Regathering for Worship? Conversation about Plans and Opportunities

Churches everywhere are making important decisions on a return to in-person worship as COVID-19 cases decrease and the percentage of the community vaccinated increases. And while each ministry has its own set of circumstances, there are some common issues that most are facing. In this webinar we highlight what this conversation has looked like in the faith communities of a few of our staff, highlight some questions that need to be addressed and tools available through Worship Times.

 

Webinar Related Resources – Regathering for Worship

Webinar Transcript

Welcome to this week’s Worship Times webinar. Churches everywhere are making important decisions on in-person worship. And while each ministry has its own set of circumstances, there are some common issues that most are facing. We wanted to highlight what this conversation looks like in our own faith communities, highlight some questions that need to be addressed and tools available. We encourage you to post questions. We’ll have time at the end to respond.

Andrew Yeager-Buckley
My congregation has been gathering via Zoom for well over a year now and we’ll likely continue that plan through at least the rest of the summer. Or at least until it’s safe for all members to come back together in person. I think we’ve started the conversation about what a return to in-person Worship and Ministry might look like about five different times over the last year. I have to be honest that my willingness to dream about all the cool things we could do to offer some type of hybrid worship experience was pretty limitless 9 months ago. Fast forward to today, I find myself much more anxious about our long term plan. It was a challenge to recruit other members to help be part of the weekly Zoom production team and I honestly don’t see us being able to recruit many others. A few weeks ago our team met at the church sitting in the chancel area and had a really good conversation with our pastors, church musician and other key leaders.

  • We agreed that continuing to livestream was critical but no longer through Zoom.
  • We began to discuss ways we could make the online experience more engaging and higher quality through improving audio equipment, when we install cameras we want to offer multiple angles for different moments during the service. Not all just facing the chancel area.
  • We want the live streaming page on our website to offer other tools for participating. Downloadable bulletin, ability to submit prayer requests, and any other communication tools we make available in person we want to make available on that page.
  • The conversation about our dreams for the website brought up the reality that we need to upgrade our website so that it can handle all of our dreams.

Our plan is to start somewhat basic and then in time we can add other tools or creative ideas. Coming up with a plan that’s sustainable based on our volunteer capacity was really important to me. The last thing I want to mention is about space. Part of our reentry conversation has been about the layout of our sanctuary. We began to discuss ways the sanctuary could be redesigned to make it more accessible and safer in case there is any type of covid-19 increase again in the future or any other type of health issue.

We still have a lot of decisions to make but I’m hopeful for the future.

Andy Graves
My experience has been an interesting one. My wife works in church communications and has been working with ministry and public health leaders pretty much since the beginning of the pandemic regarding how and when people will be safe to go back into church.

On the whole, it’s been pretty amazing to see how thoughtful and considerate everyone has been across the board. Churches and their judicatory bodies have embraced remote worship in creative and meaningful ways. And while remote worship will always have a different feel than in-person worship, it now is widely available for those whose life circumstances lead them to prefer it or require it. This is an amazing step forward regarding accessibility and opens up entirely new pathways to outreach and evangelism.

Also lots and lots of churches now have ministry leaders with the technical skills and equipment necessary to deliver an online worship experience that is polished and really connects with viewers.

Now that we are moving into a time when significant portions of our population are fully vaccinated, new questions arise.

  • How do churches make everyone feel safe and welcome when some attendees are fully vaccinated while others — for whatever reason, personal health situations and so forth — are not
  • How do churches alter the way they are streaming their services now that people are returning to the pews?

These are only two examples and they both contain multitudes.

Here are a few things to consider about your church site as you continue to discern your regathering process.

  1. Be sure that your site includes clear descriptions and instructions about what returning to church looks like. A short video is a great way to do this. [Red Wing example]
  2. Be sure to share WHY AND HOW you’ve made the decisions you have on your site. Also, consider using an anonymous survey to find out what your membership looks like regarding vaccination levels, how many folks have special health considerations (again stress this is anonymous), what people’s level of comfort is with indoor worship,

Andrew Yeager-Buckley
For our Worship Times Partners I want to make sure you’re fully aware of the Forms tools that’s available to all. Most partners have used the Gravity Forms tool to create a basic web form that allows individuals to contact the church or a particular leader. This same tool can also be used to set up an RSVP form for those churches needing to limit attendance as you begin to regather due to covid-19 health department guidance in your community. You can set limits on the quantity of slots available. We strongly encourage you to setup a form that allows those worshiping at home to easily submit prayer requests. As programmatic offerings begin to return over the next few years you can set up event registration forms, volunteer signups and the list goes on. We’ll include in the follow-up to this webinar links to training videos that outline some of these suggestions.

Andy Graves
Here are a few more tips and tricks to keep in mind.

  1. Be sure to include the people in your livestreams. Move away from the tight shots on the celebrant and organist so that those viewing remotely can get a feel for the larger space.
  2. Consider assigning digital ushers and greeters to monitor your chat and comments sections. Greet people and answer questions just like you would in person.
  3. How do churches accommodate those who wish to maintain mask wearing and social distancing; make spaces available for those who wish to continue these practices while others who feel comfortable gathering as we did pre-pandemic will have their space as well.

Clearly we do not have all the answers. This is an enormously complicated issue for everyone. It is helpful for me to remember that this is a covenantal relationship we share as Christians. This is a point my church leaders have made multiple times during this process and, while it doesn’t dispel all disagreement, it does remind us that we are ultimately in this together.

Any questions that have come up?

Andrew Yeager-Buckley
We received a question in advance. This person raised one of the struggles every church is facing. How do we safely welcome all back? Those vaccinated and unvaccinated while still protecting the most vulnerable among us, including individuals going through cancer treatments and young children.

This isn’t just a question, this is THE QUESTION I think most church leaders are struggling with and there are no simple answers. Advice is coming from local health departments, church insurance companies and denominational leaders. In the end this is about making sure we’re offering a safe space for all. The return to everyone worshipping together without masks like before is going to take time. I don’t think regathering can be seen as just one Sunday but a season of regathering. Some will be able to return early and for others it’s going to take much longer. The health and wholeness of the full community needs to be taken under consideration. This is not simple.

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