Slaybaugh Having worked with Church of the Resurrection (COR.org) in Leawood, Kansas, in some capacity for more than 20 years, it is safe to say Sandy Thailing knows everything there is to know about its video production setup.  Aside from his extensive work with this very large church, Thailing began his career freelancing on the Branch Davidian trial for CourtTV which has led to a lot of corporate production in Dallas, as well as the Kansas City metro area.  So, when the time came to take the COR video production team’s output to the next level, he knew how instrumental a more efficient, accessible collaborative media storage system would be. And that would require finding just the right media server and storage-unit elements. Last summer, Church of the Resurrection Video Production Manager Sandy Thailing was well underway in his search for collaborative media storage options when Senior Executive Director Dan Entwistle passed along a Church Executive article: “Storage made for Sundays.” Coincidentally, it spotlighted solutions from creative.space that are designed to be “as simple to use as an iPhone and ideally suited to churches.”  That caught Thailing’s attention.   “Our main goal was to have on-premise shared storage for our video editors to access and edit from, eliminating local RAID storage that filled up pretty fast over time,” he says, referencing the use of Redundant Array of Independent Disks, a data storage technology that combines multiple physical disk drive components.  His reasons were good: each local RAID unit held eight to 24 terabytes, and each editor had their own RAID array connected to their Mac or desktop. “So, we would do some sharing, but it was always a little bit convoluted,” Thailing explains. “We had to give certain permissions to connect and share media, which meant our machines always had to be on even when editors weren’t at their desk.”  Consequently, the church’s methods for moving media around in the past could best be described as a “sneaker net.” Content creators, editors and producers ferried flash drives or USB sticks from editing suites to control rooms instead of using the existing network.  “Most of the time, it was just easier to do it that way,” Thailing admits.  Accordingly, this meant video content was stored in several different places — not at all centralized.  “As each RAID filled up (fast), we’d have to buy a new one and the old one would sit on a shelf,” Thailing adds. “So, it was tough to know where all the media was. We didn’t have a good library because we haven’t really gone down the file / data asset management route yet.”  Technology guided by faith A member of Saddleback Church for nearly 20 years, Sean Busby, president and co-owner of DigitalGlue and creative.space, says the release of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life impacted him hugely. Given his 24/7/365 business commitments — servicing the broadcast television network industry with customers like FOX News, The CW, Trinity Broadcasting, and American Forces Network — Busby volunteered at the church in the only way he could manage: parking cars.  In 2003, a friend introduced him to Life.Church pastor Bobby Gruenewald, who was committed to simultaneously sharing the sermon given at the main campus with two new locations. “I immediately realized we were on the same mission,” Busby says. Later that year, the Life.Church satellite network was up and running.  Soon, others — Mars Hill in Seattle; Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas; and Church Unlimited in Corpus Christi, Texas — inquired about building the same type of network.  But there were only so many churches intent on going this expansive.  Fast forward to now, with Busby’s offering of the entry-level //ROGUE PRO server for on-premise storage and the portable //ROGUE enterprise-based video storage system that can live on the editor’s desk at church or at home.  Since churches’ annual budgets are primarily based on the previous year’s giving, creative.space’s flexible contacts and all-inclusive monthly or annual OPEX payment structure are a huge appeal for houses of worship like Church of the Resurrection. Customers pay a flat monthly or annual rate that includes hardware, software, and 24/7 proactive support, and contracts are offered in one-, two-, three- or five-year options with the ability to lengthen or shorten the term as needed. For a limited time, the 96TB //ROGUE PRO starts at only $495 per month (usually $595 per month). The portable //ROGUE is the only unit available for one-time purchase starting at $4,795 for 48TB. “With these tools, a church’s video team is finally able to collaborate quicker, producing better and more content than ever before at a price that has never been possible,” he explains. “For me, that incredible feeling of giving back, is back.” Enter: COVID When Coronavirus struck, the need to “build a better mousetrap” became even more pressing.  Pre-pandemic, the workload was already significant. Most important, Thailing and his team of four video producers — Greg Hoeven, Natalie Cleveland, Kersee Meyer and Cam Hershberger — produced content for the weekly sermon for Senior Pastor Adam Hamilton. They also created video content for live worship; produced a weekly online service (in both modern and traditional formats); and provided support for the rest of COR’s ministries — from missions, to kids’ discipleship, to youth programs. Additionally, they helped produce DVD-based books for ministry staff who are also published authors.    Once COVID-19 hit, Thailing and his team were asked to ramp up production in a big way — and a lot of it would need to be done from home.   To ensure continuity and engagement with church members, they would produce a weekly live-switched podcast in their small studio, as well as a handful of live-streamed conferences. The production of worship services would also be significantly elevated; pre-COVID, these two live streams were presented as if someone was simply watching the service in the sanctuary. Now, their TechnicalArts ministry would deliver full-production-value products: four different versions of Read More >

Mission & Travel
  • Planning ahead for safe ministry travel

    As we move into the spring and summer months, many houses of worship will be taking service and mission trips. These experiences offer unique opportunities to share faith, make a difference and strengthen the church community. With careful planning, travelers can mitigate risk and keep the focus on their ministry during these trips. Following is a conversation with Eric Spacek, assistant vice president — Risk Control at Church Mutual Insurance Company, S.I.1, who outlines several key steps you, your members and staff can take to stay safe and healthy. What’s the best way to get started with planning? The first step is to research and share information on public health and security issues in your destination. Of course, we all know right now the most prominent public health issue continues to be COVID-19, and conditions can evolve quickly as different strains emerge. Additionally, every state in the United States — not to mention every country — has different requirements in place for mask-wearing, social distancing, vaccination status, etc. To better understand risks and regulations, start with the COVID-19 travel recommendations from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For security-focused information — such as identifying areas of unrest — the U.S. Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council is a valuable, up-to-date resource for international travel. What is typically required in terms of immunizations for travel? Do you have any other tips related to health or medical considerations while traveling? Each country is different, so it’s important for travelers to think ahead and verify all needed immunizations using resources like CDC’s travel website. Travelers will need to see their doctor at least six weeks in advance, as some vaccines require that amount of time to reach their full amount of protection. Right now, we also recommend paying close attention to COVID-19 requirements both to enter other countries (which can include quarantining) and re-enter the U.S. Another area of interest for travelers is prescription medication, which should be kept in its original packaging to avoid problems in customs. They should bring a sufficient supply to last throughout the trip as well as a paper copy of the prescription, in case it needs to be refilled while away from home. What steps can travelers take to protect their passports and other important documents? We recommend assembling an emergency identification kit, which should include a photocopy of the data page in their passport, an extra photo of themselves and the addresses and telephone numbers of the U.S. embassies in the countries they are planning to visit. This information should stay in the traveler’s possession, but it’s better to store it separately from their passport. Ideally, these pages should be laminated as well to protect them from damage. In the unfortunate event that a passport is lost or stolen, having this information readily accessible can help the traveler obtain a new physical copy. Some travelers choose to take additional steps, such as storing a laminated copy of this information in every piece of their luggage, providing a copy to one of their travel companions and leaving a copy with a family member at home. For easy online access, they also may scan their passport and store a copy in a secure location on the cloud or their email account. What should travelers know from an insurance standpoint? What’s covered during travel? We recommend purchasing travel insurance to cover all the eventualities that can arise, such as: Trip delays or cancellations — Conditions can change quickly, especially with COVID-19 as a factor. Canceling a trip could result in losing the money spent on plane tickets and other reservations, but travel insurance would cover these costs. Lost or stolen passports — Securing a new passport requires time and resources. Travel insurance covers the costs of extending a trip and replacing the passport. Lost or stolen property — Travel insurance covers the cost of replacing or recovering the traveler’s belongings. Illness or injury — If the traveler’s personal insurance does not cover all health care expenses, travel insurance can help. Liability — Some, but not all, insurance products contain liability coverage. Check with your insurer to determine if your organization is adequately covered for liability, particularly if travelers will be driving a vehicle. What do travelers need to know about driving in other countries? It’s a good idea to explore all options for transportation while traveling, including public or privately arranged transportation. However, these options are not always safe and/or available, so travelers may need to rent and operate a vehicle during their trip. The first thing to know is that some countries require visitors to have an International Driving Permit — check with the International Drivers Association for the list. This permit is translated into the nine official languages of the United Nations, including English, and is an important tool for drivers in an emergency situation. Potential drivers also should research traffic laws and road conditions in their planned destinations to answer a few key questions. Will the roads be difficult to navigate due to being narrow or unpaved? Will drivers need to drive on the opposite side of the road while traveling? (For the latter, if it’s the first time they have done so, it may help to practice in an empty parking lot prior to the trip.) How do the rules of the road compare to the U.S.? Signage — Drivers should know what the basic colors and symbols mean. Restrictions — Different locations may regulate who can drive where and when, especially in areas with significant congestion. Driving culture — Attitudes and expectations around driving. As an example, travelers who drive below the speed limit are seen as a safety hazard in some places, while in others it’s the opposite. While operating a vehicle in another state or country, travelers are implicitly accepting responsibility for anything that occurs while they are driving. Ignorance of the law will not be a legitimate defense. We recommend houses of worship contact their insurer to Read More >

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