There isn’t an area of our present lives that hasn’t been touched by COVID-19: school, work, social events, elective surgeries, shopping, and the list goes on. COVID-19 has impacted how we do life, and communities of faith haven’t been exempted.
We’ve been pushed to worship virtually. And while this was a necessary push for the sake of safety, we need to keep in mind that online worship and religious study can leave some people out of the equation. But it’s not who we might think.
We often talk about elderly people or people who aren’t tech savvy as being left out from virtual worship services. But there’s another group that we may need to consider. They’re tech savvy, virtually connected, gifted, and giving. Yet, they find themselves zoning out of Zoom church. One of the reasons for this zoning out is because this group fits more in the category of contributors rather than consumers.
Consumers are satisfied with listening to and watching sermons, teachings, lectures, and conversations of featured speakers. Some of us are part of what I’ll call the “congregation of consumers” and we’re satisfied with attending congregational worship and “taking in.”
Contributors, on the other hand, have a need to “pour out” after we‘ve “taken in.” Some of us are part of this group, which I’ll call the “community of contributors.” Simply sitting and listening is not enough for the contributor.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, congregations of consumers were satisfied to go to brick-and-mortar buildings, get a word, hear a song, and get our fill “until we meet again.” This routine works well with watching and listening to services on laptops, smart phones, and tablets. Our next fill-up is just one log-in away.
Communities of contributors love congregational worship as well; however, congregational worship is our launching pad. It fills and fuels us to serve others. Unfortunately, online church doesn’t work as well for those of us who need to pour out after we’ve filled up. It doesn’t work as well for the contributors who “enter to worship, depart to serve.”
While many businesses have sent employees home to telework during the COVID-19 shut down, there has been a glaring reality that certain services just can’t be done virtually. Consider restaurants for example. We may order online, but food can’t be prepared virtually. Even though restaurants use the term “contact-free delivery,” the delivery is not virtual. This is a service that requires movement and action in a real world. Those in the church who are part of the community of contributors long for movement and action. We need to serve. We need to use our gifts.
Understandably, we may not be able to contribute in all of the same ways that we did when the doors of the church were open. But even in the virtual world, there are gifts that we can offer. If pastors can preach in the virtual world, singers can lift their voices in songs of praise in the virtual world. If pastors can teach using a teleconference line, church school teachers can do the same. If pastors can offer prayers during remote livestream services, deacons and prayer warriors can “send up timber” over social media airways, too.
Even in the real world gifts can still be offered. The hospitality ministry, a.k.a. “the kitchen committee,” may not be able to meet at the church to prepare meals for seniors or for special occasions, but they can partner with food pantries and participate in food distribution in the community. The ministry that visits the sick and shut-in may not be able to go into the homes of members, but they can form a caravan of cars and drive by the homes of sick and elderly members—honking horns and waving streamers and banners. Because who doesn’t love a parade?
The church has not been called solely to assemble for corporate worship. The church is also called to worship through offering the gifts of service.
As local churches are re-configuring during the age of COVID-19, perhaps one of the questions that we, the community of contributors, must ask ourselves is: How can we continue to be the church, for the local church that we love, and pour out what we have taken in, while we are physically distancing and services are now focused on being virtual?
And perhaps one of the questions that we pastors, preachers, teachers, and church leaders must ask ourselves as we prepare each week to present to those who will “log on, listen and take in” is: How do we make space, provide opportunities, and cultivate the gifts of service in contributors so they can pour out what they have taken in?
The answers to these questions have the power and potential to change the church now and for generations to come.