Sep 1, 2020

ChurchPulse Weekly Podcast: Mark Batterson on Pastoring in a Digital Age, Part 2


Last week, podcast hosts Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman sat down with Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC, to discuss ministry in the current digital era. While the COVID-19 crisis has forced many churches to take their weekly outreach online because of social distancing, the ChurchPulse Weekly hosts and guest also discussed how harnessing the internet for ministerial purposes was a growing need, even before the pandemic.

This week’s episode is a continuation of last week’s conversation between Nieuwhof, Kinnaman and Batterson and covers topics such as next gen ministry, city-wide outreach and the importance of remembering to be Kingdom-minded.

The Importance of Investing in the Next Generation
In a recent church leader survey (July 24-26, 2020), nearly half of U.S. protestant pastors (47%) say that they are struggling with ministry to kids and youth right now. Batterson says that as soon as the COVID-19 lockdown began, the NCC staff implemented numerous initiatives to continue their outreach to church families. With kids and teens being unable to attend regular weekly services, Batterson’s staff stepped up with new ideas to keep investing in the spiritual formation of children.

“We’ve done a number of different things,” Batterson says. “Some of them are so simple. We do a bedtime story on Sunday nights on Instagram for NCC Kids. … My kids are older now so I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed reading bedtime stories to our NCC Kids. It sounds so simple, but those little personal touches during a season of social distancing are pretty meaningful.”

“We’re in a series on Daniel, which is so timely right now given our circumstances,” Batterson continues, “and our kids team designed a board game—a Daniel board game—that we’ve given to our families. We’re [also] looking at ways to create virtual and some in-person gathering, like small groups for kids.”

“Our youth ministry has really leveraged social media platforms and has done great with that. And they’ve done simple things like when our kids graduate from school back in June, they did these amazing drive-bys and parades that requires a little bit of creativity to do,” Batterson concludes. “We’ve also [put together] care packages that we give to some of our leaders—keeping six feet apart—and handing those off with a mask and saying, ‘We love you. We appreciate you.’ To me, it’s about all of those personal touches.

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The Importance of Participating in City-Wide Outreach
While focusing on families is a large aspect of ongoing church ministry, pastors are also feeling pressure when it comes to envisioning outreach outside the church. In fact, as of a couple weeks ago (August 13-17, 2020), 85 percent of pastors said that they believe the COVID-19 crisis will definitely (35%) or somewhat (50%) disrupt their church’s outreach. Batterson’s team and NCC is combatting this challenge with a new initiative of their own.

“[Places for child development] is one of the biggest needs in our city,” Batterson says. “[In light of that,] we’re partnering with Phase Family and our mutual friend, Frank Bealer, [to create a child development center] to really serve our city. We’ve got a lot of things in the works right now. We are staying busy.”

“It’s an amazing answer to prayer,” Batterson adds. “We have a city block, about 100,000 square feet—when you’re a mile from the Capitol, it’s pretty hard to find that—that was the Navy Yard car barn from way back in 1891. Phase one was turning it into an event venue where we gather and worship. Phase two is our NCC kids ministry space—about 20,000 square feet—but then Monday to Friday, it will double as a child development center. And then the East side of the building, we’re looking at doing a marketplace and a co-working space.”

“Now what’s interesting is that we are doing a market study right now and evaluating because co-working spaces I think have to be reinvented,” notes Batterson. “And even marketplaces, the food industry is really struggling right now, so we’re trying to figure out ways [to be more present in the community] because our core conviction is church belongs in the middle of the marketplace. Jesus didn’t just hang out at synagogues, he hung out at wells, these natural gathering places in ancient culture. So, we have a city block that we’re trying to turn into a little bit of an experiment in urban ministry.”

The Importance of Remaining Kingdom-Minded
As the presidential election looms ever closer, tensions are rising around topics such as racial justice, gender equality, immigration, the global pandemic and other issues at the forefront of Americans’ minds.

In light of this, and with Batterson’s church being situated just blocks away from Capitol Hill and the White House, Nieuwhof asked the lead pastor if he had any advice to share with listeners for the coming months.

“Buckle your seatbelt from now until November 3rd, and the few weeks following the election,” Batterson advises. “I think the political polarization is way beyond [what it’s been before]. It’s not just the news or media. You can feel it in the air here in DC and really in any major U.S. city.”

“I think this is a moment to remind ourselves that we have dual citizenship. I remind myself that my primary citizenship is in the Kingdom of God. I’m called to be an ambassador from that Kingdom to the particular nation that I live in. I’m grateful for the freedoms that I have as a U.S. citizen, but at the end of the day, my loyalty is to the Kingdom of God.”

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About the Research
COVID-19 Data: 
Barna Group conducted these online surveys among Protestant Senior Pastors from March 20–August 17, 2020. 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. 

Data Collection Dates
Week 1, n=222, March 20-23, 2020
Week 2, n=212, March 24-30, 2020
Week 3, n=195, March 31-April 6, 2020
Week 4, n=246, April 7-13, 2020
Week 5, n=204, April 14-20, 2020
Week 6, n=164, April 21-27, 2020
Week 7, n=167, April 28-May 4, 2020
Week 8, n=165, May 5-11, 2020
Week 9, n=184, May 12-18, 2020
Weeks 10 and 11, n=191, May 19-June 1, 2020
Week 12, n=203, June 26-29, 2020
Week 13, n=256, July 9-14, 2020
Week 14, n=285, July 24-26, 2020
Week 15, n=336, August 13-17, 2020

Featured image by NordWood Themes 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, 2020

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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