Resources Collected by the Commission on Thriving Congregations
When Not Everyone Is Virtually-Connected
This might seem like common sense at this point, but one of the easiest ways to slow the spread of COVID19 is to stay away from other people – an introvert’s dream (at least for a little while). But this leaves so many members of our communities vulnerable in so many ways, not least of which is loneliness. It is vital for us to maintain our relationships with one another and with God. But how do we do this?
We’ve talked a lot about virtual meeting platforms as a clergy group. Zoom and Google Hangouts (you can host up to 100 people with a FREE Zoom account, though a meeting with more than 2 people is limited to 40 minutes) are both fantastic options. With a little bit more technological savvy (a phone with a good microphone, for example) you can live stream via Facebook or record your service (with just the worship leaders, standing more than 6 feet apart) and then post it to a website or YouTube.
But what do you do with those in your congregation for whom technology is difficult? Think of those who don’t have a computer or a smart phone; those who may not have the financial means to access the internet; those who may have a computer and/or a smart phone but don’t feel comfortable using them for virtual gatherings. Here are some options to consider – other than putting them in a bubble and moving them into the sanctuary:
When you create a Zoom meeting, people can dial in using a regular phone. They won’t be able to see the rest of the group, but they will still be a part of the community. This is a great option for very small congregations on Sunday; it’s also a great option for small group gatherings (like Bible study, prayer groups, or Sunday school).
There are multiple ways to do this. First, as long as one person has a smart phone (iPhone or Android), you can merge up to five (perhaps only three on Androids) people into one call. Please feel free to contact us if you need help figuring this out! A second option is to use a conference call service. There is one called Free Conference Call that has at least one free option – others require some level of purchase (startmeeting.com is a great option). If you don’t have a service, another church might. CRE John Brewington (Lochearn) is having his congregation join with Rev. Tanya Wade at Grace next Sunday because they have more robust conference call platform. He suggests, for people who don’t have access to email, to simply call them ahead of time in order to give them the call-in number and access code (if needed).
The Regular Old Telephone
For some, this may be our only option. Check-in calls are a vital lifeline for all of our members (though some of your introverts might prefer that you text. Or email. Or send a letter. Basically, anything that doesn’t require an actual conversation). And you can get pretty creative with this! Several leaders in our presbytery (TE Jessie Lowry and CRE John Brewington among them) are dividing their directories and asking each Elder and/or Deacon to make a certain number of calls. CRE Brewington is also taking a unique approach to pastoral care through phone calls: he’s inviting people to reflect on particular scripture passages by calling them one day, giving them the passages, then following up the next day to see what they think (yes, he does tell them he’s going to call back).
Let’s Not Forget the Post Office
If you’re anything like us, you’ve been working hard to reduce the amount of material you’re actually sending out via snail mail. Well, it might be time to rethink that minimalistic strategy. There are a lot of ways we can keep in touch with one another through the mail. Essie Reinke, Director of Mission, Outreach, and Formation at Dickey Memorial, is inviting individuals and families to make cards or send cards/letters to others in the congregation, especially those who might not do well with phone calls (perhaps someone with dementia). Kids can get involved with this one – they can draw pictures or help make the cards. Further, she’s using Illustrated Ministries free COVID 19 materials and sending them (snail and e-mail) out for folks (find it here). CRE Brewington is sending out a letter with scripture readings and the invitation to call someone else in the congregation to discuss. TE Carrie Finch-Burriss mailed (and emailed!) the worship service for Sunday out to her members and invited them to respond in whatever way felt most comfortable.
Let’s say that your congregation is, in fact, some level of tech-savvy. Here are some creative ideas others have come up with:
Join Other Communities
TE Melissa Lopez asked her congregation to join others that have better virtual capacities than hers does. She then used Facebook to find out how things went with those other congregations, that there might be cross-fertilization.
TE Carrie Finch-Burriss TE Andy Gathman both used email to send out their liturgies and sermons so that people could worship at home. TE Finch-Burriss also invited people to reply-all with their prayer requests. Others are using email to send out YouTube videos for people to watch – either of themselves or church staff or those created by others (including hymns/music).
Email Plus Zoom
The staff at Dickey Memorial sent out their bulletin plus links to a couple of articles and karaoke-style videos of music ahead of Sunday. Then they held a Zoom call on Sunday morning at 11:30 to reflect on the service, sing together, and pray. Of course, they’re a tiny church. But larger congregations could do this by splitting into small groups.
Remind Group Chat
TE Melissa Lopez is using Remind for group texting. It is an app – so people would have to download it.
Here you can livestream your service or post pre-made videos. TE Jessie Lowry is considering inviting congregants to film themselves and post responses to what they’re watching. She’s also having a conversation (livestreaming!) with her DCE to discuss ways to work with children’s formation during this period. It’s important to note: you do not need a Facebook account to view content on a page, as long as it’s public!! So leaders, make sure your page is viewable by all!