Just Good News - Southern Baptist Texan Podcast

Church Worship in a Time of ‘Social Distancing’

March 16th, 2020 / By: Tony Wolfe | SBTC Director of Pastor/Church Relations / comments

Church Worship in a Time of ‘Social Distancing’

With the continuing development of our country’s efforts at controlling the spread of COVID-19, and with the most current release from the Center for Disease Prevention recommending cancelling or postponing gatherings of 50 people or more, churches are feeling the need to get creative with weekly worship services. It is important for the church to gather regularly to draw near to God, hold on to the confession of faith and watch out for one another within the gathered covenant community (Hebrews 10:19-25). But like many other seasons of church history, current events are challenging us to find creative ways to do this.

Much has been written lately on reasons for gathering, and on avoiding judgmental or condemnatory remarks toward your pastor or other churches’ decisions as we all try to navigate this season with both faith and thoughtfulness. I echo these sentiments. Here I hope to offer some practical ideas for the church who would like to comply with the CDC’s recommendation without neglecting the privilege of gathering together in weekly worship. Here are some considerations as you navigate these waters in your church context. One size will not fit all, but perhaps one of these will be a workable solution for you, or perhaps it will give you an idea on which to build toward creating your own contextualized solution.

1. Meet in groups of 50 or fewer in multiple rooms on your church campus. If your campus has a number of medium-sized rooms, set up chairs for 50 or fewer and have separate worship services on your campus in these rooms. I imagine you have several musicians who can divide up between the gatherings and lead smaller, simpler worship sets with songs everyone knows by heart. Pastor, consider sharing your sermon notes with several capable men in your congregation and having them preach/teach live in each venue. Or, livestream (Facebook or YouTube) the video of the sermon and have someone plug their phone into the TV/Screen in the other venues so they can watch the sermon together live after singing in their smaller spaces.

2. Organize in-home worship groups and send the congregation out between them. Church staff and lay leaders can lead several smaller worship services, including music and preaching, from house to house using the same sermon text or sermon notes for each gathering space. Or, scale down the on-campus gathering to only the worship team, tech team and pastor then livestream the whole service and have smaller, in-home groups put the livestream feed on a TV where they all watch and participate together.

3. Encourage guided family worship. The pastor can record a 15-20 minute sermon/devotional video on his smartphone and post it online Sunday morning, or send it via email and dropbox (or some other cloud storage space) to church membership; each family can gather by themselves, in their homes on Sunday morning, and watch the video. If the video is not an option for you, consider producing a family worship guide. Include specific Scripture readings, worship song suggestions with YouTube links, and an organized devotional guide with discussion questions geared toward all ages. In this way, families are worshipping in their own homes, but the church family is being guided in the same spiritual direction by the church leadership.

4. Communicate clear pathways for faithful giving. Most church members want to know how they can continue to give their tithes and offerings as an act of worship. If your congregation has a platform for online giving, share it regularly with the people. Also encourage regular giving through mail-in offerings if they would rather use this vehicle. Some can give online and others cannot. Create pathways and communicate those pathways clearly and regularly. The act of faithful, sacrificial giving is no less worshipful when it is done electronically or through snail-mail than when it is placed in an offering plate as it passes by.

5. If you need help, reach out. The church is really good at coming together during times like this. If you need help setting up video livestreaming, find a sister church in your area that is doing livestreaming well and call them. I am 100 percent sure they would be willing to come and help you get set up. Call your associational office or your state convention and ask for someone who can help you set up video livestreaming or help you think through specific contextual challenges. We’re on the same team. We are one family on one mission. The church shines brightly in seasons such as this. If you need help, ask. And watch how the Lord will build relational bridges that may last a lifetime between you and your sister congregations.

The church has been gathering in small groups and “from house to house” for millennia. In itself, this is not a tragedy nor does it need to be devastating. If you feel it is best to reorganize your weekly gatherings into smaller groups, get creative and get to work. You can do this. And you just might experience some unexpected wins along the way.

New leaders will rise to the occasion when given the opportunity. Families may learn to worship together for the first time. Neighbors, friends, and coworkers may be more likely to gather in the homes of someone they know than in a large facility where they feel singled out. You might find that using technology in worship is easier and more beneficial than you thought. And you just might see the body of Christ mobilized and energized like never before.

The very gates of hell will not prevail against Jesus’s church. With this biblical conviction, COVID-19 presents much more of an opportunity than a threat. Let’s show the world what it looks like for Jesus’s church to lead the way in faith, joy and love during this season.

Tony Wolfe is director of Pastor/Church Relations for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. He blogs at tonywolfe.net.