Feb 4, 2021

ChurchPulse Weekly Conversations: Jeanne Stevens on Innovative Church


Leading a church through a season of disruption can offer pastors the opportunity to renovate previous models that have been around for years.

On this week’s ChurchPulse Weekly episode, Carey Nieuwhof sits down with Jeanne Stevens to talk about innovative church leadership, casting vision for an uncertain future and her experience pastoring alongside her husband, Jarrett. Stevens brings a wealth of knowledge as a speaker, author and pastor of Soul City Church in Chicago.

Innovation Amidst a Changing Landscape
When Barna asked pastors in January 2021 if their ministry priorities as a church had changed in the last year, seventy percent of Protestant pastors responded “yes,” with one in four non-white congregations reporting that these were more major changes (vs. 15% of white congregations who say the same).

In a season of constraints introduced by the pandemic, church leaders have been forced to adopt a spirit of innovation like never before. Looking back, Stevens breaks down the past year into four phases: immediate reaction, interim response, intentional reimagining and interdependent reopening (a stage her church is only now starting to explore). At each stage of this process, she has been challenged to stay true to the mission of her church while at the same time learning to abandon strategy when circumstances call for something new.

One practical way her team has done this at Soul City is by reformatting the design of their Sunday services, a step they referred to as “Church Refresh,” which includes a shorter, 30-minute service and various post-service productions that viewers can attend digitally (additional worship, teaching, or discussion questions for their family). Stevens adds, “We all get locked into our way of doing things. The pandemic forced us to ask, ‘What do we want to do for our service? People are not coming to this building, so how can we recreate it?’”

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Casting Vision for the Future Church
Stevens has been intentional to use the language of “reopening,” not “returning,” when envisioning Soul City’s post-pandemic status. When the congregation is able to regather in person, the church will have gone through a pandemic that shaped their community in deep, irreversible ways. Stevens reflects, “My hope and my prayer is that church leaders will not stop casting vision for people to find Jesus, but that they let go of some of the old methods that they used to use.”

The pandemic has brought a new group of people to Stevens’ church who only engage through online services and will likely never walk through the physical doors of the church building, even once it’s reopened. With this in mind, Stevens emphasizes that once the church can regather, it’s critical for her team to put the same level of “excellence, innovation and creativity” into the live stream as they do for the in-person experience.

Stevens also recognizes that people will have unique needs coming out of a difficult year, and she believes the broader Church needs to be ready to meet those needs head on. She encourages leaders, “[Churches] need to be houses of hope and ministry centers. They cannot be centered on a Sunday service alone.”

Pastoring as a Married Couple
While Stevens’ shared many of her reflections about being a woman in leadership, she also noted the complexities that come with co-leading Soul City alongside her husband. Barna research from September 2020 show that during the COVID-19 pandemic, only six in 10 Protestant pastors (68%) say their relationships with their spouse is excellent, though another one in 10 (9%) admits their relationship is either average or below average.

Stevens expresses gratitude for the numerous ways in which serving alongside her husband in ministry has allowed for efficient communication, shared vision and deep trust through difficult personal losses. On the other hand, she addresses the challenges that come with this partnership, sharing, “Everything is blended… we co-parent, co-minister and have a marriage. It’s a challenge even finding separate space.”

In order to protect their marriage relationship, Stevens has been intentional about setting specific boundaries and practices that foster connection and communication. She remembers a counselor telling them a while back, “You guys are really, really good at productivity. Are you as good at intimacy?” In a focused effort to build their intimacy and maintain clear communication, she and her husband have integrated the practices of check-in questions, Sabbaths and quick feedback into their everyday relationship with one another.

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About the Research
ChurchPulse Data: This data was collected from January 22-27, 2021 with 421 protestant, senior or executive pastors invited to participate in this research study from Barna’s ChurchPanel. Minimal weighting is used to ensure the data set is nationally representative based on region, church size, and denomination.

Marital Wellbeing Data: This data was collected September 16 – October 8, 2020
with 390 protestant, senior or executive pastors invited to participate in this research study from Barna’s ChurchPanel. Minimal weighting is used to ensure the data set is nationally representative based on region, church size, and denomination.

Featured image by Christin Hume 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

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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