“How should my church handle the Coronavirus?”
That’s the million dollar question on the mind of every local pastor, staff member, lay leader, volunteer and congregant. And rightfully so. As the situation continues to unfold and change rapidly — with new information, guidelines, gathering size recommendations, and restrictions being released every day — many churches have moved to online-only until this thing blows over. Churches of 100+ congregants are choosing not to meet at all or are streaming their worship services via Facebook Live, YouTube, broadcasting on their websites, church apps, and other various platforms. Many church small groups are taking advantage of video conferencing tools like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, FaceTime, and others, especially since you can’t even meet at a local Starbucks right now (which is probably a sign of the Apocalypse, but I digress.)
Anyway, megachurches naturally have to be careful as they’re, well, bigger than everyone else. I get that. Precaution is a good thing. God gave us brains. Let’s be good little human beings and use them.
But, what about the small churches? The tiny rural ones? What about those churches, like mine, where only 40 people show up on an average Sunday? Should the pastor really cancel worship services and midweek gatherings right now?
Well, I’ll be the first to say, particularly as the son of a pastor, that this decision should obviously rest on the shoulders of the pastor and elders and should be made on a case-by-case basis as we all continue to pray and follow the latest news updates. Just because the small church around the corner cancelled doesn’t mean we have to cancel. My church met last week even though most of those in our surrounding community didn’t and more likely won’t next Sunday. My dad believes very strongly in what the author of Hebrews says in chapter 10, verse 25: “…not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (ESV)
So, at least for the foreseeable future, we’ll still be gettin’ our Jesus on. Did some folks stay home last week? Yeah. But, that was bound to happen.
Now, with that being said, let me be very clear: Small churches where the majority of the congregation is made up of senior citizens would be wise to temporarily suspend worship services during this pandemic as the elderly are at an increased risk of contracting the virus, as well as those individuals with preexisting or underlying health conditions. This is where modern technology like live-streaming and social media communication will, and has, come in handy for the Church.
For small churches who have never attempted to broadcast their services or even implement social media into their church communications strategy this can all seem incredibly overwhelming and daunting. Suddenly you’ve found yourself thrust into a world you don’t understand and everyone is recommending that you execute a halfway decent production on Sunday so that they can watch from home. But don’t be discouraged. You don’t need to have the budget of Marvel Studios or the camera equipment of Elevation Church to deliver your sermon to your people. If you have a smartphone and dependable WiFi, you’re halfway there.
Which Streaming Service Is Best For Me?
Before deciding whether you’re going to go with Facebook Live, YouTube, or something else, ask yourself where the majority of your congregation hangs out online or where they would be most inclined to visit. I would be willing to guess most of them are on Facebook.
Is It OK To Livestream To My Personal Profile?
I work with and help a lot of pastors at small churches who don’t have Communications Directors or people to manage and run digital and social media for their ministry. Some of them are lucky just to have PowerPoint in their sanctuaries. For this reason, their church usually doesn’t even have a Facebook Page or YouTube channel because the pastor doesn’t have the knowledge and training — much less the time — to implement it and operate it. That’s not his fault, it’s just reality.
So yes, if you’re a small church pastor needing to communicate with your people via Facebook during COVID-19, live-streaming to your personal profile is perfectly fine. If there’s anyone in the church who’s not currently on your friends list, now is the time to take care of that. Use your livestreams to speak hope and encouragement to your people, preach your sermons, do Bible study lessons, whatever you like. You can worry about creating a Facebook Page and/or Facebook Group for your church after our nation pulls through this whole ordeal. (And it will.)
What Should We Be Posting To Our Social Media Channels During COVID-19?
People are scared, anxious, fearful, and even downright paranoid and terrified. And many of them are now in quarantine in their homes consuming way too much TV news and spending endless hours scrolling social media newsfeeds cluttered with depressing headlines, wild conspiracy theories, and stories about death and disease. If your church is on any or all of the major platforms — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter — you have the opportunity to bring some faith, encouragement, and reassurance into the midst of this bleak ordeal.
But you’ve gotta be able to do what we in the Church Comms World refer to as “Stop the scroll.” You’ve got to be able to craft a post and an accompanying graphic that is linguistically and visually engaging enough to cause someone to stop the scroll and think, “Hey I want to check that out.” Whether it’s an encouraging Scripture verse, a funny question designed to elicit comments, a quote from your pastor, a video snippet, whatever the case may be — make sure it’s visually engaging enough to grab their attention. You can see my previous blog post for some thoughts and tips on social media engagement.
Things Will Be Different For A While, And That’s OK.
I’m not a conspiracy theorist nor do I have a crystal ball, but there’s something I believe we all need to wrap our heads around: This whole Coronavirus thing isn’t going to disappear overnight. It won’t be gone tomorrow. It won’t be gone next week or next month. We need to start adjusting now to the changes we’re going to have to implement in order to continue to function as the Church. Yes, churches will eventually return to their physical buildings at some point, but right now we need to concentrate on meeting our people where they are. Even if that means meeting them on Facebook.