Religious institutions are improvising, adapting, and using alternative methods to reach their respective congregations due to the impact of the COVID-19 virus. Many parishioners are adjusting to working from home and facing unemployment, sickness, and the loss of life. The once routine and familiar have disappeared.
This is most evident as church pews remain empty; new words and actions have entered our church vocabulary, such as livestreaming, social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and parking lot services.
Regardless of faith, the global public health crisis has greatly changed the way we worship. What potential long-term effects will this have on churches? How should leaders prepare for the congregation and worship services after COVID-19?
The transition to a modified worship service has been incredibly challenging for many churches because they lacked the personnel, training, and familiarity with conducting livestream sessions. For other churches, the transition was smooth and seamless because they had trained personnel and technological infrastructure already in place.
One common challenge for churches was adapting to the generational digital divide. However, given time and experience, the church has adapted, and now we find churches of all sizes using Zoom, StreamYard, YouTube, and/or Facebook to continue the Lord’s work.
The ease and simplicity of staying at home and logging in while in your bedroom slippers have become popular. Many leaders have shortened their worship services to cover the essential elements, conducting services without extended songs, announcements, or other things.
Some houses of worship have reported reaching more congregants during this period of virtual worship than with their traditional worship services. Social media has allowed local churches to connect with worshipers in other states and countries. People who are unable or who may not want to enter a traditional brick-and-mortar church will log on to an online worship service.
Safer at home?
As gathering restrictions relax and churches open their physical doors, many members have hesitated to return because there is still a major health risk for the general population. This group of members favors the safety of online worship and continuing online Bible study and group meetings.
On the other hand, there is the group that is longing to worship in the sanctuary again and fellowship with their Christian brothers and sisters. Our human nature is to be social and fellowship with one another as one body of Christ. Hebrews 10:24, 25 encourages the body of Christ to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another” (NIV). Online worship does not fully allow people to fellowship with others in the way they are accustomed to in church.
Balancing health risks with traditional worship services is a challenge for all church leaders and their congregations. Medical experts suggest that this virus could be with us for many years, causing us to assess the impacts upon the church including attendance, financial support, ministry outreach, discipleship, and methods of caring for the congregation.
Amid the adversities and extreme hardships of COVID-19, the Lord has been transforming many “tests” into Holy Spirit–filled “testimonies”; seemingly messy situations into encouraging “messages” of the Lord’s divine provision; and crisis into “Christ-centered” thanksgiving and adoration. Our Lord is active and continuing in His great love and compassion for a fallen world. During the COVID-19 dilemma, the Lord is truly healing the sick and supplying provisions for those in need. The Lord truly works “all things for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28, NIV).
Our lives may have changed through our work, the way we educate, and how we socialize. Through this uncertainty, God remains constant and steady. This pandemic has taught us that true and genuine worship is not about traditions or even a physical building. Social media platforms are mere tools to conduct worship; the real worship is the connection we have with God. Our focus must remain on God as we continue to worship Him in Spirit and truth (John 4:23).