A lot sure has changed since last week.
This time last week our staff was meeting in my office, talking about things like our upcoming Easter service and our next round of small groups, breathing near each other all willy-nilly with not a care in the world…
One week later we are all working from home, no one is meeting in any size group, and our big Easter service has been put on a pretty distant back burner.
Our online staff meeting this week was different. We were asking different questions:
What is our call as pastors right now?
What does it look like to lead in this season?
And the real biggie:
How will we help our community stay connected?
We all know we are supposed to be socially distancing. Physically, we have got to take that not-breathing-near-each-other thing REALLY seriously, and we are loving our community as a church by honouring this directive.
But that doesn’t mean that we have to stop connecting, and it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a place to help people do that. In fact, in this season, I believe our call to help people support one another is even more important.
If you are a pastor or leader asking the same questions, let me share with you some of the ways our church is encouraging social connecting in a time of social distancing.
Online Worship Time
Like lots of other churches, we are live streaming our Sunday service. What may be a little different about us is that we have been doing this for the last year. We already had a live streamed service using Facebook called Sunday at Home. For those of you new to online worship services, here are some things we have learned and found helpful if you are about to start live streaming:
- It can (and, I believe, should) look different than your normal service
We decided early on we didn’t want to just record our regular service. We wanted it to be GEARED to the reality of people watching from a couch in their living room. We wanted people to be able to engage in a more intentional way and not just be spectators.
Don’t feel like you need to get your whole worship team together and set up a service that looks just like your normal Sunday. I actually think people watching a service posted to an empty church can be more disconcerting than comforting for many.
Sit on a couch. Talk to people like they are in front of you. If you don’t have music, use other spiritual practices like prayer, lectio divina, guided readings. Keep your sermon a little shorter as watching on a screen is different than being present in person. Imagine you are sitting next to someone having a coffee and talk like they are there next to you. Be a bit more relaxed.
Give pause for people to participate. Pause for people to pray on their own. Ask people questions they can answer in the comments section so they connect to others. (Having a moderator keeping this conversation going is helpful – and can be done from anywhere. They don’t have to be in the room with you).
- It doesn’t have to be swanky
I assure you we don’t do swanky at MHBC. There were many weeks early on we used a phone. And that phone was my Samsung 6. That’s it. It didn’t look as polished as lots of places but that’s okay. We aren’t polished. Set your phone up against a book, sit back, talk to your people. It’s enough.
- Pick the right platform and help people use it
For us, the right platform is Facebook Live. It’s easy and a lot of our people use facebook and engage with it. For you, it might be youtube. Youtube doesn’t feel like as right a fit for us (though we will post the video there afterwards). Of course that means lots of people say “But I’m not on Facebook!” This is true – no source will be used by EVERYONE. But explain why you are using what you are using and then invite people to join you. The reality is, people CAN use Facebook if they want. That’s their choice.
But we may need to help people a bit. For those that struggle, we have put some people “on call” to help those that need it. This week I have already helped someone on the phone figure out how to watch our videos. That’s okay. Sometimes pastoring is helping one of your senior members figure out technology so they can be part of what you’re doing. This, too, is ministry.
Covid Care Team
This week we asked the question: What do people in our church need right now? We realized the answer wasn’t yet food delivery or meals or help when sick. That may come. Right now, the biggest priority is making sure people are CONNECTED.
If we’re doing church online, do people know how to use it?
Is everyone on our email list?
Do people know who to call in our church if they need help?
Over the next week, we are doing a round of church calls to ask these questions. We are making a list of everyone who calls our church home – especially new people – and making sure they know how to stay part of things in the weeks to come. The great news is that getting people to help with this is also a good way to help people engage.
You can use resources online for more than just your worship service.
For the last year we have had a regular weekly prayer time we call “Intermission.” Every Thursday at 12:30 we go live on our (private) Facebook page (we have a private and public Facebook page) and people join in prayer together. The pastors lead people through guided prayers as we pray for prayer requests, church needs, and our world. It has been easy to do and effective to gather people to pray from anywhere.
In the next few weeks, we are going to do this every weekday instead of just once a week. We will do 15 minutes of guided prayer together each day at 12:30 and already many have joined us.
We also are planning special “online” small groups. We are asking anyone who would like to be in a group of 5 or 6 to sign up and we will provide a study to use online for these groups. We will lump people into groups based on preferred medium, such as Zoom, Skype, or Messenger. (Isn’t it amazing how many choices we have??). And again, we will have people available to help people learn how to use these mediums if they need support.
Side Note: This is a season where people may actually have TIME to do things that normally they are too busy to do! Why not use this time for good?
Maybe these things still overwhelm you. Maybe you’re a small church and even these things are a bit much. The great news is LOTS OF OTHER CHURCHES will have these things available. Share and “steal” the things that help you! Pass on videos and resources and readings and blogs and reflections to your people that have been meaningful to you. Connect them to another’s church’s livestream if you still feel that’s too much for you to do. Do what YOUR church can do and let others help you do what you can’t.
What’s most important is that we remember that social distancing doesn’t have to mean social separating. Isolation doesn’t have to mean loneliness. As pastors, leaders and churches, we can help prevent those things from happening.
This, in this time, is the Lord’s work.