Five Questions with Lori Champion, Celebration Church

We asked Lori Champion about how our changing times are creating a new normal in and among the faith community
and its leadership. 

How do you see the “new normal” developing for church families/congregations? 

A big word right now is pivot. As church leaders, and with family and friends, we have definitely seen a change in our tech savvy. It was important to do this, not just to lead our church in online services on weekends, but also asking ourselves how we could meet people’s needs in their homes; especially knowing that their needs might now be greater than ever. 

This new normal has made us realize the importance of relationships. Our hobbies and activities were taken out of our daily lives, and we are sheltered with our family, kids, and friends. I think people have rediscovered an appreciation for togetherness. 

In our church, I have been excited to see many comments in the online chat area during our weekend services. People who don’t go to church every week are saying, “We will never take [church] for granted again.” 

What I’m most excited about is seeing people, who were not really connected in our church before, joining the lifeline of virtual small groups. Even though we aren’t able to be together in person, we know the power of meaningful relationships and how much we need them to navigate hardships and celebrate wins. I’m happy to say that in the first four weeks of quarantine, we added 700 new members to our small groups. It shows people recognize, more than ever, the importance of staying in community. 

We’ve always believed the church wasn’t meant to stay in its four walls, but to be a blessing in the community and beyond; especially in times of crisis. 

Any thoughts on how churches and pastors can support
members who may struggle with virtual services? 

We found a wonderful low-tech solution to help our families. We put together a call team and personally called every family in our church before the end of April. We first focused on the elderly and at-risk; asked about their physical and prayer needs, and let them know we were here if they needed anything. Our IT experts thoughtfully walked many people through the process of getting online so they could find our content and livestream services. 

This was important because isolation can cause physical and emotional pain, so we went low-tech to guarantee we had a way to reach people. One team member spoke to a women who had literally just been praying about using her last bit of toilet paper. We dropped some at her house and she was thankful God answered her prayer, by her church family, in a time of need. 

What do you think will be the most positive change to emerge from this situation?

We have all re-evolved to have new priorities and fewer distractions. Personally, I realize I can do well without a few things I do not have access to right now. At Celebration, it has been awesome to be able to work with other churches and community-based non-profits; particularly the Mask Brigade and the Central Texas Food Bank. 

I am also glad that we, and our staff, have recognized the impact of providing meaningful content to our people to encourage them. We use social media to share a word or scripture of the day to help people cope. Joe and I have also done several interviews to talk about mental health issues, which is a big concern for us. 

What do you think might be your best memory
from this season of 2020?

I have loved the return of long and personal discussions at the dinner table. We were empty-nesters until a few months ago, but two of our sons are home now. I have been cooking like crazy, and my kids are enjoying more of my Southern home cooking than they’ve ever experienced. 

The first few weeks we were comforting ourselves with food but, more than anything, I love reconnecting. Joe and I still work every day but once dinner comes, we have a great time together and it leads to discussions and even games. When they were growing up, it was a rare night indeed that there were no sports practices; this was a long time coming. 

I also love seeing people walking in the neighborhood; everyone is so friendly and we have had interactions with them we’ve not had before. 

Also, last Fall, at our church, we partnered with Dave Ramsey to encourage our membership to go through Financial Peace University — nearly 8,000 people participated. How amazing was that timing? Today, many people are so thankful that they are of out of debt and even having savings. Learning the principles of putting a financial house in order helped many people weather this storm a bit better than they might otherwise have done. 

Do you feel people have been brought closer to God?

Yes. We are all re-prioritizing and have come to a place where we really need God, whether we knew it before or not. Plus, it is a level playing field because everyone is being touched in some way, whether business owners or restaurant servers. 

In a church our size, there are some people who jump right in, serving wherever they can, you would swear they have been there forever. Then there are those who like a big church they can get lost in — those are the people we normally concern ourselves with, but I’m seeing them engaged like never before; building relationships. It seems everyone knows we can’t do this by ourselves. We have also witnessed some desperate situations; jobs lost or businesses closed, or health concerns on hold. We are realizing that God ordained us to be in a spiritual family and we can never be what he called us to be without other people speaking and encouraging us. 

This spiritual awakening has been awesome. Every day we pray live on Instagram and it has been awesome to pray together over the needs coming in online. People are not as distracted, and we’re aware, while we had many good things in our lives, we have remembered to be content with the things that are great.