Confession time, I don’t like the term new normal. Normal is subjective to one’s experience and the word normal implies that we all have the same experiences. We are using so much these days because we simply don’t know what else to say. We also don’t know what life will look like in the coming months, maybe even years.
COIVD-19 is a global pandemic that has effected nearly every part of our lives. The Church is really good at being with people in crisis, however that usually entails being physically present. Since we cannot be physically present, We have had to adapt in a fairly short amount of time. Here are four discoveries that come to mind:
Online Worship is Complimentary, Not Competition
It took a global pandemic for churches to shift quickly to figuring out how to do worship (in some form or fashion) online. While many churches had to quickly find both the equipment and people with know-how, many congregations already possessed both of these. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the many congregations who simply aren’t equipped to worship in this way).
Most were hesitant to broadcast worship because we believed that people would simply stay home and watch worship rather than coming in person. We held to the belief that it was only church if you came if one was physically present.
We now know different. We should have known before this, with online church being a way that people can still attend worship. My hope is that this will change the way what passes for attending worship and how worship attendance is tracked. One doesn’t need to be in a designated worship space at a designated time on a designated day to attend worship. Online worship allows us to reach and include people in a congregation, regardless of geography, schedule, or ability to physically make it to a church building. It actually will allow more of us to stay connected to worship, rather than taking people away from our worship services.
Creative Connection is Here to Stay
Congregations are always looking to involve more people on a consistent basis. Leaders lament that ministries attract the same people and do not serve to involve more people in the life of the church. What if we have been thinking about this the wrong way?
Zoom and other similar tools have served as ways to gather people during this time. What if a small group is formed for the long-term using an online tool as its primary meeting venue? Why can’t we have digital prayer meetings for people who can’t make to a specific place? Like online worship, we need to think past the old paradigm of coming to a particular place at a particular time as the only venue for being the church. What if online is a new venue for people to meet, gather, and learn?
Digital Giving is Not the Future
Digital giving is the present. I know that’s not going far out on a limb. Some of the pressure and poor decisions that congregations will make in the coming weeks around meeting will be due to a need to be “in person” in order to sustain the offering (and the church). I get it, this is a scary financial time for many churches (just like families, small businesses, etc.) Perhaps your congregation has been historically dependent on in-person giving for practical or liturgical reasons
I believe people want to give as they are able to religious communities. People believe in religious communities as agents of transformation. It is imperative that the church give people many avenues to give. It’s not the way we collect the offering that marks our faithfulness, rather it is the way we offer people the chance to give that marks our faithfulness.
Community Engagement Matters
I asked people on social media what they missed most about in-person worship. It wasn’t hearing the sermon live in a room, it wasn’t witnessing in person another powerful communion meditation. In some ways, it wasn’t any of the things that preachers believe brings people to church.
By and large, people missed one another. They missed doing things, like singing, together.
People miss gathering together. One byproduct of social distancing is that we realize that we took being together for granted. We miss seeing one another in person.
So, what does your congregation do about this? It’s clear to me that we will not be resuming large in-person gatherings any time soon. At the beginning of the pandemic people talked about the “first Sunday back in church will be.” It doesn’t look like that type of gathering will be happening for a while. How do congregations facilitate people being with one another during this next year?
Moving forward, I believe that religious communities will play a central role in gathering people, fostering connections, and building relationships. We’ve done this, using large corporate worship as the central gathering point. If we don’t have that tool in our proverbial toolbelt, how do we do it? The way your congregation answers that question and discerns its direction is key.
These are four discoveries that are top of mind for me. I know there are many more that you have discovered in your context. I’d love to hear yours or hear where I am off. Feel free to reach out and we can have a virtual cup of coffee or whatever your beverage of choice may be.