056 | Pastoral Health and New Ways to Perceive Attendance Numbers in the Midst of the Pandemic with Glenn Packiam and Andrew Hébert

April 15, 2021

ChurchPulse Weekly hosts Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman are joined by Glenn Packiam and Andrew Hébert to discuss pastoral health in difficult seasons, returning to in-person gatherings and the challenges—as well as opportunities—presented by hybrid church ministry.

Many leaders within the Church have felt the toll of the past year. Data, and experience, show that it’s not always easy for pastors to care for themselves during a “normal” year, let alone during a pandemic.

On a recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, hosts Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman are joined by Glenn Packiam (Lead Pastor, New Life Church Downtown, Colorado Springs, CO) and Andrew Hébert (Lead Pastor, Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, TX). Together, the four discuss pastoral health in difficult seasons, returning to in-person gatherings and the challenges—as well as opportunities—presented by hybrid church ministry.

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Maintaining Pastoral Health Amid Crisis
The disruption of the past year has left many leaders feeling unacknowledged and less confident about the amount of work and decisions they are continually making. Kinnaman shares findings from a recent pastor survey, stating that roughly three in 10 pastors (29%) report having given serious consideration to quitting in the past year. Another quarter (25%) say they lack confidence that they will be financially secure when they retire.

Hébert shares what hitting rock bottom emotionally felt like for him this past year, stating, “I began to question my leadership. I’ve never felt less confident in my gifting as a leader as I have this last year. That was pretty tough. When you’re being second guessed by everyone in the decisions that you’re making, you start to second guess yourself.” He continues, “I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve never led through a pandemic before. And so at the bottom, there’s just a lot of question marks.”

“I never felt like the Lord abandoned me in any of that,” Hébert adds, “nor did I question my calling to this ministry. I think I more so questioned my ability to lead through it.”

For Packiam, one of these low moments hit last year when he was unable to preach for a period of time after a vocal cord surgery. “It exposed my own addiction to being in control, to being able to shape and influence,” Packiam says. At a broader level, he recognized the ways that this illusion of control has slowly been removed throughout the pandemic.

Reframing Success from Attendance to Relationships
Over the past year, the ties between the local church and churchgoers have drastically shifted. Even now that gathering restrictions have lifted in many places across the nation, as of a recent Barna survey, many pastors report that their church still had about a third of their congregation (35%) attending online, with the other 65 percent attending in person. While more research will need to be collected over the coming years to clearly see the effects and longevity of this shift, pastors are becoming increasingly aware that they need a new metric for success that moves beyond just in-person attendance.

Hébert saw this drop to be revealing in his own leadership, admitting, “It actually exposes some idols in the heart of a pastor. You realize how much attendance numbers have mattered to you when you see a nearly empty auditorium.” Even when his church was struggling, Hébert felt the Lord teaching him to celebrate what was happening in other places, as well as the invisible work of the Holy Spirit happening within his own church.

With attendance no longer being a stable barometer for success, Hébert & Packiam share that they have worked to refocus on a new direction for their churches: relational belonging.

Packiam believes this is not the time for the Church to mirror the power structures of the state or market, but instead be a relational space where people can find community. “The Church is really a different kind of space. It is a different kind of people, and. It’s a different kind of community,” he says. “Educating people on that is part of the hard, slow, personal work of discipleship, saying [to people], ‘When you come here, this is not just an arena to consume content. This is a family in which to belong.’”

Envisioning the Future of the Hybrid Church
As more and more of their church structure has shifted to being online, Packiam and Hébert share the challenges and opportunities they have discovered while transitioning to online structures.

While Hébert has not enjoyed the online platform as much, he finds it a great medium to engage unchurched people, those who may be traveling on a Sunday or shut-ins. He notes, “This is a way for people who can’t attend in person to stay connected with us at some level. So I don’t love it, but I am thankful for it, and I do think that there’s going to be a place for it in the future.”

Packiam shares that going online has added new people to his church who would never come in person, including a number of people in correctional facilities or senior care facilities. By seeing the people who wouldn’t be able to come in person, Packiam says, “It’s helped us recognize that we actually have a whole new congregation… It’s not just an augmented way of delivering a worship service to our existing congregation. It’s sort of a whole new congregation that’s developing as a result.”

For Packiam, this shift has meant a reframing of the perception of online spaces from being just a tool or mechanism of broadcast into an actual space where people inhibit. Packiam notes, “We’ve recognized that you can actually create these spaces for connection, even if it is augmentations of the actual physical embodied stuff.”

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About the Research
COVID-19 Pastor Survey data: Barna Group conducted this online survey among 514 Protestant Senior Pastors from March 16-22, 2021. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s Church Panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size.

Featured image by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash.

About Barna
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2021