One of the things The Effective Church has been known for is our attempts to take a peek into what the future might hold. Bill Easum was a master of the art and, as time has shown, he was right more often than he was wrong (okay, to be fair, mega churches are still with us …).
Over the past weeks, I’ve been keeping my eye on the church’s response to the pandemic and have noticed three distinct camps.
Psalm 91 Camps
These are the folks who hold fast to the promises that God is going to protect them no matter what. Although I totally admire their faith, courage, and tenacity, I suspect there were a number of churches that held similar views back in the days of the Black Plague … and likely paid the price.
I read a series of Facebook posts between a pastor that reviled those churches that chose not to engage public worship … and then a bevy of pastors who took umbrage at being accused of not being faithful. I have two observations:
First, when will we ever learn that airing our disagreements in public has done, is doing, and will continue to do GREAT harm to the Church. Knock it off!!!
Second, public gatherings for worship was not the practice of the early church … there were exactly zero church buildings until AD 313 when Constantine had the Church of the Nativity constructed. The whole “gather the church together for worship” is not a biblical mandate or even a thing. People met in homes on a daily basis – so the whole “Close” or “Open” our buildings thing is cultural and traditional, NOT biblical.
In any event, the Psalm 91 group appears to be a fairly small camp, since most churches have opted to honor the CDC’s request to limit the numbers who gather together (even though legally the church is exempt … for now).
Paying the Price Camp
Then there are those churches who have done everything they can to eschew embracing technology. “Not in my church,” has been the cry, a corollary to “We’ve never done it that way before.” And so, these churches are left with two options … do the Psalm 91 thing and just meet anyway or else they close and hope there’s a church to come back to in a month or two or four. I spoke with a pastor of one of these churches and honestly, his head is in his hands as he worries about the fate of his congregation.
One church I know, falls into this camp and had to resort to someone holding a cell phone while streaming on Facebook Live. All I could think about was “With great churches and preachers all over the internet who have extensive experience in producing online-worship, how do you think your shaky one perspective phone camera is going to compete?” Sure, the devout may stick it out, but you and I both know the “devout” are a firm minority in almost every church … so where do you think the semi-devout will end up? (More on this in Part 02)
Then there are the churches that were either already online, or who were ready to go virtual by virtue of having the infrastructure in place. Many of these churches were already well-positioned to expand their online offerings, including online small groups, meetings, and so on. Other churches are playing catch up as they try to put together online events and so on.
Here are some services that I’ve seen finding their way into the fore from these churches.
- Worship is being streamed live and the quality ranges from pathetic to completely awesome. Some stream to social media outlets and some only to their websites/apps.
- The “best” streaming services includes live chat that’s actively facilitated by someone in the church. (Some are using the Facebook comments section for this.)
- Small groups, Sunday school, etc. are being facilitated via online classrooms like Zoom.us, WebEx.com, GoToMeeting.com and so on. These online classrooms allow for “in person,” face-to-face, real time meetings. It’s not quite like being in the same room, but it’s close.
- Social media is being used in some creative ways. I saw a Zoom meeting on Facebook Live the other day.
- Church leaders are creating all sorts of regular podcasts, video casts, etc. in an effort to keep connected. In the “new” church, content is king (actually, it always has been – but the church is mostly just waking up to that reality).
For some churches, virtual has been little more than an extension rather than a disruption. I suspect these churches will not only be fine, but will discover their influence extending outward.
I’ll get to the predictions in the next post … but I thought it was important to recognize where we are at the moment.
So … Two Questions:
- Where’s your church on the above continuum and how are you doing there?
- What other Virtual tools and practices are you using that can help the rest of the church?
Please Share in the Comments section below.