At the time of writing this, many governments across Europe have put their countries into a form of lockdown because of Coronavirus. Italy was the first to impose a rule that no large gatherings could meet, and France, Austria, Ireland and other countries have followed suit. At this stage, it seems to be only a matter of time before the UK joins the list.

With the prospect of a future prohibition on large gatherings, where does that leave church services? Before you shut the doors for a few weeks and self-isolate, there are a few tactics that you can use to gather the church without actually physically meeting. If you follow my suggestions below, Coronavirus doesn’t need to put your church on hiatus.

1.     Facebook Live

Facebook live is one of the best ways that you can run a sunday service remotely. It’s free and most people are using Facebook, so it’s the obvious choice to use. However, there is one large catch: worship music.

Facebook uses sophisticated song recognition software, so if you sing a song without the appropriate licences, your feed will get cut immediately. And that doesn’t just apply to playing a pre-recorded track, the software is so sophisticated that it can pick up the song from people in your church singing it spontaneously. A way you can get around this is to sing home-written songs (even then you’ve got to be careful, you may inadvertently plagiarise a line of a song).

So unless you have put all of the broadcasting licences in place and have sought written permission from the writers of the songs beforehand, worship is a no-go. Added to which, streaming worship to a service can produce some horrendous results if it hasn’t been mixed well, and if you don’t have recording-level musicians and vocalists.

With that being said, that shouldn’t deter you from using Facebook Live to stream your service. You’ll just need to re-think the worship section. As an example, you could use liturgy, which may be a foreign concept to the more charismatic denominations, but holds wonderful truths and is still a powerful way to engage people in worship.

Another idea would be to use scripture itself as the time of worship, where you read aloud a large portion of scripture and then use the sermon time to give context and teaching to the passage. This practice goes back all the way to the early Church (1 Timothy 4:13). 

2.     Zoom Meetings

If you run small groups in your church, then for those that have self-isolated, video calls are the best way to stay engaged even when they’re not present. We do this at thinking.church. I live in Gloucester and our Founder, Lee, lives in Southampton, so instead of driving back and forth every day, we use video. We also use it to meet with church leaders in different parts of the country, and it really works.

I also use this for attending leadership meetings at my church when I’m looking after my children. I simply call one of the team members who is at the meeting and they hold me up to the group.

Our suggestion is Zoom as we’ve found it has the best functionality (you can have dozens of people on one call without any trouble) and connection, however FaceTime and WhatsApp are excellent alternatives.

So why not run your small groups over video instead?

3.     YouVersion Bible App

The YouVersion Bible App has the functionality for you to add friends and then start a group Bible plan. If you can’t arrange to get the church together over video, you can at least get as many as possible reading the same passages. There’s even the ability for you to send around the sermon notes. You could then record your message on YouTube or Vimeo and use YouVersion as the basis for following along with the message.

4.     Encourage your church to use social media

A big part of gathering together is not just consuming content from a stage, but sharing the experience, learning and worshiping together. That means that the response of a congregation isn’t just valuable to a speaker or worship leader, but also to other members of the congregation. The worship service is truly participatory.

So how do you get that response when people are isolated at home? Encourage your church to engage in social media; to upload photos and videos of themselves engaging with church. If you can livestream on Facebook Live or another platform, then encourage the congregation to upload their videos during the service. If you’ve recorded the message, ask the congregation to post questions while watching. Social media can be a great tool to encourage people to participate.

We ARE the church

Coronavirus doesn’t need to stop the mission of the church to make disciples, and, with technology, all you need now is a smartphone and an internet connection to keep church running even when people are at home. You may even find this helpful to reach and engage those in your community long after coronavirus is gone.

Let’s take this opportunity to encourage our churches to be the most generous, caring and self-sacrificing people in this time. At the end of the day, we ARE the church, whether we meet in person or via the internet.

Chris Bright is the Co-Founder of thinking.church, a company that offers facilitation services to help churches think through their mission, vision and strategy. You can book a free consultation call with Chris by going to www.bookme.name/thinkingchurch

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