How churches are connecting while isolated
As the global COVID-19 pandemic closed most churches’ doors, many of which remain closed now, people were forced to rethink what it means to do church. How can you engage well from a distance? How can you be connected in community if you can’t meet in person? Around the world, as countries dealt with various levels of mitigation strategies, from social distancing to outright lockdowns, these were the questions with which the church was wrestling.
Recently we launched a new video series called Indigitous PULSE, a series where we discuss important digital missions trends and topics with practitioners who have their fingers on the pulse of digital ministry. For the first episode, we talked with Zach Van Dyke, Pastor of Summit Church, about how to connect with the church while isolated.
”Even though our church had quite a bit of technology available to us, we had held off on putting too much stuff online because we’ve so valued in-person gatherings,” Zach says. As the pandemic forced them to close their doors to in-person services, they needed to reevaluate that. “It’s changed our thinking a little bit about what it means to connect through the Internet and how God’s church can thrive in an online format, too.”
Prior to being forced to make the change to offering the church online, Summit was skeptical, fearing people becoming consumers of the content rather than engaging in Christ-centered community. As they put sermons online along with study guides, children’s ministry, reading plans, and online small groups, they have found a high level of engagement. Many people have jumped into small groups that had never been in a group before. Zach and his wife joined a group for the first time in a while because it was too difficult to arrange childcare to meet regularly in person. “I don’t think we would have ever signed up for a small group that met online prior to the normalization of online community through the pandemic, but now that we’ve experienced it, we realized it’s pretty great,” Zach says.
Miheret Tilahun, a digital strategist with Cru who works closely with Global Church Movements, has seen a lot of churches make that pivot. In addition to putting sermons online, either as a live church service or a pre-recorded message, churches have turned to social media, email campaigns, online meetings, and more to stay connected. Small group leaders also needed to make a change, hosting meetings on Zoom and finding content for their discussions. “There was a big growth in resources like RightNow Media, where you get all the Bible studies and all the resources,” Miheret says.
RightNow Media boasts the world’s largest customizable library of biblical video resources for churches and small groups. Many churches and ministries partner with RightNow to offer that content to their congregation, giving great material for group discussions, inspiration, and spiritual development.
Social media became a key way for churches to connect with the body of Christ, through streaming content to Facebook Live, Instagram Live, and YouTube to posting discussions in Facebook groups. That meant adapting how the churches communicate, since the same form of communication that you do in person doesn’t necessarily work online. Miheret stressed the importance of thinking not in terms of broadcast, but in terms of engagement. “Right now the times require you to not just broadcast, but also listen,” Miheret says.
The result has been largely positive. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 24% of American adults say their faith has grown stronger during the pandemic. Globally, many churches have seen an increase in reach, as people who had never visited the church in person started attending their online services.
“The big aha for me has been that the online capacity and resources can be used for furthering God’s Kingdom in ways that maybe we were dismissive of before,” Zach says.
Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. (Habakkuk 2:2)
- Continue to connect as a body of Christ even if you can’t meet in person.
- Use resources like RightNow Media, Zoom, and social media to connect, engage in fellowship, and grow in your faith.
Editor’s note: This is the first post in a series about connecting as a church during the pandemic. The next post will be about how to serve others as the body of Christ while isolated.