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America’s oldest megachurch just hired its new pastor on Zoom

William Vanderbloemen is the CEO of Vanderbloemen.
William Vanderbloemen is the CEO of Vanderbloemen. | (Courtesy of William Vanderbloemen)

At the Vanderbloemen Search Group, we have helped thousands of churches find their pastor, but last weekend was the first time I saw a virtual pastoral election.

And it happened at a really historic church.

Last week, The Moody Church, a legendary church in Chicago, did the unprecedented. Because of the Coronavirus, they held a “virtual” congregational meeting to elect their next pastor. It was on Zoom. I attended and was amazed.

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Their new pastor preached to the congregation online. That was followed by a virtual question and answer session and a vote via Survey Monkey. For over a decade, we have helped run searches for churches, nonprofits and values-focused corporations, but I’ve never seen anything like this. 

For the last five months, we have had the privilege of serving The Moody Church in Chicago as we assisted them in the search for their next senior pastor. In the church world, Moody is legendary. It was the first “mega” church (over 2,000 in weekly attendance) in the country, and it has been a large church longer than any other in the United States. The list of their pastors is a hall of fame.

They’ve been around a long time, so they learned not to act too quickly. When it came time to do a search for them, I was so impressed with the thoroughness of their processes and their patience to get it right. They aren’t a church that moves hastily, nor are they one to adopt a new idea without thinking through it.

But once they had zeroed in on their top candidate — and now their pastor Phillip Miller — the effects of COVID-19 had hit the U.S. and impacted travel and life in Chicago. 

Rather than put the search on hold, Moody doubled down.

They did what they had never done before so that they could have their pastor for a time like never before. Moody shows us that a stately American congregation can also be on the leading edge of innovation.

Moody isn’t alone, either. One week earlier, another church we served organized a “drive-thru voting” line to elect their new pastor. Congregants were allowed to either drive their vote in or text their board members — desperate times, desperate measures!

But, why is the world in a rush to get pastors?

It’s simple: in a moment of national crisis, churches realize that now is not the time to be without a leader, and they are taking unprecedented steps to make sure they have that leadership now.

It’s also kind of what one should expect of the church. Christianity has often been at the leading edge of technological innovation, from Gutenberg’s printing press to the You Version Bible app (which has been downloaded over 400 million times).

It’s one of the reasons why the church continues to grow. The future belongs to the agile, and I believe that we will see agility in places we never expected and that it will make all the difference.

There are plenty of examples. Our pastor preached from his home today. Our clients are doing children’s ministry online, and others are doing bible studies online.

This week, our pastor told us that the Chinese symbol for crisis is actually a combination of the symbols for “danger” and “opportunity.” Historically, the church has never wasted a crisis. Faith grows during the tough times in our world, and I see it happening now.

Tough times force innovation, and I’m proud to see so many churches we serve step up to the plate, finding new ways to provide hope to a hurting world.

William Vanderbloemen is the CEO of Vanderbloemen, which serves teams with a greater purpose by aligning their people solutions for growth: hiring, compensation, succession and culture. Through its retained executive search and consulting services, Vanderbloemen serves churches, schools, nonprofits, family offices, and Christian businesses in all parts of the United States and internationally. Follow him on Twitter @wvanderbloemen.

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