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I've seen a lot of talk over the last week about when and how the church will reopen.
There are checklists, webinars, roundtables, and “expert” opinions.
We know it’s going to be different, but we want to meet again. We want to get back to “normal.”
If we're being honest, we've had enough of this isolation thing. It's taking a toll. The economic implications are starting to wear on us. And as believers, we have a desire to be with our people.
We miss gathering on Sunday. We miss that part of church. It’s more than human nature—there’s something theological happening here, too. The church is supposed to gather. Christians are supposed to meet.
But as states lift Executive Orders, I actually want to encourage you NOT to open up too soon. Even though we want to. Even though our people want to. Even though there’s something inside pushing us to.
Here are three reasons not to rush back to meeting.
Public perception is a big deal.
I’m seeing way too many churches and pastors in the news for the wrong reason.
Lawsuits, threats, protests. These are words I’m reading in news stories about CHURCHES. The media is focusing on these negative stories (because that’s typically what the media does), not the stories about churches serving the community, meeting needs, and being socially responsible. If you’re labeled reckless, much of the good you’re doing will be glossed over.
And your story will contribute to a meta-narrative. We share in each other’s successes and we share in each other’s shortcomings. To the outside world, many churches are all the same. So, what we do affects the whole. This isn’t just a church issue: businesses, states, and programs that open up too soon run the risk of being labeled reckless.
Medical safety aside, there’s a big perception risk.
Even though you want to get back to meeting and your people want to get back to normal, this is not a race. There’s no prize for being first. In this case, those who go first might suffer even more of a public backlash.
The second reason I don’t think you should rush back is that this is not only the perception of the community but the perception of your church members.
For years and years, we have preached that the church is not a building. We’ve told our people not just to come to a service but go into the world. There are churches that have signs on their doors as people are walking out that say, “You are now entering the mission field” or “go be the church.” Even as we moved online, we encouraged our members to “be the church,” warning them against reducing everything to a livestream or online service.
So, what does it say if on the very front end when we can meet again—even when lots of people were advising against it and having questions—we rush back?
One of our ministry coaches, Matt, posted this in our Facebook group. He said, “Those churches that hurry back to worship will give members the perception that they need the public gathering to truly be the church. So all the things we've been telling them all along about church happening, wherever you are, we'll sound hypocritical now.”
I know we want to gather. I know we want to meet again. And that's a good thing. But if you make it all about the meeting, then we are reinforcing the opposite of what we’ve been trying to teach.
It doesn't mean that the gatherings are unimportant or that they are not crucial to who we are.
But don’t give your people the wrong idea that we can't be who we need to be without gathering in a building.
The third reason, and perhaps the most important reason, is you shouldn't exhaust your resources trying to solve temporary problems.
There is a thankfulness that will emerge out of this time as a lot of churches are rethinking what they're doing. They are looking at their strategy, their ministry, and their programming in light of cultural change. There’s a bit of a reset happening
Five years from now, when we look back on this time, we will realize we re-evaluated quite a bit.
We redefined the term “essential.” We built muscles we didn’t even know we had. We learned a lot of things we didn’t want to learn but they turned out to be helpful. We figured out how to expand our digital footprint. We learned how to build a community online. We learned how to be incredibly responsive. We flexed an innovation muscle.
But what if we paused during this intermediate time and thought more deeply now? In the time between when we can legally gather and when we should gather, what if we leveraged our time to continue getting good at things that can help us for years to come?
These new skills and muscles we're developing will help us for years to come, not just the last few weeks.
Yes, we could rush back and quickly figure out changing guidelines, investing tons of man-hours and resources into solving a temporary problem. Or we could continue to build digital momentum, holding back the tide, until it’s not just safe but when it can truly kickstart momentum.
Build skills that you can use for the long haul; don’t just scramble to solve problems that only provide a quick fix.
We should view this pause as an opportunity to reset, not just rush back because we miss what we had. Of course, we miss our gatherings, but let’s not just run back to what is comfortable and familiar. Let’s embrace this time of learning and experimenting
Alan Hirsh said this…
“If you want to learn how to play chess, you should start by removing your own queen. Once you’ve mastered the game without the most powerful piece, then put the queen back in and see how good you are! For the church, the Sunday service is our queen. We’ve been relying on it too much. Now that the queen has been taken off the board it’s time to rediscover what all the other pieces can do.”
When you gather again, you will have new skills. You will be better.
It's not that we want to forever do church without the gatherings. We want to have those things, and we need to bring those things back. But it’s okay to temporarily build other parts of a healthy church. It doesn’t make the queen unimportant, it just means it’s not all about the queen.
Maybe this time of waiting is an opportunity.
And to come back better.
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Working remotely is being forced upon millions of people, and it's not all bad.
Many people in your congregation suddenly find themselves working from home, and it will be a big adjustment. In addition, thousands of parents are unsure about how they are supposed to do their job from home while being a parent at the same time. It’s a strange new world for a lot of people.
And you might be facing this challenge yourself.
Many churches are encouraging staff members to work from home. While there are some challenges, it’s a good thing.
Let’s talk about some ways to make it work for you.
There are so many tools and services that make it possible for a lot of people to work from home. Here are some of the most popular tools.
There are plenty of others: Asana, Trello, Monday.com, and the list goes on and on. The bottom line is there are tools and services to help you manage nearly every aspect of working remotely.
Experiment quickly with a few tools but go ahead and make a decision. A lot of tools will work for you and the sooner you start mastering some, the more effective you will be.
The biggest challenges in working from home are not choosing the right tools but developing a new pattern. Many people in your church are struggling through this. You might be facing it, too.
Church Fuel began as a remote company and working from home is in our DNA. Here are some best practices we’ve learned first-hand along the way.
1. Set a schedule.
Even if you don’t have to be “in the office” at 9am, determine a schedule and stick to it. Work/home boundaries can be tough when it’s all the same thing so start with your schedule. Run your morning routine, get dressed, and go to work just like you’re working in an office.
2. Create a work space.
Whether you have a home office or find space for a desk in the corner of a room, create a space that’s dedicated to your work. Not only will this help you reinforce your routine, it will help others in your house understand when you’re at work and when you’re at home.
3. Get support and buy in from others in your home.
If you’re working from home and there are others in the house, you need to help them understand and support your work reality. You need boundaries so you can focus on work and not get distracted with laundry, entertainment or projects. But others need to understand and support your space, too.
4. Stay connected.
One of the toughest things for people leaving a traditional office environment to work from home is the feeling of isolation. This is a very real thing.
Remember, the people in your church who are affected by a change in work location are also struggling to stay connected with people. They are more isolated, which means they need connection to their church community even more.
Check out the insanely practical tools that churches use to manage ministry teams remotely.
(What about you? Find and share mode ideas online at covid.church)
Our lives have changed rapidly, and with that so have our methods of living. But it’s not all for naught. We are forging new ground to go be the church outside of our own church walls. To bring the church to people, right where they are.
When the news about COVID-19 began influencing large gatherings, all churches scrambled to figure out what to do when they couldn’t gather in person on Sunday.
That realization quickly extended to other ministries too. We need to consider how we can continue not just our adults services, but also our students. And we need to create new opportunities for students to stay connected.
Students' lives have been significantly affected during this time – nearly every environment in their lives has been disrupted. School, friends, work, and church are all completely different than they were a few weeks ago. If this is tough for you as an adult, it is exponentially more difficult for a teenager.
It’s important to provide a sense of normalcy.
Here’s Kenny Cambpell, co-founder of Stuff You Can Use: A Youth Ministry Community…
To be honest, “adult” church is actually way ahead of kids/student ministry when it comes to live streaming. 99.9% of youth ministries haven’t started live streaming until this week whereas adults have been doing it for years.
Kids/youth ministry online is new. There’s some people like Tj McConahay who have been killing it on social media (TJ specifically is great with TikTok), but those are more like bonus material. Doing kids/youth ministry 100% remote is new territory.
But we’ll be keeping our eyes open and paying attention to what people are doing in the Stuff You Can Use Facebook groups, and sharing all the new ideas that will be popping up in the coming weeks.
Check out the insanely practical ways that churches are using technology for student ministry.
Most of the livestreaming advice that applies to church services will also apply to your student ministry. But there are a few student-specific pointers that will help you serve students better.
Other live streaming options for students include…
If your student ministry has small groups, it’s not a huge jump to shift them online meeting using a tool like Zoom.
It’s one of the more popular video call solutions and has been helping people work remotely for years. But it’s also a great tool for online small groups.
Right now, they are extending their free trial, essentially removing their 40-minute limit. One of the cool features of Zoom is breakout rooms. You could have a large group teaching time and then split students up into their respective small groups.
Relationships, more than programming, have always been the driving force behind student ministry. As great as it is to provide an online service or digital gathering, it might be more important to stay connected throughout the week. This just might be one place where student ministry is ahead of adult ministry.
Brian Lawson shares some great ideas….
GroupMe is a great way to stay connected to students outside of events, even during times when you can gather. Many students already use this for school, sports, or church.
Cameron Pedicord and Jonathan McKee have some great ideas for how you can help students grow spiritually and stay connected during this time.
Here are some good ones:
More than ever, students need caring adults to lean in and facilitate connections. Students already live their lives digitally, but this is a new opportunity for the church, and a new opportunity for your ministry.
Connection and community may not be happening at our campuses, but we can, and should, make sure that it’s happening online. It is our job to come alongside our people and equip them throughout the week. It may not happen in the lobby, but it can happen online in digital groups.
When it comes to Sunday services, we’re seeing churches use language like this…
That same thing can apply to your small groups or Sunday School classes.
You don’t have to cancel your groups, you can simply move them online.
Encourage your small groups to continue meeting online. While many states are initiating SIP protocals and every state is practicing social distancing, it's important to consider to mental and emotional ramifications of not getting together with other people.
Now, maybe more than ever in our lifetime, small groups matter. A group of researchers found that having strong social ties meant not just healthier minds, but also healthier bodies.
Meeting online can be a challenge, just as meeting in person with no childcare can be a challenge. There is major value and worth in your groups still getting together, no matter the current challenge.
If your small groups are able to meet via video, here are a couple video solutions for online small groups:
We’ve talked about zoom before, but this is a great solution for your groups. Have the leader schedule a zoom call or just start a zoom call and text or email the link. Everyone is able to jump online, see each other, and carry a conversation virtually. Zoom even has a chat feature to share links to devotionals or small group materials.
This is another group conference solution that will work great for online small groups. Most people have a Gmail account, which makes Google Hangouts a breeze. Have the small group create an event in the Google Calendar, and simply invite the other group members within the invite.
Outside of your small group meetings, you can stay in touch with each other during the week. Provide regular check-ins to see if there are any needs, help people feel thought about, or just to laugh about funny memes.
Our favorite places for group conversations
The Group Me app is a great way for groups to stay in touch throughout the week. Similar to a group text, but with Do-Not-Disturb mode and Leaders can ask questions, share prayer requests, and more.
Each small group could set up their own Facebook group and stay in touch that way. Your church might also have a private Facebook group so your members can stay connected.
Some people love them, some people hate them. But if the group isn’t too big, a group text is a great ways to stay in touch.
Marco Polo combines the convenience and privacy of texting and the ease and fun of social media, all in one spot. You can send video or voice messages, do video calls or send text messages either in a group or 1:1.
At the end of the day, it just comes down to preference. The best tool is the one everyone is willing to use. Group leaders need to be encouraged to LEAN IN to their small group. Encouraged to continue to pastor and shepherd people, which means staying connected to them, wherever they are.
The church has left the building. We’re no longer able to gather as a family, which makes our connection to each other more difficult and significantly more important.
When it’s not considered safe to gather in person, it’s time to get creative, utilize technology, and be the Church outside of the building in new ways.
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.
Live Streaming is one way to broadcast your church services. If your church is starting from scratch with live streaming, we’ve put together the things that you’ll need to know. If you’ve been livestreaming for a while now, you are still probably considering new ways to engage people in the new dynamic of “church at home.”
Although people can’t hug and smile at each other as they would in person, you still want your livestreaming church’s experience to be edifying and engaging.
Live Chat While Live Streaming
Most live streaming services have a chat feature that makes the online service interactive. Have staff or volunteers log into the chat and respond to comments and questions and ask questions to engage the online audience.
Comments and questions to engage a livestream audience:
The chat feature is also a wonderful way to make sure that the service is accessible for everyone. For example, one church set up tech support to help senior adults get set up to view the service. Another sent snail mail to every household with instructions on how to watch their service on multiple platforms.
Change Up Service Times.
The same rules don’t apply in the livestreaming world, and your streaming times don’t have to be the same time as your normal church service times. You can choose your livestreaming times based on when your audience is online. Most streaming services have audience insights and for using Facebook live, your page’s Facebook Insights can help you see the most popular online times for your audience.
KEEP IT SIMPLE. Don’t overthink it. Most smartphones can do this.
It’s important to know your congregation and try to anticipate needs and questions. But don’t overthink it—most of this can be done from a smartphone. No matter how simple your setup (even if you’re streaming from an iPhone on your desk), people will appreciate the sharpening and consolation of a sermon and the ability to connect with others.
Big Principle #1: You don’t have to replicate, you can innovate.
Too many churches are trying to reproduce everything from their in-person gathering online. It doesn’t work and it’s a mistake to try.
At least for most churches.
If you’re new to services online, don’t try to recreate everything. An online service can become something new, something fresh.
You can show pre-produced music. Or you can downplay music and corporate worship.
You can share an informal message from home rather than a polished sermon from a stage.
These things are not better or worse…they are different.
And it’s okay to be different.
Big Principle #2: Start where you are.
It’s easier than ever to show up online, and you don’t need fancy equipment and expensive tools to go live online.
Some good news in a time of widespread distress: there’s no shortage of options for live streaming your church services and continuing to share the real good news about Jesus.
Check out the insanely practical tools that churches use to live stream.
Church Online Platform – This streaming tool is a free resource from Life.Church that includes features for real-time chat, live prayer, chat moderation, and more.
Facebook Live – Streaming through Facebook Live is a simple option and a great place to start if you’re new to livestreaming. While it does have its drawbacks, such as the difficulty embedding a replay onto your website and the pressure to pay, it's a simple tool that most everyone is already using.
The best way to get started is easy and free, right? These are not only free to and easy for you to use, they’re easy for people to watch as well.
Before you throw up a camera and start live streaming everything that you would normally do in a worship service, there is one major topic to consider first: music.
Christian Copyright Solutions provides many churches with the licenses they need each week. Did you know that each of the following may require a license by law?
A lot of churches assume that if they have one of these licenses, everything is covered. This isn't the case. For example, many churches use CCLI to cover their in-person worship music. CCLI also has a live streaming add-on license that you’ll need to check into if you plan on going live, since that’s what we’re talking about here.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what they are along with links to more detailed information and action steps (in their own words, since this is all specific legal language).
The WORSHIPcast Streaming License covers more than 25 million secular and Christian songs across all genres from ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, including holiday and patriotic music.
The CCLI Streaming License covers more than 300,000 Christian songs from the CCLI catalog. If your plans are only to stream Christian music, and your church already has a CCL Copyright License, the CCLI streaming license is a good fit. If your church or ministry plans on streaming any music outside the Christian genre, you will need WORSHIPcast.
If you plan on streaming just your worship services, the CCLI streaming license has you covered. For streaming worship services, special events, and guest performances, your church will need the WORSHIPcast license.
Need to show lyrics? This feature is only available with the CCLI license and only for the titles in the CCLI catalog. There is no blanket lyric streaming license for secular music available currently. Neither license allows you to stream sound recordings.
CCS has put together a super-helpful quiz and also free guide to help you make any decisions for your church.
Additionally and for a limited time, One License is offering a free one month license to help ease the transition period for churches dealing with COVID-19.
Check out the insanely practical ways that churches have adjusted their worship for streaming.
For most, the Sunday morning service is the front door to the church.
It’s the first-time people will experience your church community. It’s when people hear and sing the songs, listen to the sermon, and see others. I’m not saying this is all there is (or that it’s even the most important thing), but it is usually the most visible thing a church does.
That means your regular church service provides your biggest opportunity for church growth.
Not special events, not one-off programs, and not ministries that involve a few people. Those are great, but your church service is likely your best opportunity to reach people.
If your regular church service is a driver for growth, then inviting people to your church service is one of the biggest opportunities for growth.
Most churches know their church service is the front door to the church and that personal invitations are the best way to grow, but many churches aren’t really ready for new people.
There’s a hope that people would experience God and community and be welcomed into the family. But deep down, there’s also fear and anxiety about the kind of experience a new person would have.
It’s time to take an intentional look and what happens around Sunday and before Sunday, to make sure you’re really ready to challenge your church to invite and see guests show up on Sunday for the first time.
Before you spend money on advertising or encouraging your congregation to invite, you need to make sure your service is ready for guests.
If you’re going to challenge your church to invite (and here are some great ways to do that), there are some things you should do first.
Three Things to Do Before You Ask Your Church to Invite
#1 – PRAY
Church growth is a combination of the blessings of God and the stewardship of man.
God-given results somehow teamed with human endeavors. A combination of divine intervention and human leadership.
Since the Church belongs to God, growth is ultimately His responsibility. But He chooses to use us in the process, and therefore, we have a stewardship opportunity.
Even though we should bring systems, strategies, processes, improvements, and tactics to bear, we must never forget the church is a spiritual enterprise. It’s much more than a business or an organization.
It’s a spiritual organism with eternal implications.
That’s why any church growth strategy must begin with prayer. And any outreach opportunity should be covered with prayer.
Pray for the church.
Pray for the service and the opportunity you have to share the gospel and encourage Christians. Pray for the leaders, musicians, and teachers. Pray over every environment. Pray for the children in the classrooms.
Pray for the people you’re trying to reach.
In addition to praying for church activities and church services, don’t forget to pray for the people in your community.
In fact, leading your church to intentionally pray (and subsequently invest) in one other person is a great first step. People often need a burden for a particular person before they see the opportunity to extend an invitation.
This rally cry is really meant to spark care and concern within the church for one person outside of the church. They periodically organize and publicize “one more” weekends when a clear Gospel invitation is given.
The initiative, made sticky with consistent terminology and strategy, is a way to create an inviting culture.
He teaches people to pray for three friends, neighbors and co-workers and that God would give them a “no-brainer” moment to extend an invitation or share their faith.
Both of these churches are leading their church to pray for an investment in members of the community. That’s work that can be done apart from challenges to invite.
When your church members are praying for their church and praying for people in the community, invitations (and an increase in first-time visits) is a likely outcome.
Prayer is always a good starting point and worthy activity. This is how you can ensure that God really is the one building His church and not us in our own efforts.
#2 – PRACTICE
If you were to watch a professional football team practice, you wouldn’t see a lot of time devoted to hail mary’s and trick plays. Instead, professional teams work on the basic offense. They work on the timing of normal plays. They talk through game situations.
It’s a lot more boring than you might imagine.
That’s because a professional football team knows that the game isn’t usually won or lost with a trick play. It’s consistent execution of the ordinary.
Your church service is like the 4-yard carry on first down, a successful play to a Super Bowl-winning team.
That’s why it’s so important to practice every element that goes into a church service.
People can tell when singers, musicians, teachers, and preachers are prepared. It communicates value.
Make time in your weekly rhythm to practice everything that will happen on Sunday, from the announcements to the transitions to the Sunday School lessons.
It doesn’t cost any money to run through the songs, preach the message to a mirror, and let people practice key elements. In fact, this will be one of the most beneficial things you can do that will stand out to all of your churchgoers.
Making sure your church service is the best it can be is something you want to do BEFORE you have a bunch of first-time guests show up, who will absolutely make a decision to return
#3 – EVALUATE
Just like practice on the front end is free, evaluation on the back end is also a no-cost way to get better.
Pay attention to these six areas:
Let’s dive deeper into a few of those areas.
Evaluate the Service
What is meaningful to members might not be understandable to guests, so it’s helpful to look at each service through the lens of a first-time guest.
Most church members will excuse or overlook a lack of quality in the church service because they know the heart of people involved, but new people see this as a lack of importance or a lack of excellence.
When the service is over, talk about what worked and what didn’t work. Talk through what connected and what missed.
Make this normal, but a few times a year, make an evaluation a really big deal. Be honest and bring others alongside you who may be able to see things that you aren’t. Be willing to make changes if you need to.
Evaluate Your Language
Most church services are designed to encourage Christians.
They contain language and traditions that make perfect sense to insiders but often leave new people wondering if they belong. Just bring a non-Christian with you to a service. They are bound to leave the service in some confusion and with lots of questions (or they may vow to never speak of it again and just not come back).
You can do just about anything you want in a service – baptism, communion, and worship are all great things. You just have to explain everything to new people.
Just about any religious tradition can have a place in your service, just don’t rush into it without explaining the meaning and purpose to new people.
We have several evaluation forms you can use to evaluate your church service, overall Sunday experience, special event, regular ministry, and staff. You'll find these resources, along with hundreds of others, in the Church Fuel resource library. Members get all of our resources and you can sign up here.
Evaluate Your Culture
I’ve never heard of a church whose members claimed they were unfriendly. In fact, most church members are stumped as to why people don’t like their church because they claim to be so ‘friendly.’
However, being a ‘friendly’ church can often mean you’re friendly to each other, but not to your guests.
A family reunion is tons of fun unless you’re attending someone else’s event. That’s how a lot of guests feel when they visit a church for the first time.
That’s why you must continually look at everything you do through the lens of a first-time guest. You need to hear their feedback and make adjustments. You must look honestly at everything you’re doing to make sure you’re really ready for new people.
You want new people to visit your church.
But you don’t want them to misunderstand, have a bad experience, or refuse to return.
Prayer, intentional planning, and evaluation can help you prepare for guests before they visit and ensure they have a great experience.
Once you’ve prepared your church for guests, it’s time to prepare your people to invite. Simply asking them to invite their friends, isn’t enough. You must equip them with relevant tools.
Get practical ideas and real church examples in this free resource.