I continue to try to think of other things to talk about, but the coronavirus stuff continues unabated. I know most of us are in survival mode. Not only how do we keep safe physically, but how do we feed and shepherd our people while we can’t physically meet with them. And I know talking aoout some of the positive opportunities that this situation is throwing up feels a bit crass, but it does seem worth thinking about given that we’re going to be in this for some months to come.
So, in no particular order, here are some positive things that have come about for our church:
We had been thinking, albeit quite passively, about whether it was worth live streaming services before the coronavirus lock down took hold. That conversation – like most other churches – became a bit less passive when it became clear we weren’t going to be in any position to meet. Like many places, we are now live streaming services and using Zoom to meet in community groups. Not only have those of us running services had to quickly upskill, but some of our folk who have been adamantly against the use of any technology have themselves upskilled, which has allowed us to connect with them in other ways too (that we previously couldn’t). These things are positive.
Serving those we couldn’t serve
The biggest advantage to live streaming the service has been our ability to serve those we previously weren’t. We have folk who aren’t always able to get out on Sundays who were delighted to be able to tune in to what we were doing. Aside from serving those who – whatever we happen to do for now – will come back and meet with us when we can, we are now better serving those who couldn’t meet with us (though we know they want to). The thing that encouraged me most on Sunday was hearing from one lady, who hasn’t been able to meet with us for some time on a Sunday, who was able to access the full service at home. We probably wouldn’t have live streamed the service (at least, not yet) were it not for our current circumstances forcing us into them, but having done so we have found that we are much better serving those who can’t meet with us.
But more than just live streaming, strangely enough, our pastoral care has gotten better on some fronts. Obviously, it is better to meet with people where you are able. But I suspect because we can’t do that, we are more conscious of the need to do what we can. Skype calls, WhatsApp groups, Zoom one-to-one meetings, pastoral telephone calls and other such things now abound. Needs are quickly shared via messaging services and we are able to do provision drop offs to people as they are required. Though in some ways pastoral care has gotten harder, in many others I suspect this is forcing us to do it better. And in some ways, it most certainly is better.
Reaching those we wouldn’t otherwise reach
Adrian Reynolds wrote an excellent article in Evangelicals Now this month, which you can read here (paywall), about the purpose of putting our sermons online. If you’re able, you should read it. He (rightly) says that the principal reason for uploading sermons is for our own members. Most of his points apply equally to live streaming.
However, there are other legitimate and valid reasons to utilise these things. For one, I was told by various folks that they tuned into their own church live stream in the morning and then listened in the afternoon and evening to one or two other church live streams. Some people in the process of coming to join our church were able to tune into our live stream and get a sense of what our services are like. The viewing figures on our live stream outstripped our full congregation by a factor of around 4.
Not only are we able to bless others, but we are also able to show folks what a service at Bethel (on some level) might look like. For churches like ours who are in need of workers, this is a helpful recruitment tool. Those who are inclined to come and help us in the mission in Oldham can see, from the front end, whether ours is a place that they might be able to settle. Whilst you can rarely tell from a single service whether this is a place you could settle, it might tell you if this is somewhere you definitely aren’t going to go. Again, being able to reach those who are seriously considering steps in ministry as well as the importance of church in deprived communities, these things are a real help.
Naturally, everybody’s lives are now up in the air. Everyone is having to think through childcare now schools and playgroups have all closed. Some schools had to close due to cases among staff and are not open to keyworkers. Most of us are now in disarray, having to find ways to work and homeschool our children.
But this opened up opportunities at the school gate that we’ve never had before. Some were just more open to talking, desperate to get any information, which opened up opportunities. Others were thinking through the implications which gave opportunities to offer help and support. Being labelled a ‘keyworker’ gave opportunity to talk about the church, what we do and – most importantly – the Lord. Most of these conversations simply wouldn’t have happened were it not for the current circumstances.
I’m sure you can think of other ways – despite the fact that things are clearly very difficult – this situation has also brought about opportunities. I am quite sure others will become apparent as time goes on too. Things may not be as we would have them, but the Lord (as ever) knows what he is doing.