Last week was one of the most unexpected weeks I’ve experienced as a pastor.
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, our governor banned gatherings over 250 people.
That means none of our campuses can gather in person.
If your church isn’t yet in the same situation, you likely will be soon.
This post isn’t about whether churches should be closed or what I think about the virus.
This post is about how to build a church community if and when you have to shut down weekend services.
Here are three strategies that we are pursuing as a church.
Connect Through Social Media
In Michigan, we are shut down.
Public schools are closed for four weeks and restaurants are closed except for takeout and drive-through.
Basically, the only places open are essential manufacturing and grocery stores.
We are being directed to stay home.
In the midst of this, people are hungry for connection.
Someone I recently talked with told me he was out driving around just to see other people in cars and feel a bit of connection.
People are lonely!
In light of this, one of the strategies we are pursuing is connecting through social media.
As a staff, we have committed to posting one video per day, sharing a short message of encouragement, praying, and highlighting a specific need in our community.
Here’s what we are trying to accomplish through our social media presence:
- Help our congregation feel connected to each other and to their pastors during this unsettling time. It provides a sense of normalcy and support.
- Help our congregation look outward through prayer and serving opportunities. We are highlighting local ministries who are doing great work in our communities and how our people can serve and get involved (while being mindful of appropriate social distancing).
- Empathize with our people. This week we posted a video of me talking about the impact of restaurants shutting down and how difficult this is for people who work in that industry. We encouraged people to look for someone to lift up and support in their neighborhood. And, to continue to support local restaurants through takeout.
Live Stream Your Sermon
If you don’t usually live stream your church service or record it, you may find this idea to be intimidating.
It isn’t as hard as you think and in this season, you need to do it!
If you’ve already canceled weekend services, your people need to stay connected, be encouraged, and hear the Scriptures taught.
If your weekend services aren’t already canceled, it’s likely they will be soon.
If you’ve never live streamed before, here’s a few things to help you get started:
- Keep it simple. My advice would be to not broadcast worship/music. The audio engineering required to make live stream worship sound good is considerable. Also, unless you’ve already obtained the correct copyright license, or you are only using music published before 1920, you will be breaking copyright laws. I would suggest broadcasting a version of your church service that doesn’t include worship.
- Gather needed equipment. For simple sermon-only setups, you can start with just a newer smartphone, tripod, and an external microphone and build from there. If you don’t have the needed equipment, here’s a few suggestions:
- Choose a location. If your church stage has good lighting, I recommend using your stage. A sense of sameness and normalcy will be good for your people. If your stage doesn’t have good lighting, select a location that does. Your office or living room are good places to consider. Remember, though, something is better than nothing. Select the best location you can find and go with it. Your people will appreciate the effort and you can adjust over time.
- Choose a streaming platform. In my opinion, there are two good options: Facebook Live and YouTube. I would recommend starting with Facebook Live and working towards expanding to YouTube, unless you or someone you know is confident in setting it up.
To help you get started, here are step-by-step directions on how to live stream to Facebook Live from a smartphone.
It’s truly not as hard as you think and if you feel intimidated by the process, ask someone from your church who is tech-savvy or another local church that is already live streaming to help you.
Trust me, you’ll learn fast and it will help keep your people connected as a church.
Digital Small Groups
The last strategy that we are pursuing is encouraging our small groups to continue meeting.
Our church community is built on small groups and it’s important for people to stay connected, encouraged, and accountable during this season.
Meeting together digitally is not difficult.
An excellent tool for this is Zoom.
All you need is a free Zoom account and the Zoom app on your mobile device or computer.
With a free Zoom account, you can meet together in groups of up to 100 people for up to 40 minutes.
The Breeze staff, which is scattered all over the country, uses Zoom every week.
It’s incredibly easy to set up and works great!
Consider experimenting with Zoom as a staff and then sending out an email to your congregation with instructions on how to download, set up, and use Zoom.
Also, if your church is smaller, Zoom could be a great way to broadcast your service or sermon.
Helping people stay connected could be a tremendous gift in this season.
While we can’t meet in person, these three strategies are helping our church continue to build community and stay connected.
It’s important for us to remember the Church isn’t a building. It’s people.
If your church is implementing other great ideas to build community during this time, please share them in the comments below.