The Holy Art of Stretching in the Time of COVID

Dear Ones: 

Innovation is what happens when you don’t have what you think you need. It’s the engine of creativity. Turbo powered.

And it’s a particular strength of small congregations. 

You make do. Not with what you’d ideally want. But with what you have. And that process opens up new possibilities. Ones you’d never consider if you had what you thought you needed.

It’s called “stretching,” according to Scott Sonenshein. He’s a researcher for business, sports, and educational institutions. Basically, lots of groups consult with him to improve what they are doing. You can check out his book here. Or Google one of his videos. 

Don’t be put off by the title. Or feel pressured by it. His point is really pretty simple. And it’s your point. Not having what you think you need (that state of “stretch”) is powerful. It’s actually good and important. Because it unleashes creativity. I wonder what other ways this could work . . . 

He contrasts the opposite state of mind—“chasing.” Chasing is what happens when you don’t have what you think you need—so you chase after some ideal list of resources. Not making do, but chasing after.

And [drumroll], chasing actually shuts down creativity and resourcefulness. Chasing changes the goal. It makes the goal pursuing an ideal list of resources, instead of getting there in-any-way-possible.

It’s a corner where lots of small congregations can find themselves. It’s easy to want to chase the ideal praise band, the ideal tech team, the ideal worship space, the ideal young families to fill the pews. We could get through the COVID challenges if we just had . . . 

But this actually keeps you stuck. Looking for the ideal praise band, the ideal tech team, the ideal worship space, the ideal young families to fill the pews. Instead of looking for the kingdom of God already among you.

The truth is that we never needed a business-minded self-help book for this insight. It’s our salvation story: How the High Holy keeps stretching toward the Imperfect Here.

The newly-rescued Hebrews didn’t need a tricked-out sanctuary and worship rehearsals. Mariam could pick up a tambourine and start dancing and singing. 

The good news didn’t chase a crib and credentials. It made do with a manger and some bumbling fishermen. It’s one of God’s favorite patterns.

And it’s your pattern.

I’ve seen you work differently through COVID. Faith-fully stretching. And finding a new abundance already around you.

So it’s time to tell some of your stretch stories.

Like the pastor leading worship in quarantine. Imitating the usual pattern seemed awkward. So she made a simple phone video each week. Moments from her ordinary life. Tending her bees. Feeding her sourdough starter. Starting seedlings in her basement. She treated each of these ordinary moments as sacred somehow. And folks listened. Their usual in-person worship numbers had been about 70. The videos were watched more than 200 times. Looking for the kingdom, she noticed God in new places. So did folks who couldn’t sit through a usual worship service.

Or like the choir who, unable to sing at 11 o’clock on Sunday mornings, sent out singers in pairs. At odd hours. In front of windows. At care facilities, homes, grocery stores and processing plants. Wherever there might be neighbors needing a reminder—You are not alone. And they brought the stories back. Glimpses of the kingdom among them in unexpected places. Directions for where they needed to go.

Or like the congregation who had to close their building around All Saints Day. They realized the outside courtyard made a perfect place to remember. For the whole community. Not just their members. They set out strips of cloth and markers and simple instructions. And folks tied the names of loved ones they were missing on the iron fence in front of the church. It filled up. A week-long living memorial for everyone. The kingdom with no pews or candles required. 

This week, take delight in stretching somewhere in your ministry. See it as a great, holy gift. 

Then share your stretches with me–to share with other small congregations. We all need this encouragement. So email me. Or set up a call.  I cherish the conversations.

Thanks for your ministry,


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