Many of us thought that COVID-19 would be managed in a matter of months. However, this virus has proved relentless and its effects have greatly affected lives across the world. We have read much about it. I will not focus on what you already know. My thoughts and prayers are with all who have been affected, especially those who have lost loved ones.
The church as we knew it was not spared.
I must give credit to the many churches that adopted the digital technology and took to streaming services for their members to watch from the comfort of their homes. This helped those congregations to somewhat remain connected.
Most churches didn’t change the flow of the service and stuck to the traditional procedure; music, announcements, offertory and the sermon, with interjections of engagement from the service leaders to capture the views or comments of their members. The media departments however quickly adapted from being nice-to-have to fully-fledged functions, so critical in the delivery of the desired outcome.
I dont know whether churches have had a chance to review their digital footprint and assess the impact of their services in this new space. Though there are varying views on such assessments, I do hope they do.
When the government gave the directive for churches to shut their doors, it came as a surprise to many. The church was divided on the matter, some claiming that the church provides essential services to its members and that it was not being treated as a serious organization. Others felt that the risk of the spread would be great in congregations due to numbers of members and manner of worship that would only exacerbate the problem. The directive stayed.
As you have witnessed, Sunday mornings are quite different from what we had been accustomed to. Earlier on, there was always the rush on a Sunday morning to prepare breakfast, ensure kids are ready for church and drive out in a hurry so as to get to church in good time and secure a good spot to sit. There was the delight of meeting familiar faces as you entered the sanctuary, and the joy of music and fellowship was always welcome Sunday after Sunday.
Fast forward to today, and I know I am in good company here. There is no urgency to prepare yourself on a Sunday morning since church is just but a button away. Breakfast is prepared as the service is going on. The younger kids are running up and down, and you have to remind them that church service is important so they need to sit still.
There are many distractions to participating in the service. For starters, the phone as one scrolls through messages and flips through FB pages of other churches, never mind yours is ongoing. Also, where there are children around, numerous demands abound on eating and play. In addition, a lack of structure means that it is easy to attend to other matters, for instance, a knock on the door.
That said, the biggest question for me with congregational worship is whether congregants are ready to go back to open worship. The truth is, many of us have adjusted to this new way of worship and so long as the online church is made available, I believe it will take time for many families to get back to face to face settings. This may come as a surprise to the clergy but the truth is…there is a new normal.
This is why I am convinced that churches need to start strategizing on how to engage congregants for the future, congregants who have gotten used to doing church from the comfort of their homes. Dynamics have changed as well in people’s lives. Loved ones have been lost in this season, financial positions have changed with people losing their livelihoods, and people are at different levels emotionally due to the strain caused by the pandemic.
There is the challenge of regathering with the protocols of physical distancing. Giving is also going to be a challenge as some have redirected their finances to other pressing matters. Some people may consider not going back to church again, having ‘realized’ that the church is not as ‘powerful’ as it had appeared in the past and especially because the pandemic exists. Others have found various matters to focus their time and energies to.
Congregants have provided a great resource for managing different ministries. How can those ministries remain alive and engaged during the pandemic? Which ones can be offered electronically? Being alive to the needs of the congregants is key.
I hope the church takes time to have these difficult discussions. The time for reflection is now.