Andrew Ponder Williams says that these trying times provide an opportunity to advance a new way of being church. He offers ideas on how digital connections can help us reach people not previously connected to our congregations.
For my whole life, I have dreamed about a church without walls. Well here we are! Most churches sadly cannot meet within their buildings now. Yet, God is calling us to offer meaningful ministry in this moment.
One of the best ways to respond to these trying times is to take this opportunity to advance a new way of being church. This time of forced reliance on digital connections is an incredible opportunity to reach those reluctant to visit a church in person because of past experiences or hurts and to reach the many people searching for spiritual support and direction in this crisis.
How can you be a church without walls for those previously connected with your in-person ministry and for those you will met for the first time along this journey? Here are some ideas.
1. Intergenerational discipleship and faith formation
The church is called to be the space where people of different generations mix at a time when it doesn’t seem to be happening anywhere else. This distinct calling doesn’t end because of our current limitations. It grows. At this moment, intergenerational ministry is more important than ever. For inspiration, consider the many young people actively caring for the seniors they love in this time of crisis, providing them needed items and making sure they stay at home.
There is so much we can do to connect our intergenerational church families and communities. In addition to book and Bible studies, you can offer fun adventures in Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts with the shared screen features. Google has 3D tours of many of the world’s greatest sights and museums as well as National Parks. Think of it as a digital intergenerational road trip for church families. This is also a great opportunity for youth and young adults to offer guidance to seniors on how to utilize all these communication tools that are so vital for all of us to prevent social isolation.
2. Prayer check-ins
In addition to weekly online worship, offer an interactive videocall for sharing prayer concerns. This is an opportunity to build connections and share uplifting devotionals. How can you invite those who desire spiritual community in this moment but have not been part of your church in the past? Post the links to these prayer times to Facebook and your church website as well as emailing them to current members.
For those who lead worship, hosting worship from our homes is a great opportunity to share more of ourselves. Find a corner of your home that has meaningful pictures and items that you can use as illustrations in your message and use this space as your studio. And don’t limit your use of livestream just to worship. The organist at one church I work with is offering wonderful concerts from the church during the week. Another church is offering digital Sunday School. We all have gifts to share with others during these difficult times.
If your church has a livestream system in place in your sanctuary, you might consider sharing your space and technology with neighboring churches struggling to stay connected. This may be an opportunity to share worship with congregations of other traditions and faiths who need tools to stay connected.
4. Walking devotionals
In this time of social distancing, outdoor activities which keep people at an appropriate distance are encouraged. If you are like me, you are probably wandering around cul-de-sacs and side streets. Being in nature is good for our souls. So, this is a wonderful opportunity to put together a simple set of prayers for your congregation to have with them on their walks. Create a simple liturgy that guides walkers in prayer for their neighbors, lifting up the distinct needs of each household they pass. Perhaps these prayer walks will open our eyes to safe ways to help our neighbors during this pandemic.
5. Social media
This is an opportunity to reclaim social media as a tool of loving connection in a time of profound isolation. Once considered an optional space for sharing ideas and experiences, social media is now the dominant way to stay connected. We can’t surrender this important forum to despair and polarization. This is a great time to encourage your congregation to share all the livestreams and posts from your church with their larger social media networks to reach others in need of connection and encouragement.
My husband is a grocery store manager. When we sat down to dinner the other night, we were humbled to realize that his and my work had both changed rapidly while also becoming all the more important.
The spirit and love of God is not locked behind the doors of the buildings we’ve closed for the safety and well-being of others. The spirit of God is with us as we become a church without walls seeking to be the light of Christ in the world in a new way.