Digital technology plays a key role in the church, but what COVID-19 has shown is that being the church online requires more than simply streaming a worship service. If churches discontinue discipling those in their congregation and communities in exchange for virtual worship services, they are missing a key element of their biblical calling and […]
Digital technology plays a key role in the church, but what COVID-19 has shown is that being the church online requires more than simply streaming a worship service. If churches discontinue discipling those in their congregation and communities in exchange for virtual worship services, they are missing a key element of their biblical calling and a great opportunity.
At the beginning of 2020, no one could have predicted the disruption that would occur as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the way it would change the church. While it was a stretching moment for some who had to quickly implement new technology and embrace unique ministry ways, what it reminded us is that the church can thrive through darkness.
Now, after months of digital-only church services and ministry, some have returned to physical weekend gatherings, but they are anything but normal, attracting smaller crowds, necessitating appropriate spacing and masks, and lacking the fellowship practices that are part of the traditional church setup. This is a small step toward once again experiencing a full worship center of congregants gathering together, but a recent survey from the American Enterprise Institute showed that 64% of Americans said they were “somewhat uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable” attending in-person worship. Additionally, following the announcement that Andy Stanley would not reopen his Atlanta megachurch North Point Community Church until 2021, a Barna survey showed that 5% of pastors said they also didn’t expect to reopen this year.
The reality is that operating digitally is still necessary for many. The problem is that while many pastors at the beginning of stay-at-home orders in March saw high viewership of online services, it seems we have officially hit COVID-19 fatigue. New research from Barna showed that 32% of practicing Christians have not streamed online church services in the past four weeks. And, the longer digital church continues, the more likely it is that this number will only increase.
NOT JUST CONTENT
In the beginning of the coronavirus surge, many churches scrambled to take their worship services online, and content became king. But as the weeks of lockdown continue, it has quickly become evident that it isn’t content but connection that is necessary.
Lives are shattered right now, inside and outside the church. Fighting the pandemic has led to an economic downfall, heightened mental health challenges, and other fallout. Even healthy people with job security and no children are burdened by uncertainty and loneliness. People need the church more than ever before.
Offering content for individuals to consume is helpful, but it cannot replace fellowship that is lacking from hallway conversations after services, small group meetings and personal connections that physical gathering sustains.
It is vital for churches to find ways to utilize technology in such a way that congregants to not simply become consumers but remain active, congregants, essential parts of the church body. Individuals need to feel a sense of belonging that is common when attending church physically, especially in the isolation of stay-at-home orders. Host online prayer groups, new member meetings and small group classes. Divvy up your congregation contact list and have leaders send personalized texts or emails or make phone calls to check on the emotional, spiritual and physical well-being of congregants. Send handwritten notes—a lost art—to let congregants know you are praying for them.
The previously mentioned Barna study also found that 34% of practicing Christians were not streaming their regular church online but were instead tuning into other church services. In the absence of feeling they belong to your church, congregants will seek belonging elsewhere—or worse yet—isolate themselves and miss out on the key community of the Church.
Now is the time for us to rediscover the art of personal ministry using digital means. When this happens, we can not only support but also grow our congregants during this time.
DIGITAL DISCIPLESHIP IS POSSIBLE
Discipleship is impossible without Christian community—that’s one of the reasons the church exists. To overstate the point, we can’t practice the “one another” commands without one another.
Churches around the world fulfill Jesus’ call to make disciples (Matt 28:18– 20) in different ways, and we have a lot to learn from each other. But now, with the prevalence of technology (not to mention a supercomputer in every pocket), we have new avenues for everyday discipleship.
God did not intend that we be alone on the journey. All the Bible’s analogies for the church make this point: We are one. Each person acts as a powerful witness to Jesus—but we stand or fall as part of one body.
This is an unprecedented time but that doesn’t mean a church shouldn’t remind congregants of the importance of joining a church on a deeper level.
Being a disciple of the church is more than committing to attend or watch services. Use technology to help your members share their stories and testimonials, set up regular financial giving and volunteer to help others. Help them contribute on a greater level to being the church.
We know there are great ministry needs right now, so find creative ways to fulfill them and get your congregants involved. From sewing masks for hospital staff and financially supporting people who have lost income to making phone calls to individually connect with those isolated and delivering meals to high-risk people, the possibilities for congregant engagement is high. Don’t waste the opportunity to engage them and put their spiritual gifts to use even during this time.
OPPORTUNITY IN CRISIS
This isn’t a time for the church to simply survive. This is a time to thrive.
We are blessed by the technological advances that allow us to be the church like never before. Had this pandemic occurred 10 or even five years earlier, the ability to livestream, host small group digital meetings, implement online giving and mobilize the church may not have been available or accessible to all.
That said, it can be overwhelming for leaders who have been thrown into the deep end and are working to embrace these technologies. Finding trusted resources, vendors and even colleagues can help leaders identify their needs and discover the possibilities.
This season has stretched many church leaders. No one will deny, it is hard. Now is the time to support one another as we navigate these unprecedented days.