Sunday worship is perhaps the most obvious moment of the church’s communal life. Limited by COVID-19 restrictions, churches across the country are discovering new ways of being community and learning that loving one another and our neighbors — while physically distancing ourselves from them — is possible.
If you’re leading a congregation during these days, bless you. If you’re a member of a congregation, remember that this major shift in how to be church is a huge lift for pastoral staff. Find ways to support them in this tricky, yet necessary, movement. One pastor who cited the old adage, “It’s like building the airplane while you fly it,” speaks for many who are working hard to help maintain a strong community life.
Here are some ways churches across the country can adapt while maintaining a strong sense of community:
1. Offer virtual pastoral care and spiritual support
Pastors and lay ministers can reach out to church members with particular needs via phone, FaceTime, or Skype. Don’t forget to reach out to missionaries your church supports and any members who were already at a geographic distance. Another way to enhance spiritual support within the body, is to share prayer concerns via email, phone, text, or other methods.
Note: Pay special attention to those who’ve experienced all kinds of trauma, as the current situations may trigger old hurts.
2. Enhance social connections
One church that’s offering an online Midweek Devotional is highlighting various members of the church family in ways that they aren’t able to do in a regular Sunday service. In this type of a feature, a church can introduce, or reintroduce, a missionary or church member via video, audio, or text (as in a written newsletter).
3. Provide social support
While separated by distance, most churches want to ensure that their members, especially the most vulnerable and those who live alone, don’t feel isolated from other members. There are a number of creative ways to achieve this:
- Create a Buddy System: Pair congregation members as a way to check-in to make sure everyone is safe and healthy, both physically and emotionally.
- Develop a Check-in System: Pose a caring query in your online church newsletter or other group meeting platform. Members can either share with the group or submit a private email reply when you offer them a chance to self-report. For example, “On a scale of 1-10, 1 being despair and 10 being hopeful, how are you feeling?”
4. Host meetings online
Host small groups, Bible studies, or church leadership meetings using online platforms. Many congregations are utilizing platforms like Zoom and Packback.co, an online discussion platform that enables group discussion, to continue holding meetings.
5. Continue missions and ministries
When our thoughts are consumed with staying away from disease and putting food on our tables, it’s easy to lose sight of the larger mission to which we’re called by God, namely, to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:38-39). Churches serve their members and the world as they develop new solutions for members to continue to serve a world in need. Many churches are implementing creative new solutions to execute their existing ministries while also directing their members in how to support local organizations feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and housing those in need of shelter.
6. Provide options for Sunday worship
Depending on restrictions, you may or may not be able to telecast your service from your church building. Here are some ways churches can continue offering services:
- Communal Service in Real Time: Some churches are televising worship services led by their pastoral staff and music ministers in real time. Standing six feet apart from one another, these leaders conduct a Sunday service that is very much like what congregants would see on any given Sunday.
- Self-Guided Service Members Can Conduct at Home: In lieu of the televised experience that some high-tech churches already offer for homebound members, some churches are providing worship resources for their members to use at home. For example, one church posted its Sunday order of worship — matching what worshipers might experience in a typical on-site Sunday gathering— for home use, including liturgy, prayers, and even links to worship music. Sometimes these videos are produced using the church’s actual musical team. Other churches choose to include links to pre-produced music.
Links that might be included in such an order of service:
- Videos featuring the church music team or another online worship music experience.
- Google Drive links to PowerPoint slides.
- PayPal link for receiving the offering.
7. Include lay participation in communal worship
Lay readers selected to read scripture for communal worship can submit audio or video recordings to be integrated into the congregation’s virtual Sunday worship experience, enhancing connectedness within the congregation.
8. Receive communion
Throughout the church’s history, receiving the Lord’s Supper has been a communal activity shared among Christ’s gathered body. Just as we agree that there is one body of Christ — shared among Christ’s body every Lord’s Day in Omaha, Calcutta, and London — in this moment we agree that wherever we are, we are sharing together in one body (1 Corinthians 12:12). Today, some Protestant churches conducting virtual worship services have offered instructions for congregants to prepare “the elements” at home and receive them when the pastor offers the words of institution during the online service.
9. Think outside the church building
One church that participates in an annual missional cycling event is strategizing how to use Zwift, an online cycling app, to continue to train together and even simulate the ride that will likely be canceled. As you consider your church’s existing ministries, ask God to open your eyes to surprising solutions that let you continue to minister in creative new ways.
10. Become equipped
Some churches who were already using technology as a part of their life together are going to be nimble at adjusting to this shift toward virtual gathering. Other churches, many purposefully non-digital, will have a steeper learning curve. An online webinar about helping your church go digital may help you get started.