Columns, House Of Worship

A Prognosis In The Time Of COVID-19, Part 2

Worship leaders are hosting virtual sermons during COVID-19

Opportunities abound, even as concerns swirl in worship leaders’ minds.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to disrupt the way we live, the way we work and the way we worship. In some states, houses of worship (HoWs) are allowed to meet for worship with no capacity restrictions. Other states have limited the capacity of worship, with caps ranging from 10 percent to 50 percent. Other states totally banned in-person worship for certain periods. As you can imagine, a majority of HoWs—much like many small businesses—are suffering financially due to the restrictions that the virus has spawned. However, government restrictions are not solely to blame for HoWs’ difficulties.

The secondary issue is that some people are ready to worship in person with fellow congregants, but some are not ready to worship in person with their fellow congregants. To meet the needs of both groups, some HoWs are hosting worship services inside their worship space while, at the same time, livestreaming the worship service to a
remote audience.

Sadly, we believe that COVID-19 will persist well into 2021. Yet, worship leaders want to begin to prepare now for the time when people are ready to return to their local HoW for worship. Leaders also recognize they must use digital technologies to communicate with people and manage data more effectively, especially in light of concerns related to the virus and society at large. I believe that we can help these leaders share their faith more effectively, as long as we understand the areas of concern that are most important to them.

Drawing from my conversations with HoW leaders, while also making assertions of my own, I here present a few areas of concern that leaders seek to address now and in the future: Worship leaders want to 1) create a fresh new look in the worship space; 2) promote a sanitized worship space; 3) enhance security measures; 4) improve their online worship experience; 5) develop small-group opportunities online; 6) use popular social media for promotion only; 7) develop an app; 8) revive their website; 9) offer easy-to-use online-giving portals; 10) use management software.

Let’s look at each one in turn.

New look: I have observed many worship spaces that require renovations. Applying a fresh coat of paint is the simplest action that worship leaders can take to help congregants sense a new era when they return to in-person worship. Fresh paint could be similar to a water baptism, symbolically speaking: The believer is washed in water, leaving his or her sins in the past, and then emerges as a clean new creature.

Sanitized spaces: Worship leaders are seeking solutions to sanitize their HoW spaces in order assure congregants they are in a safe and clean environment. Maintaining a sanitized space, plus practicing social distancing, is a way to help congregants feel safe and comfortable while they worship.

Enhanced security: The safety theme also applies to physical safety for worshippers. Although not widely reported, many churches were vandalized or burned during the civil unrest of the past year. Sadly, in some instances, fringe elements entered churches, made violent threats and damaged facilities. Worship leaders need help so they can implement security measures, including video-surveillance systems, to help keep congregants safe from anyone who would sow violence.

Online worship: Although a large number of HoWs are now livestreaming their services, many of them have low-quality systems that create a poor experience for online viewers. Thus, worship leaders want to upgrade their gear to deliver better livestreaming experiences. These leaders need help selecting and purchasing technologies to achieve high-quality audio and video, which will make their livestream excellent.

Small groups: A fulfilling sense of community is a major reason why people are drawn to attending corporate (i.e., in-person) worship. Forward-looking HoWs are seeking better ways to use online applications to enable people to meet in small groups to study the tenets of their faith; although different from a traditional worship experience, these small groups reduce the sense of isolation that many people feel when they are largely stuck at home. I predict that this trend will grow even after COVID-19 is no longer a threat.

Social media for promotion only: HoW leaders will begin to use popular social-media outlets for promotion only. Many people believe that large socialmedia platforms censor conservative and religious content. Thus, worship leaders are seeking digital platforms to livestream and share their content, sidestepping their censorship concerns.

Apps: A customized app enables HoWs to create their own ecosystem in which they can create and share content without worrying that they’re being censored. However, creating an app can be costly, so it must be done with planning, forethought and intentionality.

Website revival: A traditional website can be another effective platform. Facebook Live is currently the most popular livestreaming platform for HoWs. However, because of some religious groups’ fear of being censored and given the costs of creating an app, many worship leaders are simply opting to revive their website. These leaders need real counsel to create effective and dynamic websites that will engage people.

Online giving: Finances are vital to ongoing operations for HoWs, just as for any business. Typically, HoWs lag behind the corporate world when it comes to providing digital portals through which people can make donations online. Leaders realize that they have to build capacity for digital giving, but they need help to create digital portals on their website and to effectuate strategies like kiosks and text to give.

Centralized management software: In order to function effectively in the digital world, HoWs must better organize and manage their data. Typically, even in large HoWs, each department collects data using random software; the result is several islands of data management. Sharing data between these islands is not effective, often requiring enormous amounts of printing and rekeying. The best way to communicate with all congregants or selectively to particular groups, while also providing a digital portal for giving and automated account management, is to create a network throughout the campus and use centralized management software. AV integrators can help them design and build the network, while also recommending software that effectively and efficiently meets HoWs’ organizational needs.

Obviously, worship leaders have many more areas of concern as they create worship experiences now and in the future. I believe that we can play a role in helping these leaders adopt effective technologies that address their concerns and enable them to create powerful worship experiences and effective management systems. That is what I believe. Please tell me what you believe.

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