As the Church of God and the nation re-open following Covid-19, P. Douglas Small, president of Project Pray and coordinator of Church of God Prayer Ministries, presents excerpts from a recent white paper he has written. In this installment, Small offers a set of practical ideas as we consider how to re-open our churches for worship:
1. LIVE STREAMING – It’s here to stay. Don’t stop live-streaming your services. DON’T GO BACK INTO THE BUILDING – Exclusively! You are too hidden there. Keep being the city on the hill. It is clear, on-line audiences are numerically double to ten-fold what the previous audiences were in our buildings. Streaming is the new television. Expand it. Focus on the People – Not on the Building. On ministry and mission, not on programs.
2. STREAM MORE THAN YOUR SERVICE. Use other online distribution services that allow you to prerecord, for example, a tour of your facility or a brief introduction to your ministry that can be played in the place of a countdown. Stream to multiple media platforms, not merely Facebook. Check out: www.on24.com/ to create and deliver data-rich, engaging digital experiences powered by ON24®.
3. DO AN AFTERGLOW. Add, for example, a Q&A session – and offer it as a Livestream. Tim Keller of the famed Redeemer Church in New York catered to the unchurched. They were loaded with questions, uncomfortable questions, about God, the Bible, and faith. Pastor Keller tarried after his Sunday service to answer questions for those willing to remain for a few minutes. Dismiss the congregation and say, “For those who have questions, after a few minutes of fellowship, Pastor ___ will meet with you down front.” Have someone to host that afterglow. Rotate elders or deacons, or other volunteers, to randomly sit in on the sessions – they need to meet newcomers. Of course, the session should be open to anyone. Have the host provide pen and paper to those who might not want to ask a question out loud. Gather the questions. You may also want to add some starter questions to jump-start the conversation.
4. CALL TO ACTION. Add a call to action to every sermon. Preaching cannot be about information alone. It drives formation, change, spiritual growth, repentance, and redirection. It reprimands apathy and admonishes action. Answer the “so what?” question after every sermon. Make the answer clear.
5. ONE MORE THING. Consider a live post-Sunday morning Facebook Live. Share the one thought you didn’t share in the service. Emphasize the one point you want everyone to remember. Repeat your call to action. Share a resource for deeper study.
6. THINK VIRTUAL. We will now find ourselves increasingly in a virtual world. To this point, your focus has been on your building, your physical location, and what you do inside, especially on Sunday morning. Think virtual. Increasingly, churches that grow will offer a virtual community. More than a Facebook connection or a website, they will connect virtually. See: https://orangeblogs.org/orangeleaders/2020/04/02/coronavirus/
7. DRIVE-IN CHURCH. Consider continuing a parking-lot service. You will probably have a significant number who will remain cautious about entering the facility. Continue your parking lot service – one that may be more abbreviated, just prayer, a song leader, and a sermon. Forget about a full music ensemble. Keep it simple. Add a Friday night parking lot family movie. Large outdoor screens are surprisingly inexpensive. The investment might pay dividends, especially at a time when folks are still looking for family activities, with distancing. Add a prayer service – again, outside. Set up a microphone and have designated people to come forward to pray about certain needs. Raise up a cross to which people can come and post needs. Provide thumbtacks and post-it notes. Encourage the posting of pictures of family and friends with needs. Pray about the needs on the cross – the sick, the aged, bereaving families, lost sons, and daughters.
8. VIRTUAL YOUTH. Make the church’s Zoom account available to your youth pastor. This group loves virtual connections. Get ‘em talking about Jesus and sharing on-line. Alternative: Skype, Google chat (the kids know the mediums). Do more than get them connected and talking. Invite the kids to do a weekly youth broadcast via social media to engage their friends. The congregation will love it, as will their parents, but make it clear – that’s not the audience. It is another beyond-the-walls idea. And, this is an opportunity for the kids to take a stand about their faith and values. Parents and the congregation, but more importantly, their peers, will see the spiritual content of the lives of their own young people. That should intensify support for the evangelism and discipleship effort of and by their own kids.
9. VIRTUAL KIDS. Do the same for children. It is very easy, using Chromecast or something similar, for the Facebook Live session of your children’s pastor to appear on your living room TV screen. Gather your children and the kids of the congregation – virtually. The session connects kids throughout the church and beyond. It does not need to be more than 15-20 minutes long. It can be a follow-up to the on-site Sunday gathering. Or, it can be an introduction to what is coming the next Sunday. Just, don’t forget the children
Children are incredibly resilient. Nevertheless, these days and weeks will remain with them for the rest of their lives. They have questions. Latent fears. Hidden anxiety. They, too, have listened to the news. They may have had a friend who lost a father or mother or a grandparent. They may have had a teacher who died or someone from the church. We don’t want our children to be seared with fear.
• Pray with them.
• Monitor the joy and laughter levels in the home.
• Appropriately process and grieve bad news.
• Memorize key scripture passages as a family.
• Share prayer and scripture around meals.
• Model care by reaching out to friends and checking on them.
• Watching your local church, Livestream – allows for higher levels of distractibility. Keep the kids in the room. Be patient. Even if they seem inattentive, they are absorbing more than you realize, and just the fact that the family is gathered to share in a religious service will have a lasting impact. Having them present is more important than their being perfectly still.
• Nighttime prayers with smaller children is a good practice. It invokes a sense of God’s watchful care. It’s a great idea for the family as well.
• When hard-hitting news comes, debrief. Take time. Let the children ask their questions.
• Let the children pray and sing and share. There is no Jr. Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that dwells in adults is in them. Treat them and their relationship with Christ with respect.
• Make a family Coronavirus scrapbook of memories.
10. LIVESTREAM CHILDREN’S CHURCH. Consider Live-Streaming a children’s church experience. It doesn’t need to be a perfect production. Still, just the idea of putting it out onto social media will probably heighten the quality. Kids who are not physically present will be able to participate and see their friends. Put the kids in front of the camera for sound-bite moments as they respond to the lesson of the day. “What I learned to today was …” Or, “And this is what Jesus said…” And, “Our call to action is …” Encourage parents to watch the lesson with their kids during the week. Do a ‘take-home’ project for additional learning.
Check out these digital children’s sites:
• https://orangekidmin.com/coronavirus/ Blogs, Podcasts, Resources, Help for an online VBS.
• https://communitychristian.org/kids/. Here is an example of a megachurch’s Kid’s City Digital Experience. They also have a Facebook site for their kids. Kids City Digital Experience – Community Christian Church. https://www.facebook.com/groups/223852628995243/
• Here are kids curriculum resources: https://thinkorange.com/252-kids-curriculum/
• Here is the New Testament, fully digital for kids. https://my.seedbed.com/product/new-testament-fully-digital-experience-entire-year/. Cost is a factor here, depending on the number of children to whom you minister.
• Here is a collection of ideas by Impact Church on kids’ ministries. https://impactchurchnova.com/discipling-kids-resources-during-covid-19/
• Check out www.worshiphousekids.com for a variety of media aids and curriculum. Prices seem reasonable.
• The www.kidsoutandabout.com/ site is secular. But it offers virtual tours of, for example, the Rochester Zoo, storytime, and other activities guides for parents.
• Check out https://www.cfmiami.org/kids/ This is a local church site with robust media outreach to their kids sponsored by Christ Fellowship Church of Miami.
• Browse around on the internet for other examples and digital resources.
11. ALL CHURCH MINISTRY EXPOSURE. With switching equipment, not that expensive today, cut away from the view of sanctuary worship and catch a live or prerecorded clip of the children worshipping, and of the youth experience, and then cut back to the sanctuary. Make your digital worship experience more than a camera in the back of your sanctuary. Prerecord interviews with members and play them. Share testimonies and celebrate God’s answers to prayer. Highlight ministries of the church. Show one-minute mission endeavor clips. And always include a prayer moment for those who have watched and may want to make a commitment to follow Christ fully. Offer them literature. Advertise a means to reach out to the church – a phone number, the prayer, and crisis referral line (a national prayer-line number staffed 24 hours a day).