The Novel Coronavirus is a global pandemic that has affected almost everyone in one way or another. A few big enterprises and small to medium-sized businesses shutdown operations, employees had to be laid off or forced to take unpaid leaves, schools had to stop classes and postpone graduations—these are just a few examples.
Thousands of churches worldwide are also greatly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Because social distancing is highly encouraged to hopefully stop the spread of the virus, large gatherings of people, like masses and prayer services, have been discouraged.
It is a known fact that spiritual communities rely heavily on constant communication within their congregation—they do vigils, group prayers, praise and worships, bible studies, and more. But with the community quarantines and lockdowns in place, this has become a challenge.
Fortunately, with modern technology available, there are a lot of ways for churches to reach out and communicate with their members, as well as continue spiritual services all while keeping safe in their homes. Though there may be people who are still critical of the dangers brought by social media and other digital channels, this is the perfect time for congregations to maximize digital tools to connect with one another and strengthen the community.
LIVE OR RECORDED STREAMING
Streaming services online can never replace face-to-face interaction, but they can still be a crucial lifeline for people who are stuck at home and even more so for sick individuals who are in isolation.
Maximizing digital tools will help ministries move forward and even reach more people. Church services can either be livestreamed or pre-recorded, even if it is done by just one person. This can easily be done with basic technology knowledge and equipment: a smartphone, Facebook account, Wi-Fi connection, and you are all set! You can choose to do this for your own community or make it accessible for the public.
For those who are a bit more tech-savvy, you can use other platforms like YouTube live and more advanced equipment for higher quality streaming. Especially if you are thinking of holding a praise and worship night for your community, good quality sound and fast internet is very important.
There are tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams where you can set “live events” which you can ask people to take part of. You can have multiple individuals taking lead from their respective houses with one person moderating the service. The moderator could switch from the praise and worship leader to the speaker, and to other members. There’s also an option to record it and have someone edit the video, then release it to different platforms at a particular time.
But if you are not confident in holding your own services, you can direct your congregation to use other digital services like Christian Podcasts. There are now also a number of priests and pastors who have their own YouTube channels to share spiritual wisdom to anyone who wishes to listen.
For churches, especially big ones, it is important to create—and be a part of—ministry groups or small groups. During this lockdown, one of the first few things that these groups must do is to check in on their members and encourage one another to keep communication lines open. One of the best ways to do this is through video calling.
Members can have video calls one-on-one for conversations that require a bit more privacy or they can have group calls for a more fun, supporting environment. Unlike voice calls, video conferencing encourages a more transparent conversation. Since you see one another, it is almost like you are together in one room. You can have group prayers, bible studies, or just check in on each other’s day. It is an amazing way of strengthening your group’s relationship while still observing social distancing protocols.
But video conferencing is not a new concept for churches. However, it is only recently that it is being widely utilized. Now thousands are reaching out beyond church walls through virtual meeting platforms like Zoom and Skype and doing missions and worships in a creative and somewhat efficient way.
Video chatting tools are easy to set up. You just set a time and date, share the link to the video call, and join in. Before the actual call, you can invite the members to write about their concerns or needs that they need prayer for. And while in the call, the group can then pray for one another.
You can also send other people a video of you praying for them so they can watch it at a time more convenient for them. This is also beneficial for those who aren’t too comfortable at the idea of opening their camera; at least they can still listen in on the prayer without feeling too conscious.
EMAIL OR TEXT
Almost everyone nowadays has mobile phones and are familiar with the art of texting. This is another way how you can connect with your group—you can exchange text messages one or one or via group texting. A minimum of once a week, group members will text each other “reports” on how their week has gone. Conversations via text are usually faster and more casual.
However, there is another way of maximizing text messaging service. Churches can use bulk text messaging software to send people in their congregation regular updates about COVID-19, digital church services that they will be having, or even daily prayers for the members of the community.
Bulk messaging software is an efficient tool to contact hundreds or thousands of people. It is just a matter of importing a list of mobile numbers, crafting messages which will be sent out at the time and date it is meant to, and that is it!
For a more “professional” approach, you can send out an email blast to your community as well. These emails can contain different prayers as well as other resources that the congregation can really make the most out of to satisfy their spiritual needs—links to online services, Podcasts, blogs, church notice boards, and many more. Surely members of the community would be happy to get these regular updates.
Ironically, most people use their phones for other things except for phone calls. It is now the time for communities to update their contact details of all their group members, especially those who wish to be contacted regularly. Offer a daily call to anyone in your community to check up on them or pray for them, and this surely will be a lifeline to them during the lockdown.
You can design “phone trees” so that each member can both receive calls from others and offer calls to others, which guarantees at least two conversations a day. This is also a good way to see who you can help in terms of shopping for food or medication, etc. This can make the members of the church feel empowered as they will have a key part in ensuring the community is thriving.
For big churches, they can also make use of IVRs. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has launched a free national phone line as a simple new way to bring worship and prayer into people’s homes while church buildings are closed because of the coronavirus. This is a good example of a great use of the IVR tool.
The service would highly benefit members of the church who are unable to attend online services and the likes. Although thousands of churches are now running live services or online prayer groups, many people—especially elderly—may not have access to the internet.
Churches can setup the IVR so callers can choose from a range of options, like prayers, hymns, reflections, and advice on the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is such a convenient way to give your congregation help during this trying time.
Now probably considered the opposite of the IVR, the Auto Dialer is an excellent tool for churches to reach out and connect and communicate with their members.
Auto dialer solutions are meant to deliver pre-recorded audio messages to a pre-defined list of cellphone and landline numbers. It can also leave answering machine messages. It is easy to use, and with it, you can reach thousands of your church members in minutes. You can send them messages reminding them to stay home and stay safe during this global pandemic. Short prayers can also be recorded to ensure that people in your community will feel that they are not alone despite the lockdown.
There are many ways churches can use auto dialers, and at times like this, it is priceless.
COVID-19 is a public health crisis, and your community may be going through a spiritual or emotional crisis as a result. But the above hopefully gives your church’s worship leaders, as well as the members, the confidence to continue to praise, worship, pray and soak up spiritual nourishment through music, spoken word, and whatever else your community has.