It’s easy to take Sundays for granted. For most of us, it’s church day. (I see you, Saturday night churchgoers.) But sometimes church day gets disrupted.
With the spread of the coronavirus (plus the flu and colds) in the United States as well as devastating tornadoes in Tennessee, many of us are left to wonder: How can we still do church if we can’t go to church?
Part of the answer comes as we think about what church actually is. Ligon Duncan, chancellor/CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary, gives us five anchors for what a church should do together in public (or corporate) worship:
- Read the Bible
- Preach the Bible
- Pray the Bible
- Sing the Bible
- See the Bible (communion and baptism) 1
We do all five of these actions together in the local church as the united body of Christ. But what do we do when we can’t gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ?
First, we don’t need to panic. Even though things are hard, we do not fear—God knows our suffering and is with us. It’s easy to feel anxious or afraid when worshipping together isn’t an option. Nothing that happens to us is a surprise to God, which frees us up to care for the sick and hurting among us.
Second, we exercise the creativity that comes with being made in our Creator’s image. Nothing can replace the local church gathering, but we can get creative about how we gather when being together physically isn’t an option. Technology can give us a huge boost toward fostering community.
Here are some ways technology can help churches facing disruption due to COVID-19 or tornadoes:
1. Reduce physical stuff.
With the rise of tech, churches don’t need nearly as much paper as they used to. Nearly everything you print for your weekend services could be done online. A few examples:
- Use slides instead of hymnals. Many churches have already replaced hymnals with slides. Running slides has a smaller initial investment, and allows churches to add new songs. And while hymnals are valuable, they’re also germy—and Purell doesn’t work on paper. So until sickness subsides, stick with slides. (Speaking of slides, we’ve got some free slides your church might find helpful here.)
- Take your connection cards and bulletins online. Many churches have greeters hold doors open and hand out bulletins and/or connection cards. Putting out digital bulletins and connection cards gives you the ability to connect with visitors and attendees without spreading anything besides God’s love.
- Ask your givers to contribute online. Allowing people to give from their phones (or any device, for that matter) means you don’t have to handle a piece of paper—cash or check. Plus, mobile giving helps people be more consistent in their giving.
- Open God’s Word together . . . on your phone. If your church sets out hard copies of the Bible for people to use, consider sharing your screen instead. Using the On-Screen Bible, people can follow along with you in Scripture without touching anything (other than their phones of course—which reminds me, tell your congregation to disinfect their phones, okay?).
One other thing to mention: if you use kiosks for children’s check-in or other ministries, you can have one person do all the typing. That eliminates one place where lots of hands touch.
2. Offer small group resources.
Gathering in small groups is a good short-term option when your church can’t meet as usual. You can put your small groups in touch online (Faithlife offers free communication tools for churches) and suggest some things they can study together.
- Encourage small groups to start a book club. They can read books in their spare time, then discuss them during a small group meeting. You can all read the same book together, or each person can read a different book and share what they learned with the group. And if you buy an ebook, you don’t have to worry about anyone bringing germs to your door.
- Have an online watch party. Does your group always ask if there’s a video version of a book you’re reading? Then a small group watch party might be right up your alley. You can set a time to start a movie like Authorized (say, 7:00 p.m.), and hop online when it’s over to discuss the movie. You can use an online group to jot down your thoughts, or you could hop onto a free service like Google Meet to talk face-to-face.
- Chat and pray together in an online group. If your church small groups don’t already use an online group, you’re missing out on a big way that people stay in touch. When someone needs help to clean their house, pick up their kids, or drop off groceries, the entire group is just a tap or two away.
3. Suggest topics for personal Bible study.
People stuck at home because of illness can binge watch the newest reality show—or they can use that time to learn something new about God. Growing in biblical literacy doesn’t have to wait for Sundays, but your people may need the reminder.
One way to help your church focus on God during a quarantine is to recommend some topics (and resources) that your entire church can study, such as:
- Introductory theology. You can find lots of books that help introduce readers to theological concepts, such as:
– Basic Christianity by John Stott
– Plain Theology for Plain People by Charles Octavius Boothe
– Even Better Than Eden by Nancy Guthrie
– The God Who Is There by D. A. Carson
You can even suggest a go-at-your-own-pace course on Bible doctrine if you’d like.
- Spiritual disciplines. A course on spiritual formation can help your people think more holistically about the Christian life. You can also recommend books and audiobooks like:
– Habits of Grace by David Mathis
– Recapturing the Wonder by Mike Cosper
– The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard
You can drill down even further with books on studying the Bible, prayer, and fasting.
- Biographies. There are plenty of wonderful biographical books and movies that people can use on their own or with their family. A few you might like:
– The Hiding Place
– Through Gates of Splendor (there’s a movie of it, too)
– Logic on Fire: The Life and Legacy of Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones
– Rich Mullins: A Ragamuffin’s Legacy
- Theological deep dives. For more mature believers, you can suggest diving into doctrinal topics such as:
– The Trinity
The more recommended resources you can put in front of your congregation, the easier it is for them to choose time in God’s Word over mindless TV.
4. Record and share your service.
Nothing can replace the physical gathering of believers, but when that’s not an option, sharing your service online is a good back up plan to engage with your church.
You can make your service available online by recording and posting sermon audio or video after the service. Many churches already podcast their sermons—it’s an inexpensive way to use a resource you already have (a preached sermon) for discipleship outside of weekend services. Sermon recording is even more helpful when people can’t actually get to your church services. It helps keep your community stay on the same page, no matter where they go.
Another simple way to help your congregation engage with your service: include discussion questions in the podcast notes of your sermon.
Want some ideas for ways to share your church’s plan for the coronavirus? Church Communications has some helpful examples you can look over.
Wish you could spend less time managing technology and more time in relationships with people? With Faithlife Equip, the first integrated ministry platform, you can.