When worship is no longer building-based

April 30th, 2020
This article is featured in the Sustaining Worship issue of Ministry During The Pandemic

Christians believe that out of death comes resurrection. However, even Christians would have been hard-pressed to believe that out of this terrible pandemic new life could arise for churches. Yet that’s exactly what’s happened. Take church buildings, for example. Their size, shape and cost have shaped worship, ministry and mindsets for millennia. They have been both a blessing and a burden.

But once church buildings had to shut down, congregations found something quite surprising. People were suddenly freed of the constraints of their buildings, and the nature and scope of worship changed.

In this article I’m going to talk about the quick shift that has happened, and three ways to turn this unexpected gift into a long-term culture shift. Also, and maybe more importantly, I’m going to invite you to boost your leadership resilience through a new workshop I have created especially for you. 

Pre-pandemic mindset: Building-based worship

For many congregations the building has defined your ministry. In fact, upkeep of the building may have been your de facto ministry, a concept Bishop Robert Schnase calls a shadow mission. When buildings set the parameters of ministry, it can be difficult to break free of historical precedents. The ghosts of worshippers past, as much as the structure of the building, play a part in reinforcing conventions.

But the coronavirus has done for many churches what they could not do for themselves. Not only have congregations been forced out of their buildings, the size and scope of worship has changed. Congregations are now moving from building-based worship to relationship-based worship.

Mid-pandemic mindset: Relationship-based worship

Now that worship is a distributed experience, and is no longer centralized in one building, worship can be reinvented. Whether your people are worshipping with mailed bulletins, emailed orders of worship, pre-recorded videos, Facebook Live, or in some other fashion, worship takes on a new feel. Instead of being solely building-based, worship can become more intimate, more immediate. 

When worship is not confined to the structure of a sanctuary, the dynamics of worship can organically morph. All of a sudden, it’s no longer the building that gives shape to worship, but the relationships. Those relationships include both person-to-person and person-to-divine relationships. 

Interactive: Worship can be far more interactive this way. For instance, at an online family Passover Seder I conducted, everyone got up from their seats to open their respective doors for Elijah. If you are sending out printed bulletins or creating home-based worship, be sure to include actions and reflections to engage worshippers. 

Authentic: When you livestream worship, gone is the distance between the pulpit and the pew. The immediacy of a camera means the message must be more authentic, and more relevant, to connect with people. Especially people whose attention spans have been foreshortened by screen time.

Organic evangelism: Boulevard on Broad UMC, whose “storefront sacramental” worship services formerly attracted a full house of 30, have now expanded to 50+ online. Evangelism is so much easier, and organic, online. Led by Rev. Drew Willson, this congregation has also found that distributed worship has released them to fulfill their emerging vision — ”Extending God’s table” — in unexpected and immediate ways.

The shutdown of churches has forced quick shifts on congregational life. There is no guarantee that these quick shifts in mindset will automatically translate into culture shifts. Let’s talk about how to intentionally transform these quick shifts into positive, sustainable culture shifts. 

Turn this quick shift into a culture shift

  1. Frame the online experience in positive terms. Yes, you and your people may be missing each other greatly. Yes, you may miss your building. Yes, you may miss the freedoms the pandemic has momentarily restrained. However, framing the online experience with gratitude will help you keep this option alive once social distancing has been safely eased.

  2. Expand your options. Once people have online options, they treasure them. Online worship means your people can participate while traveling, indisposed, sick or feeling lazy. Even when face-to-face worship is once again available.

  3. Extend your shelf life. Unlike starting an additional worship service, which depends on a certain number of people to be considered viable, online worship has a completely different shelf life. It can be experienced hours or months later and still be fresh.

Leadership Resilience

To support you in the midst of these rapidly changing times, I have created a new online workshop starting May 6 called Leadership Resilience. These three one-hour sessions will enhance your spiritual, emotional, and financial resilience, empowering you to lead these changes over the long haul. Register now.

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