Corporate Worship Amidst the Coronavirus
Everyone is well-aware of the impact the coronavirus is having around the world. We are seeing hardest hit areas moving to extremes of asking people to not gather in public assemblies, work from home, stay in their communities, keep distances from people when around others, etc. We hope and pray that our communities will not face such a crisis in the coming days, weeks or months, but I believe now is a great time for our churches to begin thinking through contingency plans for how we can continue to worship and minister in extreme measures such as these.
Fortunately, there are many great technologies that can help us in continuing to gather, teach, worship and share. This article will help you think through potential plans to engage with your congregation should the time come that the numbers are greatly reduced or you are asked to temporarily not gather at all.
While Still Meeting, Yet Mindful of Prevention
The coronavirus and flu are both in our areas now. We are being asked by health officials to be vigilant in doing things that will prevent or slow the spread of infectious diseases. Consider these things now:
- Ask people to not shake hands or hug (some are substituting waves or elbow bumps).
- Add hand sanitizer stations in several places and encourage its use. Check out the CDC information on this.
- Help educate your congregation to the importance of frequent and thorough hand washing. Check out the CDC information on this.
- Think through the method of distribution of the Lord’s Supper to make it safer.
Reduced Crowds While At-Risk Congregants Stay Home
In many places, leaders have asked the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions that make them more at risk to stay away from large gatherings. If this request to your area, you may see a large portion of your church no longer coming for worship during those weeks. We should begin now to plan for ways to continue to meet their worship and small group needs even in isolation.
Since you still have some congregants physically present, you can continue with worship and small groups as before, just at reduced numbers. You will need to make sure that those that cannot attend can still virtually attend the services and be able to worship from their homes. If you do not already have systems/technologies in place to do this, begin NOW to make plans for this.
Consider livestreaming your services.
Providing video and audio of your services will help those who cannot attend feel a part of the services. Strive for great quality, if possible, especially if this is going to be an ongoing ministry. Too many churches have poor quality in their streaming, and this reflects poorly on your church.
There are many things to consider, such as camera and other hardware, streaming services, paid or free options, etc. Take a look at this excellent article that will help you navigate these issues.
You will need a streaming license for streaming the music in your service. If you are only streaming music from worship services, CCLI’s Church Streaming License will probably be all you need. If you stream other music (see the next section) you may need to get a more all-encompassing license offered by CCS – the WORSHIPcast license.
You can also archive these livestreams for on-demand viewing outside of service times.
Set up virtual small group meetings.
If you have small group/Sunday School classes that meet on campus, consider allowing at-home members to join by video chat (or at least by audio). The class continues to meet if enough people are on site, and those at home can join by a video conferencing platform.
Your church must have sufficient bandwidth for your internet service to pull off several classes utilizing these services simultaneously. If you do not, consider only connecting by audio.
There are many possibilities for connecting by video. There are many great subscription services. One that I use often is Zoom. Here is a list of several free options, each with certain limitations. In my research, I would recommend you take a good look at Lifesize that offers a free plan for connecting up to 25 people (separate streams) with up to 90 minutes of meeting time. (If you need more time, take a 15-minute break and reconnect!)
No Longer Meeting Together
At some point, your church may be asked to suspend its gatherings. You still want to help and encourage your people to worship and make disciples. With no one gathering for corporate worship, your technology utilization will change some.
Consider livestreaming or just posting video resources for worship at home.
Now that you have no one in attendance, you can either plan to just offer pre-recorded video resources for your people each week or you can plan to do a “live broadcast” of those materials (that might include a livestream of the sermon ad other portions) at the normal worship time each week with archival resources for later viewing.
Plan A: Pre-recorded Weekly Resources
You can prepare these resources at any time before the week they are needed. I would suggest using your church’s webpage to embed all these resources in one place. Additionally, you can use social media to post the resources or to link to the webpage you have prepared. Resources may include:
- Weekly sermon, pre-recorded. May be from the usual worship center setting or more intimately from a home or office. Could be usual style or more of a fireside chat feel
- Worship music. You can simply embed YouTube lyric videos to guide your people’s singing at home, but many of these are in bad keys for average people to sing. To make it more personal and provide better arrangements, consider getting a small group together to record a number of songs on a few videos that can be used during this period. You can add words to the videos or merely produce a downloadable PDF with song lyrics and perhaps other worship resources to accompany the service. If you have great recordings of previous worship services, consider extracting some of the worship songs segments over several months to stand alone for use at this time.
- A form for submitting prayer requests. These requests can be compiled and later distributed to the congregation through email or other channels.
- Daily devotionals (could be brief videos you prepare or downloadable documents).
You will need a streaming license for streaming the music. If you are only streaming music from worship services, CCLI’s Church Streaming License will probably be all you need. If you stream other music (not recorded in an actual worship service) you may need to get a more all-encompassing license offered by CCS – the WORSHIPcast license.
Plan B: Something of a Live Broadcast Approach
There is value in bringing together your entire congregation at the same time for worship virtually. It provides more of a feeling of togetherness even though you are physically apart. Here you can livestream the message, welcome, prayers, etc. and be a VJ of sorts to play the prerecorded worship music segments and encourage people at home to sing along. Many streaming platforms allow people to use a chat app at the same time, so there can be some interaction with sharing concerns, etc.
Once the mostly-live session is completed, you can archive the entire service for those that were not able to connect at that time can participate later.
Set up virtual small group meetings.
If you have small group/Sunday School classes you can have the entire groups to continue to meet weekly by video chat (or at least by audio). This can be a real plus during this time of not being able to make face-to-face personal connections.
As I mentioned earlier, there are many possibilities for connecting by video. There are many great subscription services. One that I use often is Zoom. Here is a list of several free options, each with certain limitations. In my research, I would recommend you take a good look at Lifesize that offers a free plan for connecting up to 25 people (separate streams) with up to 90 minutes of meeting time. (If you need more time, take a 15-minute break and reconnect!). Subscription services allow for unlimited time and hundreds of connections if you need larger capacity.
Make plans now to make the best of these uncertain times and providing continuing opportunities for worship and discipleship utilizing a virtual environment.
Additionally, if you do not already have a portal for people to give online, this may be a good time to set that up. Here are some possibilities for these services.