It’s a whole new world.
Social distancing, isolation, and sheltering at home have challenged basic assumptions about how we function at fundamental levels—relationally, vocationally, emotionally, and even (or especially) spiritually. In this new world, how do people of faith go about kingdom business? When you can’t even shake hands, how do you change hearts? When a cough can be fatal, how do we share our lives and serve one another and offer the comfort that disciples should give?
Answer: We do the same things differently.
No, we can’t gather as a group at a building, press the flesh, and enjoy the warmth of personal, physical contact. No, opening our homes to each other and sharing a meal together is not a good idea in a season of COVID-19. The hugs we so enjoy, passing the emblems of Christ’s body and blood to the brother or sister sitting beside us, standing in a crowded foyer to catch up on news and happenings are activities from the past and for the future … but not appropriate in this moment and time.
So, does that mean we suspend being God’s people because we can’t do the same things in the same ways we’ve always done? Can we afford to say, “If we can’t do what we’ve always done, it’s not worth doing at all”?
In our profoundly technological world, we have the opportunity to reinvent the way we do church. Technology makes it possible to continue being the body of Christ through other means.
But to fully embrace this opportunity, congregations (and their leaders and members) must affirm that the functions of the church take precedence over the forms of the church.
Doing our God-given business is more critical than the means and methods and modes we have used to conduct that business in the past. It is vital for congregations of God’s people to continue worshipping and loving each other and ministering to a hurting world—the core mandates of being the church. And if circumstances require us to adopt different forms, find different methods, adjust to different rhythms and habits in order to be faithful to those mandates … well … that’s a small but necessary price to pay.
Think about this: as you consider the “one another” passages (the biblical commands that define how the people of God are to interact with each other and conduct themselves as the body of Christ), how many absolutely require us to be physically present with each other?
- Love one another (Jn 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; 1Th 4:9; Heb 13:1; 1Pe 1:22; 3:8; 4:8; 1jn 3:11, 14, 23; 4:7, 11; 2Jn 1:5)
- Be devoted to one another (Ro 12:10)
- Honor one another above yourselves (Ro 12:10)
- Live in harmony with one another (Ro 12:16; 1Th 5:13)
- Stop passing judgment on one another (Ro 14:13)
- Accept one another, just as Christ has accepted you (Ro 15:7)
- Agree with one another (1Co 1:10)
- Have equal concern for each other (1Co 12:25)
- Encourage one another (2Co 13:11; 1Th 4:18; 5:11; Heb 3:13; 10:25)
- Serve one another humbly in love (Gal 5:13)
- Carry each other’s burdens (Gal 6:2)
- Bear with one another in love (Eph 4:2)
- Be kind and compassionate to one another (Eph 4:32)
- Forgive each other (Eph 4:2; Col 3:3))
- Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit (Eph 5:19)
- Submit to one another (Eph 5:21)
- Each of you look to the interests of the others (Php 2:4)
- Bear with each other (Col 3:3)
- Teach and admonish one another (Ro 15:14; Col 3:16)
- Strive to do what is good for each other (1Th 5:15)
- Spur one another on to love and good deeds (Heb 10:23)
- Confess your sins to each other (Jas 5:16)
- Pray for each other (Jas 5:16)
- Offer hospitality to one another (1Pe 4:9)
- Clothe yourselves with humility to one another (1Pe 5:5)
OK. I acknowledge it is difficult to wash one another’s feet (Jn 13:14) or greet each other with a holy kiss (Ro 16:16) without direct physical contact. But we’ve already substituted other social conventions for those practices (when was the last time you literally washed someone’s feet as an act of service and submission?). Why not substitute virtual practices to accomplish the same purpose? (Scan each other’s hard drive?)
This article (at last!) is about to suggest ten technological recommendations for conducting kingdom business using digital and virtual means—a list of different forms and tools to accomplish essential functions. Just one more thought before we do that …
We already use virtual means to accomplish kingdom functions.
To suggest that we embrace a virtual practice of faith is not a call to novel or unprecedented heteropraxy (look it up!). It conforms completely with aspects of the faith we already embrace.
- We have a virtual relationship with Jesus Christ. We do not see him in the flesh. We cannot touch him or put our finger in the nail prints or hear his physical voice. Yet our relationship with Jesus is very real and important to us. Yes, we look forward to a time when we can be with him “face to face.” He has promised that, in the future, “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (Jn 14:3). But, for now, we see him only through the eyes of faith and must speak to him and hear from him through the medium of prayer (a spiritual equivalent of video conferencing!). No one would suggest that an inability to see Jesus in the flesh means we should notendeavor to“see” him in other ways. That’s what faith is all about!
- We have a virtual relationship with most of the church universal. We are connected through time and by conviction with believers we will never meet, whose hands we will never shake, and who will never visit our church building on a Sunday morning. Yet this “cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) surrounds us, encourages us, and completes our sense of community. Many Sunday mornings, someone leading worship at your congregation has referenced other believers around the world who gather to praise God as we are doing … or believers through the centuries who shared our faith and hope. The universal church is an important part of our identity as Christians yet constitutes—by definition—a virtual church.
Would we prefer to operate as congregations without these boundaries and restrictions? Of course. But canwe operate in spite of them? YES! And, to be faithful, we must do so. Here are ten recommendations for preparing your congregation to function effectively in a technological environment:
- Put together a digital team from within your congregation—Identify people in your congregation who understand technology and invite them to help your church be maximally effective over the next few months. Do this YESTERDAY! Charge the team with the responsibility to research and recommend ways in which your congregation can continue being an outpost of the kingdom—especially when we have to do this digitally, through virtual means. This team needs to be empowered to make AGGRESSIVE, BOLD, VISIONARY moves as they build a digital platform for your congregation’s future. Turn them loose. Let them spend some money, develop options, experiment, and purchase needed equipment. Assign one of your elders or staff to oversee this group, work with them regularly/frequently, and become a bridge between the group (and its recommendations) and the leadership of the church. You don’t need a bunch of geeks and nerds leading your church and making spiritual decisions. But neither can you afford leaders who don’t know the difference between a URL and an SSD to make tech decisions in this environment.
- Internet bandwidth—Buy as much high-speed, internet bandwidth from your provider as you can afford. Having an effective on-line presence will be critical in the months ahead. Features like video conferencing, streaming, and your website will become primary media for conducting essential kingdom business. The bigger your internet pipeline, the smoother, faster, and more stable your delivery platform will be. Do this for the church office and account. But encourage this also for the personal accounts of staff and elders.
- Set up a Zoom Pro account—Zoom is a video-conferencing tool for communication and interaction. This tool will allow you to do everything from conducting virtual worship services to holding meetings with elders, staff, ministry leaders, and individual members. When your Zoom Pro account is set up for the church, make sure all staff and elders have permissions and log-in information and know how to use this tool. Click here for plans and pricing. Click here for a quick video introduction). [You might also check out Google Meet, GoToMeeting, or Skype.]
- Set up a Trello account—Trello is an online project management tool for organizing and managing the church and its ministries. It allows you to set up various projects, invite different people to join a ministry team, and manage progress on church projects and ministries. [For instance, you can set up an area for your staff and elders meetings … invite elders/staff to join and gain access … post agendas and meetings … link relevant documents and websites … remind everyone of the next video conference … keep up with assignments … and communicate about relevant topics.] This is a free service (at basic levels). Make sure all staff and elders have permissions and log-in information. Make sure all your leaders know how to use this tool. Click here for a quick video introduction (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7najSDZcn-U).
- Make a priority of website development. Find someone in your congregation (or hire someone—we can make recommendations if you need) who understands website development and has the skills/experience to make your website not only functional but fabulous. This person should be tasked with ensuring the church website is up-to-date, feature-rich, informative, and interactional. This should become their primary job and central ministry as of now. In a pre-COVID-19 world, you could afford for the website to go months between updates and make-overs. Not so today. People will be going to your site, hungry for communication and connection, and need to know they can count on whatever information they find there. Develop a strategy to drive members to your website and make it easy for them to navigate their way around. Promote video testimonials, encouraging words from church leaders, and timely updates as centerpieces of the site and of your church’s ministry. YOUR WEBSITE IS NOW THE CHURCH’S FOYER. Make it welcoming and useful and informative.
- Set up online giving and encourage all your members to participate. Many churches already use online giving. If you don’t, now is the time to take the leap. It’s easy to set up, works from a laptop or cell phone, and lets your finance person monitor donors and overall contributions. Many companies provide this service but we suggest you start your search by looking at Subsplash and Tithe.ly. [This is for your information only and not an endorsement of these companies. You can find more information about online giving services here.] Of course, once you set up an online giving service (or if you already provide this option), you must persuade your members to use it. Online giving has—to this point—been a luxury service provided for member convenience. No more. When your members are no longer gathering at your building, you can’t pass the plate, and church finances will be radically impacted. So make the case to your members that, now more than ever, the church needs resources for ministry, taking care of staff, serving the community, and otherwise being the church. Encourage them … no, expect them… to sign up for online giving. Make it easy for them to do so. And monitor participation so you can circle back around to procrastinators. [Click here to find suggested actions from Greg Gibbs of Auxano, a church consulting group, regarding financial management in this current environment.]
- Set up a G-Suite account for your church. Google has taken over the world. Their browser is the most commonly used. Their search engine is ubiquitous. Many of us already work with Google Calendars, Docs, and G-Mail. Google provides a video conferencing service (Meet). A G-Suite account provides you with unlimited Drive cloud storage, security features, backup and archive services, and other administrative tools. You will be creating a large number of HUGE files (one video of Sunday services can run several gigabytes!). You will rely more and more on communications that need to be secure and confidential. And you want to make sure that everything is backed up and safe.
- Devote time to talk with your members about technological matters. Via email, video conferencing, and even in worship services and remote class settings. Every “touch” leaders make with members should include a technological component.
- Questions like: “Are you able to connect with our online worship?” “Are you receiving our emails?” “Are you visiting our website every day for the latest information about our church?”
- Information about online training, fellowship, or ministry opportunities.
- Encouragement to join a digital small group or sign up for online giving.
- Education about how your church is utilizing technology to continue its mission and calling.
- Purchase some cheap digital tablets (the Amazon Fire 7 goes for under $50!) and distribute them to members who might not otherwise have access to your website, worship services, and video conferencing … a small investment to keep members connected and communicate your commitment to their spiritual health. [I bet, with a couple of phone calls, you can find a member who would be willing to foot the bill for the entire cost!]
- Make a commitment to provide effective digital training for members. In this new world, technological fear or ignorance is death. An inability to use technology means isolation, alienation, and separation. THE MOST DEADLY SIN CONFRONTING CHURCH MEMBERS IN TODAY’S WORLD IS NOT HERESY OR IMMORALITY BUT DETACHMENT. As such, it is incumbent on church leaders to call their members to learning the technology, training them to do so, providing a rationale for why it is so important, and holding members accountable to master these skills. Task your digital team to develop a strategy for assessing the level of technical skills of your members and offering effective training in the skills they need to consume the content you are producing. [I know, once-upon-a-time, all we needed to teach was Scripture. Repeat with me: “technology is next to godliness” …]
That’s more than you ever wanted to know about technology! Hope we didn’t geek you out! But even if you are “tech-o-phobic,” Christians are dependent on good technology to live out the life of faith in these difficult times.