It has been one year since our lives changed because of the deadly coronavirus. With in-person church services occurring on a limited basis because of state, town, and county guidelines, as well as physical distancing requirements, many churchgoers are experiencing a sense of loss, both socially and spiritually.
The impact of church closures is not only about missing out on physically attending worship services but also missing weekly gathering opportunities that allowed for human contact, conversations over a meal, and social interactions at all age levels. For some, it was probably the only time during the week that they got a hug. In many places, all those activities we took for granted came to a screeching halt.
In-person worship soon became online worship. Leaders found themselves in a position where they had to be creative and adapt to new ways of ministering to their community of believers. Some churches were prepared to adjust quickly; others were not. Now, with the focus heavily on online delivery options, we are faced with the possibility of leaving others behind if we neglect to utilize a variety of methods to reach individuals who are not online.
In many instances, churches moved to the virtual space, fully expecting that members would follow. I have heard it said, “If they don’t ‘come on board,’ they will miss out.” But what about those who can’t, don’t want to, or won’t “come on board” and participate online, for whatever reason? That is a very real issue.
It is clear that it will take time to go back to some form of what is considered “normal” in-person worship, but it is also clear that things will not be the same as they were before March 2020. Evangelistically, there is value to having in-person and online options. But we must also take time to account for all segments of the church’s population.
After researching and considering the communication patterns of the diverse population of worshipers in our congregations, we put together some tips that we hope you find helpful. You may have already implemented some of them. Feel free to add those that will help you better nurture your members and also reach out to residents in your local community. These tips are to be considered, in addition to the in-person services and activities you may already be conducting, as well as the online services via Zoom, Facebook, YouTube, and other available Internet-based tools.
1. Call Members and Regular Attendees: Assign either elders or other leaders of the church to check in often on members and regular attendees. One option is to break down the directory alphabetically. Agree on a timeline for when this should be done and encourage those assigned to make random calls, as well.
2. Communication by Email: Consider establishing some form of email communication that can cover a range of topics, including information about loving God, loving one another, and recipe ideas that the family can make and enjoy together, to name a few.
3. Short Video Devotionals: Create five- to seven-minute devotional videos to send to the members. The church’s administrative team can determine who the presenters will be. Perhaps, you can start with some encouragement from Psalms and move on to other books of the Bible, but keep them short and uplifting.
4. Bible Classes: Take the opportunity to schedule regular Bible studies for members and other interested individuals. Perhaps you can have classes for members and separate classes for others interested in learning more about God, the Adventist Church, and more. Schedule regular times and places for the Bible study to occur.
5. Small Groups: Zoom is a great platform to create and host a small group to connect with youth and can be useful for hosting virtual lunches, socials, and even playing games together. Utilizing social media specific to the age demographic you are trying to reach, such as Instagram Live, is another great way to engage in meaningful conversations using the chat feature.
6. Children’s Stories: Schedule a children’s storytime where selected members can read stories to the children. This storytime is separate from the children’s story included in the worship service. Another option is to videotape individuals reading stories and share them with families to use as needed.
7. Card Ministry: Many people appreciate receiving notes of encouragement. Cards would be perfect for those who live alone, no matter their age. Why not establish a card ministry team? Prayerfully select the recipient(s) and send them messages of encouragement. Let them know that you miss seeing them and are praying for them. Send cards to members, friends of the church, first responders in the community, health care workers, state and town representatives, and more. The options are endless.
8. Drive-by Visitation: I’m sure we can all agree that now is not the time to go to someone’s home for an in-person visit, but perhaps you can arrange to stop by the person’s house, wave at them from outside, and chat with them at a safe distance. It’s the next best thing to being up close and personal.
9. Volunteer to Assist: It is important to check on those who live alone or have no one to assist them. There are times when they may need something but cannot go out to get it themselves. Share with members that they can contact the church if such needs arise. Put together a team of volunteers who are willing to assist in these situations while remaining safe and following established guidelines. A kind gesture goes a long way.
There is a definite feeling of loss among members of the faith community. We are learning about connecting with each other in new ways. The key is to be intentional about reaching out, calling, texting, emailing, or driving by to check on one another. These activities are not limited to adults, but people of all ages can stay safe as we participate in moving forward with the ministry we’ve been called to do—share Jesus’ love and serve others.