In the second chapter of Acts we find the story of the fledgling start of the Christian church. Those beginning days were filled with amazing hospitality, inspiring sermons, and, of course, the coming of the Holy Spirit. After Pentecost, we are told of the explosive growth of the church as well as the central habits of that body of believers. In Acts 2:42 (NRSV), we learn about the core practices of the believers: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers,” and verse 47 tells us that “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (NRSV).
During an average season of church ministry, these are instructive guidelines for what we should focus on with our congregations and churches. But these are not average times. With the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we are faced with ministry realities that are both unprecedented and disorienting.
How do we shepherd our flocks from a distance? How can we engage in evangelism, discipleship, and compassionate ministry without group gatherings and in-person interactions?
These times call for a reimagining of what it means to be the church. We must stay true to the message of Jesus Christ while reshaping how we share that good news in a new era of ministry. We must follow the DNA of Acts 2—preaching, discipleship, community, and prayer—in new ways in a world experiencing social distancing amid a pandemic. To that end, here are some resources to help you reimagine church in the coming days:
Facebook. One of the easiest ways to share sermons, teachings, and socially distanced worship is Facebook Live. With Facebook Live, you can livestream videos through your personal or church Facebook page. Facebook Live is also a great way to invite your congregants to share your services and/or sermons with their friends. One way they can spread the word about your livestreams is through Facebook Watch Parties, which allows your watchers to host conversations through the comment section during the livestream. Now is also a great time to create or update Facebook Pages and Facebook Groups for your church (and for specific ministries of your church as well).
YouTube. Another popular platform for sharing video content with your congregation. Simply go to Youtube and search for tutorials for setting up a YouTube channel for your church. There are multiple videos that can walk you through it.
Church Online. This free platform from Life.Church (who also created the YouVersion Bible app) provides livestreaming for your services with additional tools to allow for more meaningful interactions and conversations with those who tune in.
FreeOnlineChurch.com. com. Another option for livestreaming services and messages is this free platform from Outreach Magazine.
Anchor podcasts. Anchor is a great app if you want to create podcast content of your teachings, announcements, or Bible studies. This tool makes it simple to record content on your phone and share it as a podcast without a large investment in equipment or time.
Important note on copyright licensing: Make sure your church is within legal requirements for streaming services with copyrighted worship songs. The easiest way to protect yourself is to acquire a copyright license from CCLI. If you follow that link you’ll be taken to a page where you can order or renew your license. You can also change your location by country as well as your language.
Conference calls. Whether it’s a Sunday school class or a youth group gathering, you can use audio-only or video conference calls to allow for discussion, teaching, and games. Encourage your various Sunday schools and small groups to continue meeting each week via one of these technological tools. Options for this include:
Facebook Messenger. If you create a group on Facebook Messenger, you can have a fun, interactive video call with up to fifty people. You can find more info here.
Zoom is my favorite tool right now. With tiered pricing plans that include a free option, Zoom is usable regardless of budget restrictions. One of the coolest options Zoom offers is dividing your group into breakout rooms if you want to have multiple smaller groups discussing a topic simultaneously. Zoom Support offers video tutorials to aid you in making the most of its platform.
Bible apps. Encourage your church members to read the Bible individually or in groups through apps such as YouVersion or the Streetlights app, which streams audio readings of the Bible (great for young adults and youth).
Reimagine the bulletin. With limited in-person interactions, keeping your congregation up to date on announcements will be tricky (which, if we’re being honest, is always hard to do anyway). Consider creating a PDF file of your bulletin to email to congregants or post online. You might also consider mailing printed announcements and/or bulletins to those in your congregation with limited internet access or technological ability. Make sure to include an encouraging note and devotional thought too!
Mailchimp. Mailchimp is an easy-to-use email newsletter tool that you can use to send ongoing resources and updates to your congregation.
Social media. Be sure to keep any existing social media accounts for your church (along with your church’s website) updated with the newest information and resources for your church.
Phone calls. Put simply, phone calls are the most important tool at our disposal as church leaders right now. With in-person interactions limited, it will be absolutely vital for pastors to check on their parishioners with phone calls. This is also a great opportunity to empower board members, Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, and associate staff. Challenge your lay leaders and other staff members to share with you the joy of calling and checking in on those in their groups and ministries. Two important notes: make sure you call from a number people will recognize (in-state area codes), and use this time to update your church directory if needed.
Text messages. In addition to phone calls, send text messages to check in on members of your congregation. You can also create group text messages to have larger conversations about prayer requests, daily scriptures, or church updates. One example would be a group text for your men’s ministry with a daily scripture every morning.
Marco Polo. This app is a great tool for a small group that wants to stay in touch—even with crazy, divergent life schedules. You can record and share video messages within the group and others can view and respond at their own convenience. Practically, it functions as a combination of a group text message but with a video component.
Pen pals/text pals. Encourage individuals to write physical letters or text messages a few times a week to others in your church and community. This is a great way to combat boredom and isolation for those homebound at this time.
Prayer Line. One of the features offered by FreeConferenceCall.com, Prayer Line is a free tool to help bring together your church in prayer.
Send out prayer requests weekly through email. You can do this using Mailchimp or through whatever newsletter service your church may already have in place.
Finally, funding the mission of our churches will be one of the hardest conversations and deepest prayers in the coming weeks as all of our churches feel the financial burden of this time. We must continue to share the stories of the work of the church during this time and consistently invite our faith communities to continue to participate in that mission financially. These reminders can be sent in a variety of ways, but they will be mostly ineffective if our churches are not set up for online giving. Here is a blog post outlining five online giving platforms you can consider using in the days to come if your church does not already offer this option.
We currently have the opportunity to shepherd our flocks in ways that would have been impossible throughout most of human history. Using technology and unceasing prayer, we can care for our congregations in meaningful ways while also helping flatten the curve. May these tools help you reimagine church and equip you to lead your congregation into this new age of ministry.