Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Global Pandemic…Three Years Later

Written by: on April 24, 2023

“Whether you are an activist advocating for social and political change, a manager leading an organization, or a leader looking to shape an entire society, the need to create interconnectivity and interdependence remains essential” (Satell, 35).

I’m writing this particular blog post on the three year anniversary of the day I made the difficult decision (along with many around the world) to suspend our public, in-person worship gatherings due to the global pandemic. I was reminded of this specific timeframe due to all of the social media “memories” that have been popping up, recalling that wild time three years ago.

I, along with our team, quickly rallied to create a number of Facebook posts, Instagram videos, and church communiques expressing the urgency of the moment and our “plan to pivot for the coming weeks.”  Weeks!  Ha! Who would have known?!?

Here’s just a snippet from one of the communiques: “In order to help minimize the spread of this virus, out of concern for our particularly vulnerable members, and in cooperation with health officials, we are suspending, etc. etc. etc.”  Does all this sound familiar? Does it spark a bit of PTSD in you, like it does in ME? Even as I type these words (without being overly melodramatic), I gotta tell you: it makes me emotional. That was a hard season. That was a VERY hard season.

But, by the grace of God, and a lot of hard work, we made it. “Cascades” by Greg Satell highlights a couple principles that I believe (now in hindsight) played a vital role as to how we made it…and why we are (again by the grace of God and hard work) healthier than ever before.

Of the six principles in “Cascades” I/we managed to do the first three (and will continue to aspire to do the last three):

1. Identify a Keystone Change.

Satell says that “It starts with a grievance. Yet to succeed, you must go beyond grievance to identify an affirmative vision for what you would like to be different and then identify a single, fundamental change that will bring that vision about” (Satell, 98).

We didn’t know much, except that we could not meet together publicly and in large groups. This is not the time or place to debate these perceptions and/or realities. I’m still pretty tired, and very likely to throat punch you, so keep your opinions to yourself on these matters…however, with the information we were working with, and the underlying “grievance” of “the church needs to meet together, but how?” we began to articulate a affirmative vision. Here it is:

The Church gathered is only as good as the Church scattered.

The New Testament (particularly the Book of Acts) has much to say about The Church scattered, under a degree of persecution, and how it not only survived, but thrived. This was our rally cry.

2.  Make a Plan.

It would decimate my word count if I copy/pasted all the pastoral letters, emails, memos and video scripts I generated in that season. Suffice it to say: we had to pivot, and the pivot required the clarity of a plan. I don’t recall who exactly said it, but I will give credit to Andy Stanley for this brilliant thought: “Where there is no certainty, let there be clarity.” 

The plan we put in place was multi-faceted, but specifically in regards to our staff, the plan was to split it into two teams, and refocus our collective energies:

TEAM #1:  Broadcasting. This was a team devoted to Content and Communications, with a focus on the overall way our congregation would get FED and LED.

TEAM #2:  Narrowcasting.  This was a team devoted to Care and Connection, with a focus on reaching out, helping, praying, and ministering to as many individuals as possible, primarily one-one-one or within small groups. Which brings me to Satell’s third principle for cascading movements and change.

3. Build a Network of Small Groups

The global pandemic afforded us an opportunity to reinforce our House-To-House ministry model. Admittedly, it was the way the church HAD to meet, a la the 1st Century early church, which was also in the midst of cultural upheaval. In the process, we found that a healthier scattered church contributed greatly to a healthier gathered church (when we were able to meet in person again). This network of loosely connected small groups that were united by a common purpose, which was to Encounter Jesus, were the agents and avenues of change within our congregation.  Satell says “To grow, you have to connect, and the more you connect, the more central you become. The more central you become, the more power you have. And with enough power, you can bring change about” (Satell, 164).

These three principles brought about significant change to our church, such that, I believe we are radically different and better than before. There is, more than previously, an growing “interconnectivity and interdependence” (Satell, 35).

Now, my desire moving forward is to intentionally, and organizationally work on the remaining three principles:  indoctrinate values, create platforms for participation, mobilization, and connection, and lastly, survive victory by staying true to our values.

By the grace of God, and a lot of hard work, we are in a season of the Lord’s favor and touch upon our congregation. Attendance may be 1/2 the size it was pre-Covid, but I gotta tell you, we are experiencing the palpable, manifold and manifesting Presence of God like never before. Right now, this degree of “cascading” renewal and revival is being experienced all across our country and world.

Let it continue, Lord! As in the days of old, DO IT AGAIN!

About the Author


John Fehlen

John Fehlen is currently the Lead Pastor of West Salem Foursquare Church. Prior to that he served at churches in Washington and California. A graduate of Life Pacific University in San Dimas, CA in Pastoral Ministry, and Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, CA with a Masters in Leadership and Spirituality. He and his wife Denise have four grown children and four grandchildren. John is the author of “Intentional Impressions," a book for fathers and their sons, "Don't Give Up: Encouragement for Weary Souls in Challenging Times," a book for pastoral leaders, and "The Way I See You," a children's book. You can connect with John on Instagram (@johnfehlen) as well as on his blog (johnfehlen.com).

12 responses to “A Global Pandemic…Three Years Later”

  1. mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

    Oh yeah! Your post took me back. Lots of memories…fond and not so fond. I appreciate how you applied Satell to that period in time. I would not have made that connection. One of the things that I really appreciated about this book was that is instructive. Are there changes that you made because of the pandemic that have strengthen how you currently operate?

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      Jonita, I too appreciated how instructive Cascades was.

      A few things we did that still are in place and we’re experiencing life and fruitfulness from are:

      1. Increased pastoral care from our team and leadership. The eldership have been released in greater form to minister to the Body, and not wait for the pastoral staff to do so exclusively.

      2. We trimmed our staff. During COVID, we needed to trim the budget – at least at the time we thought we needed to because we simply didn’t know the effect it would have on us organizationally. But I’m glad we did it. We honed on on our team and its purposes. Good outcomes.

      3. We kept our annual budget level. The last few years have taught us that we just don’t know when something big can hit us. So, we opted to function on a stagnant budget and really live within our means.

      4. We tightened up our connection with local affiliate ministries that are doing work that we either can’t or shouldn’t.

      Great question!

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      Actually…let me toss a question back at you…

      You mentioned “memories fond and not so fond.”

      What’s one fond and one not so fond memory from that time, if you don’t mind sharing?

  2. Travis Vaughn says:

    Your comments and inclusion of communications from three years ago reminded me of the first letter I had to send to our entire church planting network regarding Covid protocols, and that DID take me back to the second week of March. That was even before lockdown, but I can identify with the tension that was in the air, especially when we didn’t know that much about the virus yet.

    Amen on your last sentence!

  3. mm Kim Sanford says:

    I’m so glad you linked Cascades to the COVID years. As I was reading Cascades, I was definitely thinking of how the virus was transmitted from person to person through their various networks. I guess cascades can work for good or for not-so-good.

  4. Jennifer Vernam says:

    This line:
    “Attendance may be 1/2 the size it was pre-Covid, but I gotta tell you, we are experiencing the palpable, manifold and manifesting Presence of God like never before.”
    I believe that when we go about transformational change, there is an x factor… we can’t ever really know the lasting effect change will have on our culture. How interesting that in your case, you are having this movement of God in your congregation!
    Not only do we not know the nature of the effects of change, it hits us all differently.
    In our family, I cite COVID as the time we really solidified our bond as a family. I would not exchange that for anything… yet I know that the inverse was true for others.
    Change is tricky!

  5. Esther Edwards says:

    Powerful post.
    “Interconnectivity and interdependence”. Such powerful words, yet so evasive. To piggy back on our exchange on my post, what does that look like in a society (not just our churches) where individualism and self-improvement take precedent? I gave more thought to your questions on small groups. Perhaps we have tried to create operational systems that are not changed at the celular level. I do believe we connect people to God well, but there needs to be a deep motivation in all of us to let others in and create smaller circles of deeper connection. One of our summer goals is to simply hang on our back deck more and invite neighbors into conversation….share stories.
    Have a great summer, John!

  6. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hi Professor John,

    I loved your church example and how Satell’s key change points were a part of your path to you churches response to Covid. As with all the texts, we are learning that our life experiences/lessons/activities have been documented by some insightful author who had the time to put it on paper/book.

    What inspires me, however, is the personal stories of the cohort who see life, not imitating art, but setting up the ground rules for real spiritual change.

    I do believe that the churches small and large need to step to the proverbial “plate” on refugees resettlement. The broader topic of immigration is something that I hope to address AFTER my Interlinkt – Linking Internationals to their new Homeland – telephone app is Beta tested by next March 9, 2024 -but I am becoming convinced that it is the cascade effect that will have an impact that happens now to serve the “alien amongst us.”

    Once again, I am so grateful that this semester has been filled with cohort teachers.


  7. mm Pam Lau says:

    Hi! John~
    You wrote:

    Satell says “To grow, you have to connect, and the more you connect, the more central you become. The more central you become, the more power you have. And with enough power, you can bring change about” (Satell, 164).

    Thank you for pulling out this quote. I’m spending some time today just reflecting on this powerful approach to bringing the change we long for as Christians–especially as someone who lives in Oregon. I would like to know what it’s been like for you being a pastor in Oregon, especially so close to Portland. Do you see more light than darkness? What encourages you here in Oregon as a Christian.

  8. mm Tim Clark says:

    Your post gave me PTSD. Thanks a lot. 🙂

    I’m praying for a continued flow of life for your church in this new season. I can’t wait to see what God does.

  9. Scott Dickie says:

    Great post John….I wish you posted this 3 years ago because I would have stole (like an artist) some of your creative phrases and strategy to implement in my church. But you didn’t….so thanks for nothing!

    Like you, though, I am proud of how our church navigated that season and, while slightly numerically smaller than before, we are more healthy and engaged than before the covid crisis. Having said that…perhaps unlike you…I am now ‘feeling the effects’ of leading through that season that included too many decisions and serious ambiguity fatigue. Simon Sinek posted a short video about how he ‘crashed’ after the pandemic was over…and he noted that other leaders he was connected with–having brought their organization through the upheaval–were now struggling as we now come out of that disorienting season. While I am not crashing…I have recognized a residual fatigue and emotional flatness that needs to get sorted over these summer months for me personally, even as our church makes healthy strides forward. That’s my summer homework! Praying that your summer months will be renewing as well.

  10. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    How you all handled the pandemic was brilliant. I was no longer in a church as our church had just decided it needed to close a month before pandemic which in and of itself was painful and horrible timing. How do you church hop in a pandemic? Anyway, I think how you did that was brilliant. Broadcasting-which a lot of churches did, but narrowcasting is brilliant, I love how you all loved your church as it was scattered! Can’t wait to see you in Oxford!

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