Zoom has been our church’s platform of choice to host our services, life groups and leadership meetings online during lockdown. So far there have been positives and challenges during this time as we are learning to operate effectively as a church remotely.
We have continued to structure our main service on a Sunday to include things we normally would: singing, prayer, a sermon. But one of the things we take a lot more time over now we are online is a time for checking-in. Each person is invited to share how their week has gone and how they are coping during lockdown. Even as a small church (typically 15-20 people on-line) this can take a long time but has proved valuable as an important way for people to offload (particularly for those who may be lonely or struggling), to draw attention to prayer points and to bring us closer together as a church family. It is a real eye-opener to hear peoples’ stories each week and especially important since we are unable to chat over coffee before/after our service as we normally would. It has also been very encouraging to welcome and worship virtually with those who would not usually be able to join us in person on a Sunday due to distance. This has included one of the missionaries we support in France.
Communion is a central part of our Sunday service and we have continued to share it together online. We do this in essentially the same way as we would normally within the service, with each person having their own bread and wine/juice ready at home and then eating and drinking together. This is a special time and has helped our Zoom call feel a bit more like a service than just another work meeting or family catch-up.
Staying connected as a church during the week is usually done through our WhatsApp group in which we share anything from a poignant worship song to points for prayer. We now also provide a YouTube link to a video recording of our Sunday service made through the Zoom system. In addition to this we have also set up a series of daily devotions (about 5 minutes long), one for each day of the week, to encourage discussion amongst the church. These have been audio recordings which allow for easier circulation using both email and Whatsapp.
Valuable lessons we have learnt (some more obvious than others!) include:
- The host should mute all participants at key times to avoid distraction e.g. while singing or during the sermon
- The screen-share function is a useful tool to show sermon notes or song lyrics
- Times of open prayer don’t function as well virtually and nominating people to pray has worked better
- YouTube videos can be used for hymns/songs, taking the pressure off musicians to play live
- “Video-on” for all works best. It is harder to connect with each other when you can’t see each other
- Those who don’t have computers or smart phones can phone in to join the service, though it is harder for them without visual contact.
Some key questions we are currently grappling with as a leadership team are:-
- How do we continue to care for our vulnerable and lonely members remotely? And similarly, how to support those who have yet to participate in any remote activities?
- While we are managing to keep in regular contact with our own church members, most of our regular outreach efforts have been postponed for the foreseeable future. How do we still reach out to the community when the doors to our building are closed?
Alice Kilpatrick: member of the Leadership team, Highgate International Church London