During the past few weeks of social distancing, we as a society have been learning that community is more important than ever. Staying connected and checking in on one another via phone or online can help limit the anxiety and depression associated with isolation. For religious communities, virtual worship and group activities can keep everyone active and benefiting from spiritual and community support.
Chances are good that your church has already set up some form of online worship for your congregation — and that’s great! But with stay-at-home orders being extended and predictions that the COVID-19 pandemic will last much longer than we first thought, it’s important to keep on top of things and plan for an extended period of social change. Once the bans on group gatherings are lifted, congregants with impaired immune systems might still be more comfortable with virtual worship than attending church in person, for example. Here, we’ll organize some of the resources available to help you create online content, manage changing finances, and stay up-to-date on how government efforts will affect your church during this difficult time.
You’ve got options when it comes to online worship. Popular apps like Zoom are great for smaller groups, Sunday school, and Bible studies. For real-time worship with larger groups, live streaming may be a good choice. Many churches are also choosing to record their services and upload them to platforms such as YouTube so members can worship at their convenience and without the hassle of logging onto a new type of media. The Gospel Coalition provides a good starting point for figuring out which platform to use. Other things to consider include:
- Music Licensing: Make sure to check that you’re not violating any copyright laws before performing/streaming music online. Even if your church has a license to use certain music, it may not cover online broadcasting. Some religious music publishers, including One License, are offering free licenses to ease the burden on churches during the pandemic.
- Engaging With The Congregation: You might need to structure church services a bit differently to make them come alive onscreen. There are plenty of resources out there to help pastors and church leaders think more like filmmakers, including this video from Dr. Marcia McFee on Sensory Rich Live Streaming.
- Singing Together: Songs sung by the congregation are a beautiful part of many church services. If singing is important to your congregation, don’t let social distancing stop you! Sing: The Center for Congregational Song has a great article on how to encourage singing together while apart.
- Overcoming Technological Anxiety: Virtual church is new for many people, but the idea of online gatherings isn’t. Consider seeking out tips from resources like online conferences or workshops to help make your congregation feel comfortable with the new format. This article from Sojourners Magazine has lots of practical advice from both religious and business leaders.
Online Stewardship & Giving
If your church relies on offerings given in person during church services, you’ll want to plan a remote alternative. Some church-specific online services like easyTithe.com are offering free plans during COVID-19 so church members can donate resources from home. There’s also software available for a wider range of uses and services; Paperless Transactions is one top option. You can find a list of other resources here.
Church leaders play an important role in keeping everyone informed and safe during a crisis like the one we’re experiencing now. Encourage your church leadership to stay updated on the most recent advice for community leaders from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Be mindful, too, of new legislation aimed at helping nonprofits and small businesses; your church might be eligible for payroll assistance and other programs through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act). The Presbyterian Church provides a great summary of the CARES Act as it relates to faith-based organizations. Be sure to look for:
- Paycheck Protection Program: A government loan program that provides funds to cover payroll costs, mortgage interest, rent payments, and certain utilities
- Charitable Contribution Incentives: New tax provisions intended to encourage charitable giving
- Health Plan Changes: New clarifications on how health insurance policies must respond to COVD-19, as well as loosened requirements for Health Savings Account spending, etc.
Staying organized and communicating frequently with church members and staff can help make the challenges of operating during the COVD-19 pandemic more manageable. For more help with church resources and planning for the future, contact DCG Strategies for a consultation.