12 Hopeful Signs from Worship Leaders During the 'Safer at Home' Quarantine
By Cynthia Wilson, Diana Sanchez-Bushong, Derek Weber, and Carol Ann Smolka
The Worship Team of Discipleship Ministries gathered worship practitioners from across the country for a conversation about worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. We wanted to hear from pastors and lay worship leaders of various types of congregations about how things were going. The full recorded conversations are available here:
We were encouraged by what we heard from these individuals. The transition from “in-the-building” worship to online-only worship was difficult, and the learning curve was steep. Yet, despite the difficulties, there are signs of hope and thoughts and practices to build on for the future. Here are some of the things we learned.
- The making of disciples has not slipped to the back burner during this crisis; it remains front and center in the practice of these church leaders. Certainly, there was a giant leap into the unknown when the shelter-in-place order went into effect. But alongside the technological headaches and the extreme shift of worship planning, there was the constant desire to not just fill the time, but to build up the body of Christ, to enhance individual lives, strengthen relationships, and weave lives together with God in new and deeper ways.
- There has been a shift from the church building to kin-dom building, and this time affords us a unique opportunity to reach out in new ways. Suddenly, all that seemed important to the local church has changed. The church has not disappeared; it has grown larger. We are thinking less about our buildings and more about our communities, both those already a part of the church, and those surrounding the family we are becoming.
- Church leaders found comfort in sharing their ideas and concerns in an online community. The level of comfort began to rise as the interview progressed. Interviewees were willing and eager to learn from one another. The idea of churches as individual franchises in competition with one another is fading. We are all in the same boat, rowing in the same direction.
- Church is wherever people find life. Worship planners and leaders are finding ways of making the online worship experience engaging by creating simultaneous ritual — lighting candles together, singing together, engaging in a love feast, and more.
- For many local churches, online worship attendance and giving has surpassed in-house worship before the COVID-19 pandemic. While many admit that accurate counts are difficult, the metrics show a lot more contact being made through various media than their attendance counts reflect. This is, in part, because there are new ways of making contact, and there are new places where “church” happens.
- Churches discovered the true value of the shepherding role versus the overseeing—preaching role in local churches. AND
- Churches have been intentional about acknowledging and involving existing and new members. The distinct roles within the life of the church have shifted and changed in this time. We are finding value in every voice, regardless of people’s credentials. The roles that continue have changed focus and have found new ways of accomplishing the tasks before them in partnership with the whole body.
- Homebound members appreciate being able to see, hear, and somewhat participate in the worship experience. Perhaps more than ever, those who had been unable to gather in person, now are a part of the larger whole, since everyone is unable to gather. This causes leaders to reconsider how they will continue to include those who are separate.
- Imperfections in services are more quickly forgiven at this time – it is an opportunity for pastors to experience grace from their congregations and an opportunity for them to learn and grow in new ways. No matter the level of training, no one is an expert in online worship. It is too new. The community applauds the attempt in significant ways. What matters is connection more than performance.
- Church leaders realize that non-members will give to missional programing when they are given the opportunity. There is great concern about the financial future of the church, as with many other parts of the economy. But there are signs that given proper motivation and information, people are willing to give, particularly to mission efforts. The value of the narrative budget is becoming even more clear.
- Those who are new to the online experience are having to learn technology, identify and train volunteers in the use of equipment, and find donors who will underwrite the costs for equipment and training. Volunteers and knowledge are being shared among congregations in amazing ways. Churches adept at online giving, for example, are helping those that have not yet begun to explore it. Churches that have been using online formats previously are now finding the real value in them and will not see them as an “extra” in the future.
- This time is not a waiting time until we can "return to normal," but an opportunity to develop new efforts that will continue to drive the church, even after the quarantine is lifted. New ministries are thriving in this new world and will continue even after the strict separation is ending. The learning curve is still steep, but new efforts and new opportunities arise all the time.
There are many more insights to glean from the conversation. Please take a moment to go to the link above and listen to the interaction of the participants. Your signs of hope may include some of these or may be different. Please share them with others in your area and with your district superintendent and conference leadership.
- Here are some helpful resources if you are struggling to get online worship technology going: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/online-worship-music-resources-for-livestreaming.
- Resources for focusing on intentional discipleship systems: https://www.seeallthepeople.org/resources-downloads.
- For Online Small Groups: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/making-the-most-of-online-small-groups, and https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/using-digital-technologies-for-faith-formation.
- For Youth Group Issues: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/safe-sanctuaries-supporting-a-shift-to-online-youth-ministry-meetings.
- For Financial Matters: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/local-church-finance-procedures-during-the-covid-19-crisis, and https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/cares-act.