Coaching

10 Sparks to Help you Think Through Ministry During a Time if Social Distancing

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Jesus tasked us with making disciples for the transformation of the world. How we do that when we are physically apart is hard, but not impossible. 

These thoughts and practices are the results of conversation and collaboration with: Montana Hamby — Mt. Zion UMC, Marietta, GA; Natalee Dukes Hamby — Hamilton Mill UMC, Hamilton Mill, GA; Sam Dawkins — West Georgia UMC, Carrollton, GA; Leslie Bowers — Northbrook UMC; Ryan Young — Northbrook UMC; Melissa Mobley — Roswell UMC; Brad Biggerstaff — Midway UMC

1. Think Ahead.

Not being physically present with our students can be tough, but with some good brainstorming, we can bring something to our folks that they’ve never seen before.

Think about a spiritual schedule. You can provide readings and prayers in PDF format to your students. One a day. I’d even suggest using Paul’s epistles from prison. How is Paul dealing with isolation? What/who does Paul point to?

2. Model Social Distancing.

Last week, I watched a church live stream with more than ten people gathered around a microphone singing into each others’ faces. I doubt they meant to, but it communicated to me and possibly others that they weren’t concerned with modeling healthy social distancing. If you do not model this for your students, it could lead to some in your communities not taking this seriously. Take it seriously. Model it for your people. Overdo it if necessary.

Need convincing? Read this.

3. Think basics when it comes to missional engagement.

The greater our social distancing grows, the harder it seems to engage in the mission of the church. Here are a few ways to engage:

Call people. Seriously. Set up a few 15–20-minute calls a day just to say hey. You will be grateful. They will be grateful. And time will move a little faster.

Amazon Wishlist. You can have folks create a wishlist on Amazon of essential items and those items can be delivered straight to the door of the individual.

Buy local. Roswell restaurants have grouped together to serve those who are in need. If you call and order a gift card, they will provide food to folks. Take a look here.

Give blood. The American Red Cross needs blood desperately. They have stations everywhere and they are being incredibly cautious. Think about giving blood. Find out how to give here.

4. Offer Tech Support.

It may be a good idea to set up some time (and publicize) a Facebook Live event or something like it to help people within your community learn the technology that we have so rapidly begun using. Not everyone is tech-savvy. Find students in your group who have a good understanding of technology and ask them to help anyone else who is struggling.

5. Create moments of JOY

People are in need of laughs and smiles. We all need a break from the heaviness that only seems to get heavier. Think about how you might provide moments of joy for your church and your community. Ask people to send in pictures of their families watching your live stream together. Ask for videos of students reading or participating in a certain part of the Sunday service. Get creative. Have fun!

6. It should inspire and encourage YOU!

I spoke with a colleague yesterday. When I asked him whether he wanted to watch his own online service, he said, “No way!”

If you do not want to watch/read/listen to the content you are publishing, would you expect anyone else to have a desire to do so? I wouldn’t. When you produce content, think about what you might like to see or read. Think about the things that inspire you. Think about where God is in the midst of all this. Think about what your students might like to see.

7. Use the technology you’ve got (and maybe add some fun transitions).

As we move into a more isolated place, more churches may seek to do pre-recorded services. This Sunday, our staff will record videos from home and send it to one person to put it all together. We use dropbox.com to send large video files and iMovie on an iPhone or Mac computer to put it all together. These two easy-to-use apps make Sunday videos a lot easier to edit.

Also, fun transitions can make a Sunday experience feel more real. For example, at the end of my part of the video, I say something like, “Over to you Laurie.” She opens up with, “Thanks Andrew,” similar to how we would operate on a regular Sunday. This adds a sense of the familiar. Shots of the sanctuary and other places on campus would be good to include as well. We are finding that some folks really miss the PLACE itself.

If you don’t have the capability to use iMovie or edit video, think about using Facebook or YouTube Live and limit your time there. If it is simply you and the camera, think about a few minutes of prayer and a homily after. Any more than 10–15 minutes and you might start to lose people unless there is a change of scenery.

8. Family Facebook Groups.

It is particularly tough to be isolated and/or quarantined away from family. One way to get around this is through Facebook Groups. Families can set up private Facebook groups, invite family members only, and post at their leisure. People can stay up to date, share silly stories and pictures, and remain somewhat connected through these groups.

You can do this with any social groups including teams, small groups, and even churches!

9. The best thing we can offer is ourselves.

We are all in uncharted territory. So the best thing we can do in the coming weeks is to offer our real selves to our friends, family, and churches. As we learn how to have a new kind of worship experience on Sundays, it is okay to have it at home, with family photos in the background. It shows people that you are in the same space they are. You are living the same sort of life right now. We are all in it together. Solidarity is powerful.

10. Do the things that you will do when things get back to normal.

Some churches are already over-extending themselves, bending over backward to do things they’ve never done before. And why shouldn’t they? This situation is unprecedented. We are trying to serve people as best we can. We should use this time as a learning experience. We shouldtry new things. But perhaps it might be best to make regular habits out of the things we might continue once this is over. We can begin new habits, but not too many.

Remember your call.

Most of all, remember why you do this in the first place. Remember that God called you. Remember that you have been preparing for something like this all your ministry. Jesus is with you. The Holy Spirit is guiding you. The ever-creating Father is sparking something within you that will lead to something new and different.

If you have any additional thoughts, criticisms, suggestions, PLEASE email me at achappell@northbrookumc.com. We are all trying to figure this out too. I don’t have many answers. We need so much help and we’re ready to collaborate.

Andrew currently serves as the Associate Pastor of Northbrook United Methodist Church in Roswell, GA. He has 8 years of youth ministry experience, an M.Div. from Candler School of Theology, a passion for reading all things by Richard Rohr, and a love for Stranger Things. He also maintains his own blog at https://medium.com/@andrewdavischappell

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