The following is a collection of tips and ideas on the following topics for continuing to be the church while practicing social distancing, sourced from Wisconsin Conference pastors and congregation leaders. Use this to trigger ideas and possibilities for your own context. This list isn’t meant to be a comprehensive how-to guide, but rather an idea generator to help you along your own path.
Note: tips were collected prior to Governor Evers’s “safer at home” orders. Evaluate any tips based on the current situation in the state and/or your local area.
You can record a service using your smartphone. A tripod helps. The sound may be an issue, especially if you record in a large space. Try to not be too far from your phone and speak clearly. Fancy equipment can help but isn’t necessary.
A lot can be done through Facebook Live. From your church’s facebook page, simply select “go live” and follow the directions. It’s easy! You can live stream worship, or offer devotional/prayer services at any time you wish. With Facebook, people can comment and react. You can also use your Facebook page to offer shorter messages and prayers, and encourage your congregation to share, as well. If the Facebook page is public, consider making a private Facebook group where people know they will be only sharing with one another and not also with, say, Betsy and Joe from high school.
You can share a recorded worship service on YouTube and email the link to your church members.
Be aware of copyright issues. Consider adding streaming to your CCLI license. One church was able to do this for $67. Public domain music is also a workable option.
Use “snail mail” to send a printable version of the sermon and a devotion to people who don’t have internet access. You can also share these in an email; you don’t have to live-stream or record your service.
Zoom can be used for worship services, and it isn’t limited to people with internet access. People can join in using:
Offer a practice session the day before to let folks get familiar with the technology.
People may be less interested in streamed worship services and more interested in small, consistent contact with easy-to-digest messages. People are overwhelmed with information and decisions. A short meditation, a song link, a list of prayer requests may be about all people can absorb.
Some churches are sharing their sermon in audio format on their websites.
If you don’t think you can do your own live streamed worship, try to find one that you think is done well and works with your context and share that with your members who are looking for this type of worship.
Consider creating a virtual bulletin. It could include links to music people could sing to on YouTube. Offer prayers, offering, and a sermon all that you have put on YouTube. This virtual bulletin would have hyper links to each of these parts of the service.
One pastor is creating a series of devotionals for families to do at home. The devotionals will be sent via e-mail on Wednesdays and Sundays. The Wednesday devotionals will continue the Lenten theme that was already in place prior to the pandemic, and each of the Sunday devotionals will speak directly to the current crisis. The hope is that common worship materials for at-home use will continue to keep the congregation connected.
One church is exploring the idea of “drive-in” communion in their parking lot for Holy Week.
Several churches already are a radio station or are setting one up to broadcast to a small radius for services, or you may be able to have a video recording of your service on your local Community Access channel. Some churches are sharing leadership of streaming worship with another church.
If you are recording your service, consider also creating DVDs for people to use at home if they don’t have internet access.
You can also offer things such as a guided meditation or prayer services. Keep confidentiality in mind.
Use social media, and use “snail mail” for those without access. Create a phone tree to keep members connected. All anytime, or call during what would have been yoru Connect with people individually if possible.
One church is exploring using the church email as a central hub for emailing out parishioner’s selfies/videos so we can see on another’s faces, in addition to sending out an updated directory so people can call/email directly with one another.
One pastor is intrigued by the Netflix watch party options. Consider setting up a movie night!
A blog on a church website can be set up, with posts every day or two can keep people informed and connected. Add links to the blog from your Facebook page.
One pastor has set up a blog to create a collaborative online journal as a record of their experience during these extraordinary times.
Try using Facebook Groups for online book discussions.
Use the post office to send care cards to shut-ins and nursing home residents, and to mail out bulletins and sermons for those who do not have access to internet. People love to receive even a simple postcard!
Zoom (or a similar service) can be used to have online open office hours. Participants can join via their computers, smartphones, or telephone. This could also be run by a lay leader…the pastor doesn’t have to do everything!
Ask church members to assist with basic tasks. This is a church family and there is a great opportunity to work together.
Set up volunteers who are prepared to run errands for older members who prefer not to leave their homes.
One church is adding links and games to the children’s section of their website, such as links to livecams at aquariums and zoos, museums, and trailcams.
If “calling everyone” is overwhelming, set up specific congregation members reach out to a certain number of people a day. For example, each volunteer could call 3 people, with a new set of 3 people each day.
Maybe now is the time to contemplate doing a podcast?
Facebook can be used to set up some “classes” for adults through Facebook. This is how one church plans to use it: “We will post a video, and then discussion questions that people can watch and answer on their own time.”
Assemble a group of volunteers to run errands for those who are confined to home during this time, and set up leadership backups in case someone gets sick.
Invite your congregation to continue supporting the ministry through e-giving or checks. Encourage generosity! Discourage sending cash in the mail! Here are some more stewardship ideas.
Send home any projects that you would have done at church and ask children to share any photos of projects they do. You can also send home activities to done as a family.
Sponsor Zoom meetings for your classes and youth groups.
Darci Warner of Middleton Community church has this to share:
I have developed google classrooms and posted At-home Sunday School for parents to use with preschool and elementary children, and readings and discussion for our Middle and High School students. Keep it simple, but keep them connected too. I am willing to share the work as I do it each week if other SS leaders want to reach out to me. We use Deep Blue for our PS and E kids. I am making it up as I go on the older kids stuff. This week using Talksheets. We are looking to host events, kind of like an online party, through FB where we will show videos and then post discussion questions for the group to answer. We have ordered some materials to get this going. We are going to move Confirmation to Google Meets too. I just need to get leadership trained and help them make the modifications. (Contact Darci Warner at Middleton Community Church)
You can use Zoom to continue with Bible study groups. One church’s monthly group said they would like to meet weekly right now, so consider meeting more frequently. Remember, people can call in to Zoom…they don’t HAVE to have a smartphone or internet access.
One church is posting challenges online and via Snapchat for their youth. Another app popular with the younger crowd is Instagram.
Remember that while Zoom is used for video meetings, people can also participate in the meeting by calling in on a telephone. Not everyone has to have a computer or webcam. Go To Meeting and Google Meet are other meeting possibilities to look into.
Be creative. There are many ways we can serve our congregations and communities using available technology. Even if you don’t how to use it, there are people around you who do. Maybe it’s your youth members’ time to shine? Being connected, even if it is not perfect, is most important! Remember to try things. It is okay not to be perfect. Practice, experiment and then go for it!
Be sure to practice boundaries even in online/virtual/social media ministry engagement.
Being leaders in these crazy times requires us to lead by example. Role model adherence to CDC & state mandates/recommendations, and be the calm in the storm.
Breathe. Frame some of this time as sabbath so you do not feel as though you need to constantly produce online content. You may find that you need to make time for additional spiritual processing right now.
Put info on how to access church (leaders, worship) front and center on your webpage so people can find it easily. More people may be checking out your site now than normal.
One pastor suggests: “Try not to think about the whole project or problem at once. Take on a smaller, achievable project and work on accomplishing that. Then build on that.”
Technology can help: Get a Ring (or similar) doorbell camera and put it at the church. You can then speak to people who ring the doorbell at the church even though you are safely socially distanced inside your home (through your smartphone).
Several churches have created a pop-up drive-thru food pantries. Food can be put outside on tables for people to pick up.
Call a local nursing home to see how your church can help. Some ideas are talking on phone through windows, tape prayers or song on window, or bringing a care package to leave outside.
Create care packages of frozen, readymade meals and soups with comforting sides like crackers and jello that can be dropped off on a doorstep in case of illness. These can be available to the community as well as church members.
Create a pickup service for those who are quarantined or must practice extreme social distancing, for medications and groceries.