What we are experiencing right now is unprecedented. Never in our lifetime has the whole world experienced quarantines on a global scale, international travel restrictions, mandatory medical exams at airports and at borders, social distancing, and, perhaps more importantly, the associated fear and panic that come with such a global threat. Coronavirus caught the world off guard and forced governments, companies, and communities to quickly adjust, reinvent themselves, and create systems to accommodate the crisis.
Unexpectedly, the church has been hit hard by this global crisis – perhaps even harder than most businesses. Religious leaders, pastors, and staff immediately felt the impending threat of losing their income as their people became disconnected and their churches halted schedules and programming. One thing became apparent quickly: some churches were better equipped for handing the temporary crisis than others. Not because they had more money, but because they were already fully engaged in keeping their people connected with online church and online giving. Many large churches have thrived or survived because of their contingencies. Of course, there are exceptions to this. Not all large congregations have handled this crisis well, and not all small churches have fared poorly. While larger congregations tend to have larger budgets, they also have larger debts, staff salaries, mission commitments, overhead, and property upkeep costs. Many churches have suddenly found themselves overextended in their budgeting, unable to take the hit of lost income.
Without traditional gatherings and regular schedules, many churches and ministry organizations have been simply unable to keep their people connected and giving. As painful as this is right now for many churches, it may bring to light some issues that have truthfully been creeping up on us for decades. Our world has been disconnected for a long time, and this temporary crisis has relentlessly revealed many shortcomings in the church’s structure. We live in a transient world. People move and relocate more often than any other time in history. People travel on the weekends with their jobs, their sporting events, and their family commitments. Right now, any church without an online presence is losing out on the part of the harvest that should belong to them. Until this crisis, many churches and organizations have been able to make do without adjusting their model, and now they are finding that they are ill-equipped to handle sudden changes. Many of these churches wonder why other churches in their communities are growing when they are not, and often it boils down to this: other churches get people connected quicker and offer various opportunities for discipleship and growth, especially for people who travel or work on weekends.
Here are a few things we can learn from the Coronavirus quarantines:
- Disconnected people need to stay connected.
SOCIAL MEDIA – The easiest way to keep people connected is social media. Many churches have never learned to make social media work for them. Some churches have social media accounts that have not been updated for months or years, and some churches only use social media to post sterile and boring announcements. Whether you enjoy using social media or not, it is undeniable that most of the modern world uses it to stay connected. As a consequence, the church must adapt and find people where they are.
WEBSITES – Churches with outdated or nonexistent websites lose potential members without even knowing it. With search engines being so ubiquitous in our lives, people tend to look online first when they are seeking any new organization, and churches are certainly no exception. If your church has no online presence, newcomers will visit a church that does. People feel much more comfortable visiting a place they can research first. Walking into a new church blind is simply less pleasant than having an idea of the culture and structure beforehand, and many people are not likely to spend the time to attend every local church just to find one that fits them. For this reason, outdated websites are sometimes worse than nonexistent websites. They give the impression that the church is not active or visitor–friendly. Websites need to give vital information such as schedules, events, volunteer and involvement opportunities, personal info on the pastor and staff, and even the culture and vision of the congregation at large. Your website is not just for the people in your church – it’s for the people looking for your church.
EMAILS and TEXTING – Most of us only check the mailbox once a day, but we check our email almost hourly. One of the quickest and most efficient ways to disseminate information is through email or text. Each of these have their benefits and downsides. Texting people is always quick, but not always effective. Reading a text will make the notification disappear, and once a handful of other messages come in, it will be bumped down and easily ignored. However, group texting can be a tremendous way to communicate. Everyone gets the same message instantly, whereas emails can simply sit in an inbox until deleted. Understand your medium and your message when choosing how to communicate with your congregation or your staff.
There are many churches who do not utilize any of these tools. Unfortunately, those churches are feeling the effects of this crisis much more drastically. What they may not realize, however, is that they were losing members and attendees well before the pandemic due to their lack of communication.
2. Online church and online giving are more important than ever.
ONLINE CHURCH was once considered a luxury of larger churches, but that notion has since been dismissed by anyone who is paying attention. Now, church planters, missionaries, evangelists, and churches of every size employ online church to reach communities and the world.
There are numerous ways to offer an online experience:
- Facebook Live
- Stream Now
- Broadcast Me
The quality of these media streaming events is extremely important. If you can at all help it, you don’t want to set up a smart phone in your sanctuary and stream everything from that. It will give you poor sound quality, visual quality, and lighting. Many churches make the mistake of thinking that every view listed on their Facebook page represents a person who actually watched the service. However, anyone who tunes in for a short amount of time can count as a view, even if poor quality caused them to stop watching.
Here’s why online church has become so important:
- People who travel can attend their home church.
- People who work on Sunday can watch it later.
- People who are sick can watch.
- People who are homebound can watch.
- The unchurched in your community can watch.
- People who are uncomfortable going to church can watch and gather the courage to come in.
- People who watch Christian TV will tend to be interested in finding more content to watch, and your church can meet that need.
One of the beautiful trends I’ve seen during this crisis is that many churches with recording technology have opened their doors for other pastors to be able to film sermons and post them online. These amazing moments of sharing remind me of Acts 2:44-45, which says, “all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” What a beautiful portrait of the Christian community.
ONLINE GIVING – One of the issues highlighted during this pandemic is that many churches do not have a good online giving method. This is yet another tool that should be in place for all the reasons mentioned above. Many people who watch your online church services will also give to your church. Online giving is much simpler than carrying cash and takes far less time and effort that writing a check and filling out an envelope. Churches who have effective online giving methods receive 30-50% of their donations this way. Credit cards are slowly becoming more common than cash, and many attendees simply don’t carry much cash. A lot of folks, myself included, prefer to use credit cards and pay them off regularly because of the rewards and incentives (like airline miles or cashback).
Here are a few options for online giving:
- Customized church apps
- Text to Give
- Continue to Give
- Church Center
3. Small groups are one of the most effective New Testament tools for discipleship and community.
There may be an exception to this rule, but I am not aware of any large church that doesn’t offer small groups. However, many churches in our country have decided not to use small groups for a variety of reasons, including the following:
- It doesn’t work in our culture or area.
- We tried it before, and it didn’t work.
- Our people just can’t commit to another thing.
- It sounds like too much work and we don’t have the leaders to organize it.
- We don’t have enough teachers.
The early church survived in an era of persecution and disconnect through their small groups. Most of the New Testament epistles were addressed to house churches. Small groups ministry is becoming more critical, especially in an age where the world is feeling disconnected. Most churches who fail in fostering small groups fail because they offer them in a limited way. Some simply tack on a new name to their Sunday school, while some are simply an additional Sunday school meeting. Some churches see small groups as nothing more than Bible studies in someone’s home. We don’t have time in this article to do a comprehensive guide for small groups, but here are a few key points.
There are typically 5 types of small groups:
- Sermon-Based Groups
- Study Groups
- Sports Groups
- Service Groups
- Social Groups (sometimes referred to as free market groups)
These groups meet all through the week at different times. I’ve seen groups meet at 5:30am and others at 9:00pm. Some meet in homes, restaurants, coffee shops, lobbies, libraries, outside, around campfires, around fireplaces, or around kitchen tables. There is no limit to the creativity. These groups use curriculum such as the Bible, sermon notes, books, video teachings, podcasts, and much more. Most successful groups have no teacher, but a facilitator who organizes meetings and keeps the discussion going, as the conversation is more important than the curriculum itself. Groups like this are mostly focused on discussion, which means believers can learn from one another and do life together.
Many churches are now offering online small groups for people who travel. This is easily achievable with today’s smartphones. You can accommodate a video chat with almost any device.
Some of the most popular programs and apps include Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangout, and WhatsApp.
4. The anointing makes the difference.
So many churches have come to depend upon crowd response, lights, fog, and bands to create the dynamic environment for worship and preaching. There is nothing wrong with using these tools to stimulate the senses and emotions. For the most part, it sets an atmosphere that helps people reach God. Now, though, we are faced with the task of leading worship and teaching the Bible to people in their homes, break rooms at work, and hotel rooms. When it comes to teaching and preaching God’s Word, many have strayed from teaching from the meat of the Bible and have reverted to inspirational pick–me–up devotionals. In desperate times, believers need an anchor for their soul. The anointing of the Holy Spirit must direct teachers and inspire them to impart supernatural truths. There is a difference between a song and an anointed song; a motivational sermon and an anointed sermon. Anointing is often associate with oil. The oil of the anointing can flow deep into the hidden places of the heart and mind. It can release us from bondage and set us free. Preaching must do more than give believers a weekly pick-me-up. It must change, convict, rebuke, exhort, and shape the principles that guide us. The Word of God must act as the magnet for our moral and ethical compass, a foundation on which we build all else. It must be the sword we take into our spiritual battles. If we are to reach a new generation through the lens of a camera, we need the anointing to transmit the heart of God through that lens.
This is our wake–up call.
This temporary quarantine was a wake–up call to churches. This was only one incident, but it sets the precedent for any crisis that separates a community of believers. Churches of every size need to use this as a catalyst for evaluating their systems, prioritizing their schedules, and updating their technology. We must use every opportunity to reach the world and to keep our congregations connected. Some pastors spoke to more people during the social distancing weeks than they would have if their congregations had met. Their online audience far exceeded their normal Sunday reach.
If nothing else, I hope that Coronavirus has highlighted the power of technology and media. Let us take this opportunity to grow and learn to use technology in order to reach our world.