Experts in every field say that this is an unprecedented time, full of unprecedented decisions. At first I was uncertain whether that statement was valid, but now I know it’s an absolute fact! During this time we are all wrestling with the seemingly unanswerable questions such as, “How to we keep our church engaged in worship,” “how do we keep our church connected with each other?” and “how do we keep our church growing in the Lord?” These are daunting questions that produce immediate ministry strategies for this season as well as long-lasting ramifications following this pandemic. Some of the most baffling issues at hand didn’t come with simple or quick solutions and, to add insult to injury, most church leaders still aren’t satisfied that their tactics during COVID-19 were the paths of least resistance, let alone the correct ones. The following is a discussion of several approaches and tactics that worked for my team while ministering in a church-online eco-system.
Looking back at the week leading up to Sunday, March 22, our Executive Team made the difficult decision that, due to the impending Coronavirus season in front of us, we would be closing our physical church campus to all activities starting that coming Sunday, which meant we had to pivot, quickly!
Online Church Had To Connect With Steve
That’s my name for him: successful, family-man, loves Jesus, not a singer, not very demonstrative in corporate worship, thinks country music stopped being country music once George Strait retired, still thinks 10,000 Reasons is a new song … you know the type! He was our target … we had to engage Steve (and his family) with our online experiences and, as my creative team and I wrestled with this task, it became clear that that our worship had to be 3 things:
Full of prayer and Scripture
Intimate in style
These three core pillars of our online experience denoted that our current worship style would need to adjust in order for us to effectively transition the worship experience from the campus to the couch. Some context: The Church at Quail Creek is a “middle-of-the-road,” blended worship expression that is led by choir, orchestra, band, and front worship leaders (praise team); we minister weekly with a band and orchestra prelude and with a large choir anthem several times a month, an overall format that was too large for the intimate, engaging setting we were trying to create.
Prayer and Scripture – This was a high focus for us. Awesome lights weren’t going to help Steve through this season the way fervent prayer and Scripture-infused worship would, so we programmed these moments into the experiences, intentionally stopping to give prayer- and Scripture-filled moments time to breathe.
Hyper-engaging – To retain the focus of those worshipping from home, we used familiar songs and hymns, sung in lower keys and in shorter song structures than in our on-campus experiences: 15-minute sermons and worship experiences of 35 minutes total.
Intimate in style – To lead our online experiences, we used a smaller team of 2-3 singers, 2 guitars, piano or keys, and djembe or drum set.
Challenge 2: Moving Online Church Back To The Campus
A growing concern in the heart of most church leaders is, “Now that our people have become accustomed to church on their couch, will they come back?” That’s a tough question to wrestle with. I believe the return-to-normal will be a slower one, where a sizeable portion of most church populations will remain at home on Sunday until the end of the summer, if not later into the fall. As my team and I worked to develop a path for navigating this second pivot—to facilitate the movement back to our church campus, and to keep those choosing to remain at home engaged during this prolonged season—we came up with several solutions:
Church won’t be like it used too – Instead of returning to our big production and large music teams, for the remainder of this season we are mirroring the feel and format of our online experience developed during phase one of COVID-19. This will help us to stylistically maintain continuity for our people as they transition back to worshipping on our church campus and will aid in retaining the hyper-engaging qualities of our online experience during this season, which has grown our numeric attendance.
We won’t revert – While our on-campus service is broadcasted at 10:15am-noon online, we’ve made the intentional decision to continue pre-filming and post-mixing online content (or, rather, at-home worship experience) which will also be used for our Sunday TV show. It will be excellent, engaging, and in a more acoustic, stripped-back, intimate style. This worship experience is released online at noon on Sundays, where it will remain for the week as our “worship on-demand.”
Online/Zoom Bible Studies – Once Sunday morning Bible studies resume we will continue to offer multiple Zoom Bible study classes to engage with those unable to attend, and as a companion resource to our online worship experience.
We don’t know what church will look like on the other side of the COVID-19 season; we may be gearing up for a third pivot! We do hold on to this truth, Jesus will build his church: he is faithful in that endeavor. Prayerfully, I hope the COVID-19 season is nearing the homestretch, and it’s my deep desire that the global church will take the pivots and turns forced upon it with regard to ministering in the arena of technology as a way to become more effective at evangelism, discipleship, and (leading) worship.