The rapid spread of the Covid-19 virus and accompanying social distancing measures have impacted almost every facet of our society. The inability to gather in person for Sunday meetings, community groups and other occasions presents a significant challenge for church life, and we have spent much of the last week at Christ Church Manchester reflecting on what best to do.
I wanted to take a few minutes to share some of our thinking.
(1) Community Is the Priority
Right now, many of our people are bereft of social interactions. Working from home instead of in the normal crowded office or workplace. No longer meeting friends at cafes, bars or restaurants. Only seeing others where necessary.
We quickly came to the conclusion that our number one priority was doing everything we can to maintain a sense of community in our congregations. We wanted to be able to see each, other, for people to be able to chat and share what is going on with them. We wanted people to be able to be prayed for.
For this reason, we quickly ruled out replacing our Sundays with merely content that people consume on their own. Whatever we did, it needed to be something that people could do together.
(2) Online Is Easy
I have often reflected on how people used the best tech available in their day to aid the work of the church - from Paul utilising the network of Roman roads to the reformers distributing Bibles in native languages in huge quantities due to the development of the printing press.
We live in a time when online tools are out there that make it easy to engage with people at a distance. Replacing a community group that meets in person with one that meets on Skype is a pretty straightforward thing to do. I have already been in a couple of groups of this kind this week and they have been great - good conversation flowed, people were open about the challenges they are facing and we got to study the Bible together and pray for each other.
For Sunday services, we highly recommend Zoom webinars. This is the same software that we have been using for ages here on Broadcast and it lends itself perfectly for what we want to do. We can have people participate as either panellists or attendees - where panellists appear by video on the chat and attendees can see all that is happening and can share their thoughts, questions and encouragements through the 'chat' function. You probably need the paid version to make it work - it is around £440 per year, but it is absolutely a worthwhile investment to serve your people well right now.
We will be running six of these meetings every Sunday (one for each of our congregations - so people still engage with their own community as discussed above). They will each last 45-50 minutes will probably have around 3 panellists. We will have a bit of informal conversation and into, engaging with comments from the chat - a short talk of around 15 minutes or so and discussion around that talk plus a time of prayer. We are calling it 'Church In Your Home' and making quite a big deal of it.
We will also be trying to take as many other parts of our church life onto these platforms as we can. We don't really want to cancel very many things at all.
(3) Think Individuals
Whilst online groups and services will work well to serve many people, they won't work for everybody.
There are likely to be people in your congregation who do not like using these online tools, or do not have the tech to participate. Part of your work as a church leader and pastor is getting alongside and serving these people.
In all of our sites we are making a point of going through our congregation looking at who is not part of a community group and inviting them again to join one. We are looking at who is not able to engage online and taking time to regularly call them and chat and encourage them. We are noting who is isolating at home and has practical needs that we can meet (shopping etc.) and are doing what we can to serve them and pray for them.
Now is a time to step up as a community and make sure nobody is overlooked from our efforts to serve our congregations through this season.
(4) Face Outwards
One of the biggest temptations that church leaders are facing at the moment right now is to be facing inwards and thinking only of how we serve our own congregations.
Regardless of what is happening in the world, the church is never meant to be only inwardly looking and there are many people in society right now who are confused, anxious and worried. We can serve those people.
As we have communicated to our church about the move to 'Church In Your Home' we have been explicit that these are not 'in-house' meetings and we have encouraged them to share links with others in their world who would be interested. We will also be in the run up to these meetings promoting them through our social media channels, perhaps including paid ads, to spread their reach and maximise the potential that they can connect with those outside the church and far from God.
(5) Be Generous
Connected to the public health crisis is the economic crisis. Lots of businesses are in danger of closing. Lots of people are in danger of losing their jobs or seeing self-employed income drastically reduced.
This can have a knock-on effect for our churches. If people in our congregation struggle financially then it means that the income churches receive from regular giving is likely to go down and we may need to make some tough decisions about where the money goes.
Don't let this deter your from being as generous as you are able. Generosity is easier when there is plenty of cash to go around, but it is even more impactful at times like this. In particular, I would commend generosity in three areas:
- Your congregation - There may be people going through severe financial difficulties. It could be very helpful to set up a hardship fund that you can use to serve specific individuals or families if and when this happens.
- Your community venues - Depending what kind of facilities you rent for Sunday meetings these may be businesses that rely on rental income like yours to survive. Do not leave them in the lurch. We are intending to keep paying our venue hire for a couple of our most under-threat venues for a while. It is not something we are obligated to do, but it seems to us like the right thing to do.
- Summer festivals - If you usually send people to a summer festival, give thought to the financial situation of the organisers. It is likely that they have spent a lot of money on hiring the site for it and making arrangements, and were relying on ticket sales to break even. If the events are forced to cancel this could leave them with a big deficit. Consider laying aside money for a gift to help them out - especially where it is a festival that has served your people well over the years.
(6) Learn to Pray
At times like this, there are some things we can do to serve our people, and most of this article has been about what they are. But even the best of our efforts seem small, and there is naturally a lot of uncertainty and anxiety about what is happening in the world.
If any good is to come out of this season, I believe that it will draw us back to God, dependant on him and teach us once again to pray.
Personally as a leader, and for the people you are leading, use this as a time to get on your knees and bring before God the needs of yourself, your church and this world. When we emerge again from the other side of this crisis, let us emerge from it having cultivated a greater depth of relationship with Lord and dependence on him day by day.
"Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you." (Psalm 55:22)
Developing the ideas outlined in this article, we will be holding a Broadcast webinar on Tuesday 24th March at 11am (UK time) on 'Leading Your Church Through Covid-19' - Click Here to Join Us