Every church community is different, so your needs and aims will be different but it’s a really good idea to be clear from the outset what you want to achieve (even if it feels very ambitious – remember, with God all things are possible, Matt 19:26!).
Firstly, a disclaimer, I will be referring to ‘your team’ throughout this article, and this is because I’m assuming (I’m hoping) that you’re not trying to do this on your own. Having a group of people to help decide the answers to these questions will most likely bring a more successful outcome. This might be your parish council, or your leadership team, or it may be a group of volunteers who’ve come forward to suggest they want to help. Either way, having a team is a good start!
Here’s a bunch of questions to consider as you start off:
- Who are you trying to reach? The usual church community (i.e. people who normally attend a Sunday Service), or all people who live locally, or a combination?
- What do you want to do? Live stream services? Worship? Study or Prayer Groups? Encourage fellowship? Offer support? Practical support, e.g. pair up volunteers with people who need help?
- What expertise do you have in your church already? Depending on the demographics of your church, you may already have people who work in IT or digital services that you could ask for help (or retirees who used to work in IT/digital services).
- Who is leading this effort? Wherever possible, it’s a really good idea to have your priest/pastor/vicar involved in the planning of this, even if they’re a bit of a technophobe!
Who are you trying to reach?
It’s important to be clear on the answer to this, because your resources will be very different if you only trying to communicate with your existing community, compared to reaching out to all local people who may be feeling vulnerable.
This sounds like an obvious question, but each member of your team will probably have a slightly different opinion on where the priority should be.
Some church communities have a heart for outreach and prayer, while others are based in places with a large older population who may need more practical support. It will really depend on where you are, and who lives nearby.
What do you want to do?
Broadly speaking, there are four things that churches provide:
- Collective Worship, including prayer
- Support (practical and/or emotional)
Each of these categories would be offered in different ways online, for example, fellowship would be most likely a conference call (e.g. Zoom or Skype), or a WhatsApp group with a relatively small number of people who probably already know each other. A Bible study group might also use a video call, which could be supplemented with some links to resources on your website, or a Facebook group with regular links and updates
There is a wide range of digital and online tools to choose from, but knowing what you want to offer and prioritise will help to narrow down the list to the most relevant tools for the job.
What expertise do you already have?
Even if you have an older congregation, you might be surprised to uncover what expertise and help you already have in your community!
Retired IT Managers are more likely to be confident to use and support tools, even if they’ve not used them before, because of their knowledge of IT systems and tools. Retired Teachers might be very willing to speak in front of a camera, as long as someone else is ready to set up the equipment.
If you have a younger community, you might have several people who are comfortable with using online tools but are less experienced with putting together the content, so may need to work with the community member who is more knowledgeable in Christian apologetics.
You may have some community members who already pray together at set times or regular intervals and just need the right platform to communicate this more widely so that others can join in.
Again, the answer to this will be vary between churches, but it’s important to realise that you don’t need to start from scratch, and that you probably have lots of relevant skills and expertise that just needs to be harnessed and communicated.
Who is leading this effort?
In order to give yourselves the best chance possible, this focus on outreach and support shouldn’t be just the pastor/priest/vicar doing all the work, but ideally, neither should it be done without their support or involvement.
This is a team effort, and there is a risk of burnout and stress if everything is left to one individual. It’s not a difficult task if it’s broken down into constitution tasks and shared out.
Equally, if an individual or group do this without the support of the pastor, there’s a risk that this can be perceived as ‘unofficial’ or exclusively for the individuals already involved. In order to reach out effectively, it should be done collectively and ideally, as transparent as possible.
There’s a careful balance to be struck in expectations, but clear communication amongst your team, as well as with your wider church community should help to give you the best start.
Finally, to reiterate, all things are possible with God!
I know I’ve already said this, but I genuinely believe that this is a time of opportunities for Christians to reach out to others, so I want to encourage you to be bold and brave, because God will use our willingness to do great things!