Because of the coronavirus, most churches have taken their Sunday morning worship online. Due to continued restrictions and safety measures, many more are now considering other ways to host virtual church.
The technology used for virtual worship can be used to make almost any service or meeting accessible to people who cannot be present in person. Teleconferencing, Zoom and Facebook Live as well as other platforms and programs can allow your staff and congregants to meet virtually for any number of reasons:
- business meetings
- staff meetings
- committee meetings
- sermon/teaching services
- baptismal services
- choir practices
- worship services
- mission services
- Sunday school or small group meetings
- holiday services or events
Meeting virtually or by telephone offers participants the opportunity to stay safe during the pandemic and can also be more convenient for some. It gives the church a way to continue its mission of spreading the Gospel and provides congregants with the opportunity to stay informed, participate and continue to build community even when the church isn’t able to host in-person gatherings.
However, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
While anyone can worship anywhere, there is a sense of sacredness found in a church sanctuary. While services and songs can be listened to in many forms, there is a sense of unity and an atmosphere of worship that comes from communal gathering. Partaking of the bread and wine at your kitchen table isn’t exactly the same as taking communion at a hushed altar among a group of Christian brothers and sisters.
If your church is considering more ways to do virtual church, remember these three things.
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First, check with your conference office and bishop to determine what is and isn’t allowed. For example, while there had been a moratorium on online communion in the past, some bishops are now providing guidance for online communion during the pandemic. Others are encouraging alternative love/agape feasts.
Second, make sure to follow the by-laws of your church and the laws of your state and federal government. For example, some laws regulate online meetings for churches and nonprofits. If business/finance/committee meetings are allowed, there are usually certain specifications that have to be met.
In addition, copyright laws and considerations protect creators’ rights to liturgies, lyrics and music. Due to this year’s extenuating circumstances, The United Methodist Publishing House waived the need to get permission to livestream or record liturgies from the Book of Worship during online services. However, (as of this writing) that waiver has only been extended through July 2021. Since not all artists/publishing companies have made those concessions, make sure that you are broadcasting and livestreaming legally.
Third, stay flexible and be creative. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and find new ways to connect with your church and community. For example, one way to make online worship feel more communal is to encourage watchers to comment during the service. Assign a volunteer to monitor and respond to these comments.
Even if you can’t go virtual for all of your meetings, there are other ways to use virtual meetings and livestreaming beyond the worship service. Some churches have used Zoom’s gallery feature to record virtual choirs. The video is then shared during the primary service. While it isn’t a replacement, seeing a screen full of individuals in different locations all singing together in worship helps mimic a gathering of praise.
“This time of worship during the quarantine is not a quick fix for the meantime, even though many leaders originally thought that way" writes Dr. Diana Sanchez-Bushong. "The reality is that what we have been doing these past few months is actually the start of a new beginning for what lies ahead.”
Virtual church is not going away. Adaptability and creativity are essential if the church is going to continue to minister to the needs of its congregants and the world.
Tricia K. Brown is a writer, editor, keynote speaker and Bible teacher. In addition to being a wife and mother of four sons, she is the sole proprietor of The Girls Get Together, where she and her team provide women's event programs for churches and other organizations. Her latest book, A Year of Yearning: A 12-Month Devotional to Help You Study God's Word More, is available from Amazon.