Last month, I had no idea what was about to break loose. Did you? Since then, I’ve heard words of compassion and advice from EVERYBODY, including restaurants, schools, online periodicals, churches, pastors, and many others. I even heard from The Onion.
Everyone seems to have something to say about the pandemic and how we should be responding. But what are churches actually doing? Here are my observations from networking with pastors and churches over the last few weeks.
Everyone is streaming services online. Everyone. From the smallest country church to the pastors who are long-in-tooth. From the hipster homegroup to the novice at social media. It just takes a simple cell phone camera to stream through Facebook. YouTube, or streaming on church websites, are other popular options. I’ve also learned there are some legal issues if you are streaming music. Hopefully, you already have a CCLI agreement. This permits churches to legally display the words of copyrighted music. But, streaming music often requires another layer of protection.
Pastors are having to decide if they are preaching or having a conversation. It’s important to match physical position (standing or seating), background (pulpit or office or living room), and style (monologue, interview, or rehearsed sermon). Pastors must consider people and equipment and decide what’s best.
The length of these virtual sermons is another important thing to monitor. For home viewers, there are plenty of other things vying for their attention. The most successful virtual sermons are between 10-15 minutes. Really!
Virtual Small Groups
For smaller group meetings, video conferencing platforms like ZOOM are taking off. Sunday school classes and staff meetings are connecting this way. But, don’t forget folks who are challenged with technology or who don’t have access. Have “technical support members” standing by to virtually assist them in getting connected. If they can’t connect, they can’t connect, but try to help them.
Pastoral care, from a distance, continues. Caring people are regularly calling (yes, on the phone) their most vulnerable. One church, running less than 200, has a “Shopping Ministry.” A team shops, runs errands, etc., for their elderly and those with underlying health issues. Their local grocery store is partnering with them to allow the shoppers to purchase for multiple individuals, thus, circumventing the “limit 1 per customer” issue.
Churches are still collecting an offering. Faithful, traditional givers are still going to be there unless they have lost income. A regular time of offering during a streaming service is still appropriate. This will normalize the experience. “Why not write your check right now and mail it to us? Or, call, and we’ll send someone to you. Or, send your gifts through (name your online giving platform and share instructions).” If you aren’t taking offerings electronically, you’re leaving money on the table. There are LOTS of options. Find one that works for you.
Additional financial relief might be possible through the CARES Act. This is almost too good to be true. Churches can apply for funds through this program and are likely eligible for 250% of the 2019 monthly average for employee compensation. That means churches can receive the equivalent of 2.5 months worth of payroll. Here’s the catch. It’s a low-interest loan if you lay people off. But if you keep your staff employed, it becomes a GRANT and is 100% forgivable. Local banks are the best resources to seek more information.
Keep Your Distance
Continue to forego in-person meetings and services. Obviously, there are situations where a small gathering is necessary. But, it is very risky. On the first Sunday of the quarantine, when meetings were highly discouraged but not banned, I heard from many pastors who said they had a small group show up. Every pastor said it was the most vulnerable, the elderly, the very ones who should not have come, who showed up. If the church doors are open, there are people who will be there.
In this time of uncertainty, the church’s ability to adapt to these specific challenges will prove to be its greatest strength.
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven . . . a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” Ecclesiastes 3:1, 5b