To quote President Harry S. Truman,
“The way in which you endure that which you must endure is more important than the crisis itself.”
I think we have all come to understand that over the last few months.
When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, church leaders faced a singular dilemma: how to continue caring for their congregations and serving their communities. Gatherings were banned, so buildings needed to be closed. But isn’t this the exact time that people need each other and the comfort of their faith? Then, how can the church fulfill its calling to share God’s love and hope?
In the past, churches have proven themselves to be resilient and resourceful. When problems arose, they were able to adapt to new conditions and continue their mission. For example, when church buildings had to be shuttered because of the worldwide 1918 flu pandemic, pastoral leaders found ways to modify their ministries – firmly resolving that “although our buildings are closed, the church is still open.”
Back then, families held worship services in their homes and read sermons from the newspaper. Today, various technologies enable us to enjoy live or recorded worship services online, and to participate in virtual gatherings via video conferencing.
The need to close church buildings has provided congregations with the opportunity to explore and utilize technology like never before, as well as to establish or enhance their social media ministries. Initially, the transition for many was hard. Most church leaders, however, quickly developed plans to continue their mission of keeping in touch with members of their congregations and serving their communities.
For churches that seldom, if ever, used social media or other outreach technologies prior to the pandemic, the transition has been most difficult. As one pastor shared with me during a video conference,
“It was hard to become an online church overnight because, to me, worship services are meant to be celebrated in-person.”
He and many other church leaders had to quickly learn how to take advantage of social media platforms to continue caring for the needs of congregation and community alike.
Technology has become the ‘tool of the day,’ enabling congregations to not only remain connected to their church families while sheltering-in-place at home, but to greatly expand their reach. For instance, former church members who moved out-of-state or abroad are now able to participate in church activities. Even people who never before joined in congregational worship are donating online because they were moved by a church’s expressions of faith and ministry. In fact, people who don’t usually go to church now find themselves ‘at church’ through their laptops or smartphones. Isn’t that amazing?
Technology has also enabled church leaders to meet more frequently, for a greater variety of reasons, and with larger groups, than would otherwise be possible. In fact, now any member of a congregation who is willing to host an activity, such as yoga classes, choir practice, games, crafts or cooking classes, can do so.
Now that many congregations have reopened their buildings, or are in the process of doing so, the question becomes, “How can our ministry continue to benefit from what we’ve learned about technology moving forward?” Given that there are still restrictions on the number of people who can attend a service, online worship will need to continue for those who would either exceed capacity, who live too far away to attend in-person, or who are at high-risk from the coronavirus.
Recognizing, as Albert Einstein did, that “In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity,” congregations need to think strategically about how technology can advance their ministries moving forward. Consider the following:
Develop social media goals, strategies, and tactics.
- Do you want to have pre-recorded or live-streamed worship services? Or, both?
- Is your internet service sufficient for your needs in terms of speed and bandwidth?
- Do you have a website? If you already do, is it user-friendly and updated frequently?
- If you do not have a website, how and where can you find resources and people to build one?
- Do you make good use of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and/or Pinterest, updating your postings regularly? What social media platforms are used most by your congregants? Do you know? Have you asked?
- What video conferencing app would best serve your needs?
- What type of content can you develop that would be of most interest to your members?
Review your equipment needs.
- Do you need to purchase or update your audio/visual equipment?
- What kind of equipment do you need? Basic or sophisticated? One or more cameras, microphones, tripods, mixers, and monitors?
Anticipate your staffing needs.
- Based on the size of your congregation, should a paid staff member serve as Social Media or Technology Leader? An unpaid volunteer? There are advantages and disadvantages to each.
- Do you have a ready back-up team to support this ministry?
Engage people proactively for this ministry.
- What skills do people need to serve in a social media ministry?
- Do you need writers of devotionals or prayers for the website?
Budget and fund strategically.
- What percentage of your budget needs to be allocated to this ministry?
- If you need funds, can you organize a capital campaign or apply for a loan?
- Is it easy for your members to donate online through your website or an app, such as Givelify or Tithe.ly?
- Could Disciples Church Extension Fund (DCEF) help you obtain funds? DCEF offers Emergency Loans at a special interest rate for the purchase of technical equipment. We also provide Capital Campaign Services. For more information, contact us for an Initial Consultation at no charge.
Because of the current pandemic crisis, church leaders have had to become more innovative to continue ministering to their people and to extend their outreach into communities both near and far. Let’s take advantage of this time, and technology, to share God’s love, grace and hope with all.
Rev. Rosario Ibarra provides congregations with culturally relevant strategic planning, building planning, capital fundraising, and loan and investment services. Her fiscal expertise is geared toward meeting congregational building planning and funding needs, for both Spanish and English-speaking congregations. Rosario grew up in Lima, Peru, where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. She went on to receive a Master of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California and work in the fields of public relations and finance. Rosario lives in Los Angeles, CA, serving congregations in the western United States (including Hawaii and Alaska).
For 137 years, DCEF has offered mission-driven building and capital planning services to congregations and organizations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. Together with our investors and partners, we are Disciples helping Disciples.