As we enter the next phase of our national lockdown we would like to share some of the insights and good practice which is emerging amongst the sixty or so church leaders now meeting with us regularly in small Zoom groups.
We hope that a day will come when everybody will have been vaccinated and the pandemic is a thing of the past; perhaps in a year’s time, perhaps longer. It now seems that it may become possible to reopen our churches to some extent before then, but it is clear that the day when ‘normal service’ can be resumed is still a long way off. In the meantime Christian ministry will not change in its essence, but methodologically it is required to be very different: we are all acquiring new skills. And the new avenues we are exploring now are likely to influence what comes after that, in ways that are hard to imagine, but which might bring long
lasting and radical change to our models of ministry.
Caring for one another: keeping in touch
Since the restrictions began, the obvious and most familiar tool for many of us has been the telephone. Some people love it, others pick it up only reluctantly. But people need pastors, and a simple phone call remains the easiest way to keep in touch with individuals. We have made a list of the people we wish to support, and ring them regularly – usually once a month.
Those of us who are doing this find that the conversation is most fruitful if it is structured. So I might start by listening and sharing; how is life for my sister, my home group member, my friend? I want to listen with empathy, but also share honestly how life is for me. I then move on to talk about ministry: who are my friends concerned about, trying to help, praying for? I ask ‘Who is on your heart? Who are you giving your support to?’. We all need encouragement and advice; we all need to share what we are doing with someone who is interested. The third and final part of the conversation moves on to spiritual matters. ‘Are you managing to connect with God?’. I listen, share, make suggestions, and we pray together. I am also writing a series of short spiritual exercises – let us know if you would like to receive these regularly.
Meeting together, virtually
We need to form groups of about 6 people who will meet together over the internet, probably once a month; Zoom is proving to be the most popular platform. EQUIP members are running groups for enquirers, for children, for adult Christians, or for leaders. We have formed eleven Zoom groups for the 60 members of EQUIP, and in the groups we discuss the same three subjects as the phone calls: personal concerns, ministry to others, and spiritual life. Meetings go better if prepared in advance, so we send out suggestions for ways to prepare for the Zoom meetings by email. In this way we are seeking to follow the discipleship model of Jesus: people grow best when they travel together in groups.
Finding new ways of being church
Finally, we need to find ways of keeping our church communities alive, measured through the presence of love, joy, power and thirsting for righteousness.
Regular worship. Many of our churches are having virtual gatherings in place of Sunday services. But there is an obvious danger – that we end up offering something which only goes in one direction. Within EQUIP we are focussing on developing online church so that it flows both ways, and becomes both participatory and interactive. Some churches are sending out services on Facebook or YouTube and following them immediately with Zoom meetings for discussion and prayer, using Zoom’s facility for dividing people into groups. Some are creating group pages through Workplace or Facebook, which allow invited members to join and make posts (which can be moderated if necessary). This gives everyone a chance to communicate with fellow church members, sharing their news, needs and opportunities.
Serving the community. We are called to be salt and light in our communities, and each church needs to find new ways of reaching out to the local community. YouTube seems to be the easiest way of doing this. A church might hold a weekly event, advertised through Facebook. The event can be mostly pre-recorded, and include several items which together make up an hour or less. Items can include a talk, a testimony, a high quality musical item, a children’s talk, and information about how people can get involved in what the church is doing for the local community. The main aims of these events should be to provide take-home wisdom, and to share the gospel and its relevance to people’s needs today – which means trying to avoid religious language and practices!
Prayer support. It remains important for everyone who has an active ministry to others to be able to recruit prayer support, with the aim of keeping in step with God’s word and seeking God’s help. Prayer can be done through phone calls or whatsapp groups, or via Zoom.
It’s all a bit of a learning curve, but all of these paths are being followed by one or more of our EQUIP members. Some have already reported significant results – most commonly an unexpected increase in the number of people attending church in this new virtual world. We are hoping that before long all 60 of them will have made significant progress. I think we are all finding, as this situation goes on, that we are seeing new possibilities for ministry, not just in the short term but also in the medium and even long term. Who knows, perhaps this
unexpected pandemic will force us to make changes we
should have made long ago…
If you are a church leader and would like to join with us, please do get in touch.