The opening session featured, from left, Pastor Shep Crawford, Dr. Shalonda Crawford, Rev. Dr. Najuma Smith-Pollard and Pastor Gregory Dixon. (Cora J. Fossett/L.A. Sentinel)

Taking ministry to the next level, especially after the pandemic, could prove to be daunting, but the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture shared a blueprint for clergy to succeed.

In a half-day session entitled, “Reimagining (Again): Key Lessons on Ministry Sustainability in a Post-Pandemic World,” CCRC staff and guest panelists outlined practical strategies that faith leaders could apply to help their congregation and their surrounding community.

The first session focused on the hurdles churches faced as a result of the COVID-19 virus and techniques incorporated to keep their members united. The Rev. Dr. Najuma Smith-Pollard, CCRC assistant director of community and public engagement and pastor of Word of Encouragement Community Church, moderated a panel of three pastors outlining the steps taken to maintain their ministries.

Pastor Gregory Dixon of Center of Hope in Inglewood recalled the while the world shut down in March 2020, God “didn’t shut down.” In his opinion, the message from the Lord was clear when it came to the pandemic.

“God was not saying to go back to what you’re doing, but to do something different. We had to rethink what it means to be organized,” Dixon said.

“Church is in a new space outside the building,” noted Dixon as he urged attendees to focus on winning relationships, not just enlarging their congregations. He also emphasized the importance of teaching financial literary to the membership.

“Economic development is helping people manage their own destiny,” said Dixon.

The Rev. Shep Crawford, and his wife, Dr. Shalonda Crawford, serve as co-pastors of Experience Christian Ministries, an East L.A. church known for their work in mediating and reducing friction among gangs or tribes that are traditionally considered enemies.

As churches try to regroup following COVID-19, Pastor Shep advised, “Move forward basing everything on love. Remember, the only people Jesus argued with was the church [leaders]. So, show love. Whatever you do, don’t base it on rules, base it on love.”

Dr. Shalonda, a psychotherapist, recommended that churches incorporate mental health aspects and assistance into their ministries. She and her husband also encouraged pastors to expand their vision of their ministry.

“Look at the community as your congregation, not your edifice. Consider your church as a gas station, not a destination. What happens on Sunday morning isn’t the headliner, it’s the opening act,” said Pastor Shep, explaining that the Sunday service was just a stop for believers to spiritually “fill up,” and then people should minister to others throughout the week.

“Go back to the basics,” Dr. Shalonda said. “Learn who is in your community. Connect with change agents in your community.”

Panelists on the value of collaborations were, from left, Umar Hakim, Brenda Solorio, Richard Weinroth and Dr. E. Lance McCarthy. (Cora J. Fossett/L.A. Sentinel)

During the second session, the audience learned about the benefits of collaborating with other nonprofits and grassroots organizations to positively impact communities. Four leaders of diverse agencies detailed how they partner with other groups to effect change.

“Coalitions move mountains and drain oceans, “ insisted Umar Hakim, executive director of the Intellect Love Mercy (ILM) Foundation. “Convert your passion into policy that can represent your community and move across the land.”

Hakim recounted ILM’s success in presenting an annual Humanitarian Day, held during Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, aimed at assisting homeless individuals on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. Since launching the event in 2002, the program has since attracted volunteers of all faiths also offering resources in neighborhoods in Oakland, Pomona, Santa Ana and San Bernardino.

Dr. E. Lance McCarthy cited ways that churches can attain economic stability along with aiding members to reach a comparable station in life. “Money can’t buy everything, but poverty can’t buy anything,” he said.

“Go after contracts, not only grants. Have hiring events, not only job fairs,” insisted McCarthy. Also, assess the talent in your church. It doesn’t make sense to have 1,000 members come together on Sunday and go their separate ways on Monday. Every church should have a business plan.”

Brenda Solario, representing a green technology organization, made the case for electric vehicles, stating, “We want to make transportation accessible to everyone.” She also asked ministries to work together to “continue to seek economic justice through community efforts.”

As the session concluded, Richard Weinroth, founder of Stone Soup Project LA, shared how his organization fights poverty and hunger by selling varieties of soup and using the proceeds to donate meals to seniors, youth, homeless meal programs and food pantries throughout greater Los Angeles.

Reminding attendees about the value of collaborations, he said, “It’s up to us to help each other.”

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Attending the CRCC session were, from left, Pastor Gregory Sanders of The Rock, Pastor Cedric Nelms of Chosen Generation, Pastor Michael Eagle of Grant AME Church and Pastor Steve Richardson of Good News Church of God in Christ. (Cora J. Fossett/L.A. Sentinel)