Worship in the age of COVID-19

by Tom Tillman on March 20, 2020 in COVID-19

As churches and communities are forced to adapt to “the new way of doing church” in the age of the Coronavirus outbreak, here are some ways to help make the most of this strange situation. 

The first thing we must keep at the forefront of all we do is to ENGAGE our church community. Let’s be honest…this is often hard to do during normal circumstances, let alone during a global pandemic. So, the challenge is how to accomplish this engagement when we aren’t even meeting in the same room together, but via live video stream. Many in the older generation don’t frequent social media and some don’t have computers, but most do have either a smartphone or smart tv to deliver their church service into the living room. When this is the only option for connection, it is vital this medium is effective. Perhaps some in the church community can assist our seniors with this method of engagement by demonstrating how to make this connection on the device of their choice. 

It is important for us to remember that worship during these challenging days should be set apart. Let’s remember that worship is the most important thing we will do this week. Get the family dressed and ready for church. Get out your Bible and read along with the pastor. Participate. Sing. Engage in what the Pastor is talking about. Remember what Jesus tells us, “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” (Matthew 18:20 NASB) Knowing that our church community is gathering “together” in THEIR living rooms at that very hour helps us know He truly IS in our midst.

If you are a worship leader, I encourage you to incorporate as many people as possible during these times to help assist in the worship experience. Recording or live-streaming the service with just one person leading worship may limit the participation and response from our people. 

Adapting to a moving target

Dan Baker, Minister of Music at First Baptist Amarillo, serves a church that broadcasts to a 200-mile radius in a five-state area each week via television and cable. This same broadcast is quickly converted to Vimeo to be posted on their website within an hour of broadcast on Sunday morning. But going from a traditional large choir with a room full of engaged worshippers to zero worshippers in the pews and a choir loft where “social distancing” is attempted proves a challenge for both the ones leading worship as well as the worshipper viewing at home. While speaking with Dan about all of this, he reminds me that as a church staff, our faith is really being put to the test. “Pray without ceasing” has moved to the forefront of his heart. Each week is a moving target with all the new changes asked of us from the government regarding how many people can gather. As of this writing it’s now ten. So Dan is rethinking the ensemble of 16 he had planned for this Sunday in a choir loft that can seat as many as 100. Dan has done his best to practice the social distancing asked of us while remaining faithful to offering his church their rich choral traditions that people love. 

Drive-in church service

One church that is thinking outside the box is First Baptist Kaufman, Texas. Worship Pastor, Yohel Martinez, says that March 22 will be their first attempt at having a drive-in church service! FBC Kaufman has set a large stage in their parking lot. They will have their own radio station where cars can tune into the service which will be live-streamed for those not on campus.

Yohel says, “The purpose of this is to keep the idea of community going to church and allow people, even if in their cars, to feel that we are still gathering to worship our God!” 

This worship experience will accomplish family and church interaction and provide a trip out of the house while practicing social distancing! FBC Kaufman plans to have a 9:30 am Southern Gospel service, and an 11 am Contemporary. They bill this as “Drive In Worship” with posters and ads that say, “Get out. Stay safe. Trust God. Have some fun!”  

Learning how to live-stream

Dr. Will Whittaker, Minister of Music at Ivy Creek Baptist in Buford, Georgia, says his church didn’t provide a live stream until the Coronavirus shut everyone down. Ivy Creek upgraded their Vimeo account to Livestreaming. On the first Sunday they went live 300 families tried to watch on the church website which crashed the website. The church sent an email directing folks to the church Vimeo page and problem solved. Ivy Creek has now purchased a new camera as they adapt and settle into this new world of technology, but this is a good example of how we can even use an iPad and iPhone to record the service. This is a church that wasn’t live-streaming before Coronavirus, but will continue this medium to reach more people after this pandemic is in the rearview mirror. Will said that their members have been amazingly patient with staff as they do their best to keep the community together during these trying days.

Adapting to a new normal

John Bolin, Worship Pastor at Kingsland Baptist in Katy, Texas, is live-streaming with a smaller praise team than normal. He said they record some worship sets to use in the future, but he prefers the idea of doing it live “so it can feel right, like a normal Sunday”.

The new normal, at least for now, is reaching people through dynamic, creative means to provide hope and comfort, and leading people to Jesus in the process. Let’s pray for the churches all over our state, country, and world seeking new ways to bring God’s people together to accomplish our mission. The main thing to remember during these days is that church is not just a building but a shared experience.  

Texas Baptists is a movement of God’s people to share Christ and show love by strengthening churches and ministers, engaging culture and connecting the nations to Jesus.

The ministry of the convention is made possible by giving through the Texas Baptists Cooperative Program, Mary Hill Davis Offering® for Texas Missions, Texas Baptists Worldwide and Texas Baptist Missions Foundation. Thank you for your faithful and generous support.

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