Congregational Life and Evangelism During the Pandemic

Written on: November 6, 2020

Article by: Dave Knutson

About 50 years ago, Francis Schaeffer identified ‘personal peace and affluence’ as the twin values of most Americans. Peace in the sense of freedom to pursue life without threat or interference, and affluence as the material means to do so. Covid 19 has shown the inadequacy of both but has not supplied a replacement. And while the church has been affected, our core values have not. Life in Christ has never been about personal peace or laying up treasure in a place that we are just passing through.

Congregational health and evangelistic outreach remain priorities. The question is: how might we effectively pursue both while acting responsibly to limit the spread of the virus while caring for those who have it1?

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What strategies might we undertake then to sustain and improve congregational life while reaching out with the gospel?

Congregational life2:

Worship:

  • Some meetings are taking place in person using best practice guidelines for social distancing, staggered and assigned seating based on preregistration, the use of masks, disinfectants etc3.
    • Where ‘gathering limits’ mean that only some portion of the congregation can meet at any one time, a rotating schedule of those attending in person and online might allow all to attend in person at least on a regular basis.
    • Congregations may also hold multiple services on Sunday to allow greater total in-person attendance.
  • Many are using an online conferencing service to stream the service.
    • The meeting may be opened for a time of visiting prior to the start of worship and kept open afterwards for the same reason. This adds some of the same value enjoyed by those who gather in person.
      • Be sure to include those who can only participate by phone and who do not have audio/video resources. Zoom’s invitations include phone numbers for inclusion in the call.
    • A separate ‘online room’ could be set aside to hear prayer requests and for a time of prayer for those online.
    • Prayer requests could also be surfaced during the lead-up time before worship and passed on to the one leading prayer in the assembly.
    • The sermon could be followed up with online discussion led by someone assigned to do that – perhaps with an advanced copy of the sermon and review questions in hand.
    • One congregation has divided into 3 house churches of about 15 members each, allowing everyone to attend an in-person meeting while practising social distancing.
    • Others have met out of doors to include greater numbers at one time, while remaining safely distanced.
    • Besides conferencing services which allow for two-way communication, congregations can choose to simply stream their services using their own website or services like YouTube etc.
    • Both sermons and classes that have been prerecorded can be made available as well for those not able to attend when the service is happening.

The Fennel congregation has begun to have their ‘greeters’ stand outside of the building due to social distancing directives. This has led to several new contacts as people walk right by the front door. Others with entrances close to pedestrian walkways may want to do the same.

Note: with each of these measures, the same level of encouragement for attendance is needed. This calls for enhanced communication and a method to ensure that everyone is apprised of their worship alternatives.

  • Following up with those who are not attending is important
  • Address concerns and solve issues if possible.

Fellowship:

There are few things that can replace physical presence and touch. We are having to forgo touch, but can still meet for mutual encouragement. In-person meetings follow the same guidelines as those referenced earlier

  • Take your small group or personal Bible study outdoors.

Online conferencing services are being put to use in the following ways to enhance body life.

  • Small groups meet, pray and share online
    • Included in these are youth groups, men’s and women’s groups
    • Make it regular and something that everyone looks forward to and can count on. Isolation and depression are sometimes closely related and best addressed together
  • Distribute a prayer list.
    • Ask members to set aside time to pray for each other and especially those with special needs. By doing this in an organized way, you can ensure that no one is left out.
  • Low tech:
    • Organize a phone contact schedule whereby everyone receives a call for encouragement and everyone makes one to someone else
    • Most phone plans include conference calling – adding in a 3rd person. So a group call to encourage and share is certainly possible. Do it over a cup of coffee and perhaps include a time of prayer.
  • Many congregations have an email or call system to rapidly share news, needs, or to bring late breaking decisions to the attention of the group. Like last minute cancellation of worship due to weather etc.
    • Put that to use as often as you can to maintain everyone’s sense of connected-ness.

Education

  • Some congregations have resumed bible classes for children – using social distancing guidelines. You might consult standards used in public schools in your area for these.
  • Some schools have gone to online classes. Churches could do the same with those unable to attend in person. That would require the use of technology both at home and at the church building.
    • But the use of conferencing services is a great way to recapture the face to face experience without the risks
    • It does mean extra work for teachers – and probably needs to engage parents at home. Home assignments and the use of other online resources would help.
  • The church could invest in ‘Christian’ teaching resources that are online and available digitally (pdf lessons) that can be sent to students so they don’t have to work from a book.

Service

One of the distinguishing features of the early church was their benevolent care for each other. Entry into the church changed the way that people thought about their possessions. Ownership turned into stewardship which changed the level of generosity that people felt toward each other. The spiritual blessings found in ‘Christ made other things seem less important and they shared with others what was needed.

The service ministry is about giving of your money, your goods and your time to meet the needs of others.

  • The pandemic has created greater needs than ever before. Job loss, marital separation, the loss of loved ones has in some cases added layers of stress and needs.
  • This is an opportunity to serve – in the church and beyond

Ways to serve:

  • Visits where possible and food to shut ins.
  • When the weather turns – snow shovelling for those not able.
  • The proactive pursuit of benevolence toward needs in our community
  • The care of commonly owned property like the church and grounds
  • Running errands for those not able to go for any reason
  • Helping people keep doctor’s appointments etc.
  • Look around and identify needs – then find a way to fill them.

Evangelism:

There are times when the progress of the gospel may be propelled by greater uncertainty in the lives of those whom we share it. Given then, that times of change, upheaval, crisis and uncertainty introduce stress, that would indicate that this is one of the times that the church ought to be most active.

Around the world people face fear, isolation, and loss of the regular flow of life. Many face significant financial and health issues that often bring spiritual issues to the forefront.

I think that Jesus would say…the fields are ripe unto harvest.

The time is always right to share the Gospel, but right now, many may be more receptive… how might we go about sharing our faith during the current pandemic?

Reach out to a friend with whom you have been wanting to share the gospel. .
  • Ask how they’re doing and if you might pray for them during this uncertain time.
  • This is a perfect time to break the ice with non-Christian friends you’ve not spoken with in a while. Contacts that might otherwise seem awkward – seem more natural, given that we all share in hard times together.
  • Consult your ‘friend list’ and message the people that you know. The non technical way of doing this is just to pick up the phone.
  • Those who have computers, smart phones, tablets and internet connections and/or data plans…reach out to friends and set up times to catch up…using online conferencing.
    • Make this a regular way of keeping in touch – and listen to what others are saying. Keep your initial contact short and simple. Most people appreciate genuine care and concern.
Get out of the house to meet people.

Go for a walk to meet your neighbours and find ways to serve them. Wear a mask, keep a distance – put others at ease. One member noted that their minister takes his dog for a walk – in part to meet others.

  • People are starving for social contact. Go for the purpose of meeting someone new. Show that you care. If you identify a need, help to fill it. Swap contact information and start making plans to invite people over when social separation ends.
Use technology to make social connections.
  • The Waterloo congregation hosts a Thursday evening games night with a devotional component near the end. Its is a good way to introduce non-Christians to members of the church. At this time, an online games night can use interactive programs like Jack Box,
  • Some programs use break-out features on Zoom to play online board games or card games like euchre. We did this at the Waterloo Men’s retreat recently. Technology can be put to use for Christ and for the fellowship needs of our own members.
Start an online Bible study and invite your friends.
  • Keep your study time flexible enough for seekers to ask questions.
  • Be sure to include members of your congregation in the study so that those seeking the truth can grow a relationship with the church as they learn. This helps to create a sense of community and begins to assimilate a person into the church before they make a spiritual commitment.

Set up a small group with an evangelistic purpose. Invite your non-Christian friends to become part of the group.

Host a virtual watch party for your online worship services.
  • Most churches are hosting their services online. Share the link or consider hosting a “watch party” on Facebook that notifies your friends and invites them to watch. Use the comments section to interact with people and follow up to continue the conversation.
  • Arrange to linger afterwards and visit. Answer questions that have arisen – or set up an online appointment to meet again for further study.

Volunteer to do follow-up calls for your congregation.

  • Your church may have online visitors for worship or on your website.
  • Those offering online services may want to set up a ‘virtual response’ card – like a visitor’s card with contact information that can be followed up on.
  • You can set up a phone or Zoom call and share the gospel with those who expressed interest in spiritual things.

Staying active and connected takes a decision to do something instead of nothing. Congregational life and evangelism take planning, time and effort. A pandemic is no reason for us to fail in our duty to care and to share. We may never have a more opportune time to proclaim the good news of Jesus.

Barrie ON

1 During the pandemic with the restrictions placed upon public gatherings and the best-practices in place in our community to stop the spread of this disease….how can we still function as the Lord’s church?

2In an effort to collect ideas, I contacted about 10 church leaders to see what their congregation was doing to cope with Covid while attending to church life and evangelism. Some of the ideas in this article are sourced from their replies.

3http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/pro/programs/publichealth/coronavirus/docs/advice_religious_services.pdf