Immediate steps your church should take as large gatherings are shut down because of the coronavirus.
Some states recently banned all gatherings over 250, including church worship services, because of the possible transmission of the coronavirus. Churches with attendance over 250 make up a sizable portion of North American Christendom. And though the average church today has 75 attendees, it is midsize churches that can suffer disproportionately.
Without their regular gatherings, midsize churches can nosedive through loss of community and lack of funding. Here are four things every church should immediately consider, and especially those over 250 in attendance.
1. Stream Your Services Online.
Streaming is becoming more popular, but too often it is treated like an afterthought. The current pandemic means this cannot be the case anymore. Streaming can be easily accomplished via Facebook streaming, YouTube Live streaming or streaming services such as SermonCast. And you can post them as videos to video hosting sites such as Vimeo or YouTube.
But, don’t limit the streaming to just the sermon. It is also important to allow those watching to enter into worship. It is called a “worship service” because worship literally means drawing people into a “close, face-to-face connection with God.” Therefore, when streaming becomes an alternative to church services, it must not just carry the message (sermon) but also seek to foster a worship experience in which people can feel God is present and moving. Therefore, include prayer in your online services too.
Your primary focus should not be to encourage people to stay home (though illness or legality may dictate they do), but to encourage people who stay home to experience God’s presence.
2. Don’t Forget Funding.
Oversized churches may have oversized budgets. And thus, when services are not convened a lack of income can impact a church significantly. Online giving tools have been a helpful option. In the nonprofit sector online giving has increased 15–20% each year. It seems logical that giving may increase when people can do it easily through texting or giving online.
Because many new tools have emerged for online giving, be sure to compare the cost (they vary widely). Also check with your denomination, since many offer an official tool for online giving. An online giving portal allows people to continue to support the church even though their presence isn’t possible.
Also explain to congregants how many of the church’s expenses continue. Salaries, some facility costs and benevolence spending are just a few of the expenses that will continue. Helping the congregation understand the nature and size of ongoing expenses will remind them why consistent giving is needed to support a faith community in its efforts to do good.
3. Expand Congregant Support Through Online Alternatives to Small Groups.
Though smaller groups of 10–25 may still be permitted to meet, wise church leaders will increasingly emphasize that Sunday school classes, small groups, prayer groups, etc., can have online alternatives. This will address any hesitancy attendees may have about catching a viral infection. And online small groups allow people who self-quarantine to still receive support during this time. Just like streaming and giving, be sure to compare the many online tools that make online small groups productive and meaningful.
Many people may still resist online groups because they feel face-to-face fellowship is more effective. I once was one of those people. But, having taught classes both onsite and online for 24 years for a large university, I’ve found that online small groups can sometimes be as deep and robust as face-to-face groups. There are many reasons for this including not judging by appearance, allowing reticent people to speak up, choosing one’s words carefully rather than blurting them out, etc.
Yet regardless of the reason, online fellowship reminds a congregation that a church is a community that communicates two ways, and not just an audience.
4. Use It As a Teaching Opportunity About the Great Commission.
Jesus commissioned us in Matthew 28:16–20 to “go and make disciples.”
The term “make disciples” can be misleading today, because when people hear “disciples” they immediately think of a title, like “the 12 disciples.” But in the original Greek, the words “make disciples” was a verb that meant: “to make active, ongoing learners.” Donald McGavran said, “It means enroll in my (Jesus’) school …” And Fuller Seminary professor Eddie Gibbs stated, “(It) is an apprenticeship rather than an academic way of learning. It is learning by doing.”
If nurturing others to become “active, ongoing learners” is the Great Commission’s goal, then we must seriously consider online learning environments which are increasingly being confirmed to be excellent learning platforms. By utilizing discussion forums, downloadable resources, online Bible studies and other tools you can develop more robust learning avenues for your church.
Use this as an opportunity to remind congregants that while technology changes, God’s Word does not.
Recount how the printing press democratized the reading of the Word amid protests over the feared loss of hand-written Bibles. And today, there are those who prefer an ink-and-paper Bible (I am one of them) to an electronic version. But such changes in technology present opportunities for church leaders to discuss that though methods may change, “our God’s Word stands firm and forever” (Isa. 40:8).
This article originally appeared on BiblicalLeadership.com and is reposted here by permission.