All across Canada, EMCC pastors and leaders are experimenting with new ways of ‘doing church.’ Phone calls to pastors in each province where EMCC churches exist revealed that all are busy doing their utmost to keep congregations together, although apart, and to meet needs. Some had already been using technology to various degrees, while others are gingerly taking steps into the heretofore unknown world of digital communication, using tools such as Google Chat, Facebook Live, Zoom, Skype, and YouTube.
The rules around acceptable group size vary from province to province and are changing rapidly. New ways of live streaming services that were implemented by some churches a couple of weeks back are already being adapted to comply with updated health recommendations. At first, some churches were able to tape an entire service in their church buildings for streaming. However, they are now considering pre-recording various segments of the worship service in individuals’ homes and then editing these together to post as a whole.
A few pastors pointed out that they are finding that with services online, the reach is proving to be further than on typical Sunday mornings enclosed in the church building. One indicated that people seem to be more receptive to the Gospel message at this time. One of our churches is posting its service on Fridays, which means congregants can choose to participate when it works for them. Some pastors are pointing their congregants to the online worship services of larger churches known to them who are already doing this well and are themselves concentrating on the personal touch of phone ministries.
Churches are using a mix of new technology and old to meet the needs of congregants. Everything from zoom prayer meetings to churchwide emails, prayer chains, to board members phoning through the church directory to make personal contact with everyone. One of our churches divided their congregation into smaller groups and given each of the church leaders a group to call, pray for, and ask if they have anything they need help with. They will repeat this every few weeks. Some churches have volunteers who are delivering groceries to homes, and I spoke with one pastor whose church is delivering care bags to seniors.
Often pre-existing groupings like small groups or Bible Study groups are staying together online, supporting, encouraging and praying for one another. One of our churches will make it possible for people to ask for healing prayer by making an appointment in a virtual healing room that will be set aside for this purpose via technology. One pastor is using Facebook Live to host short coffee times Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10:30 am each week, simply sharing from his own morning devotional time. Listeners are able to interact with him through typed comments. Yet another church is online every night for 1 ½ hours for fellowship and prayer. It is a ‘join anytime and leave anytime’ format, sending a text half an hour before they are ready to start. They meet more often now than they did before. One pastor commented that it is essential that people in our churches hear from their pastors at such a time as this, and effort should be made to maintain contact, even though it cannot be in person right now.
There is seemingly no end to the variety of ministries that can be conducted online. As I was speaking with one pastor, he mentioned that the youth pastor was playing video games with the Youth on Zoom and that the night before they were together online for Bible study. Watching videos together by sharing a screen is another possibility. Some pastors are posting daily devotionals and reflections with questions to ask oneself, along with links to various study resources, and inspirational songs readily available on YouTube as an aid for worship at home. Church staff meetings, all sorts of children’s ministries, senior’s ministries, board meetings – creative juices are flowing as people are ‘thinking outside the box.’
Some have contacted non-religious agencies in their town to offer assistance if needed. Another pastor, along with his local colleagues, will be available through a help number assigned to the local ministerial and linked to each church. Still, another church hosts a local foodbank on their premises, and even though the church must close its doors, the foodbank, as an essential service, will be allowed to remain open in the building.
The phone calls made to our churches in the past couple of days made it abundantly clear that our buildings may be closed, but our pastors and leaders are still supporting and equipping the saints. Just how this is happening, although there are similarities, is unique to each congregation. One pastor cited Ephesians 2:10: ‘For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ Then he said, “God knew. He has things for us to do. Let’s find them and do them.”