This post was written in April 2020, but it seems as important now as it did then. Enjoy…
For extroverts lockdown is a testing time. I’m a 98% extrovert I love people and I love community. I am really grateful for technology and how it is being used to build genuine community during lockdown. I run daily chats on conference apps for my daughters and their friends. This took a few days to get used to it, but now they love it. The 5 year old generally plays Pictionary, makes silly faces or does an extensive show and tell. My 7 year old and up to 15 friends natter for over an hour every day. Here is what some of the parents have said…
“Daily chats have helped my seven year old stay positive over these last very strange weeks. Thank you for organising daily zoom calls for her and her friends. I can’t thank you enough”
“It’s been so great listening to Aria chatter with her school friends. She has come out of her shell it has been such a help for her, it has given her a freedom of friendship even when stuck at home xx”
So for me being salt and light has taken a massive U Turn during COVID19. I’ve become an online party host on most days. But this seems to be what my friends need right now. The country is in isolation and we’re lacking real community. We’re unsure and afraid about what the future holds for each one of us. Yet as Christians we have something to say and now is the time to say it.
Priya Parker has written an excellent book called “The Art of Gathering. In this she says “I have come to believe that it is the way a group is gathered that determines what happens in it and how successful it is”. In this article I’d love for us to pause and think. I’d like us to think both how we gather and how we communicate our message online.
Eamon Holmes journalist and broadcaster was at the races in Cheltenham in 2009. He was chatting in a box with his friends. In the box were 11 men, 1 woman, all in their 50s. He says this. “They were all very confident and all very well fuelled with alcohol. They were chatting around my wife – who’s not my wife at this point. She’s loving it, and I thought ‘why isn’t she my wife?’ I thought ‘why have I not got that tied up” This annoyed him and inspired him to propose. So how did he propose? A man with money, influence and connections. Wait for it…Eamon wrote his girlfriend a six page text message.
Now stop a moment and ask yourself how would you feel if you received a marriage proposal by text? Or even worse if you sent a marriage proposal by text? What is it that doesn’t sit right with proposing by text?
How we communicate shows something of the message itself. How we communicate during COVID19 says exactly the same.Tweet
How we communicate shows something of the message itself. How we communicate during COVID19 says exactly the same. We’re going to explore some ideas here about relational online communication. I’d like to look at offering hope in a time of crisis. I want us to dream big. Remember what life was like BVC and push technology to its limits. Relational online events done really well will push social distancing to its boundaries.
Friends are asking so many questions. What do you believe? Where do you find hope? Do you get angry? Friends genuinely seem to be interested in these questions that are so central to what we know in Jesus. But how do I communicate with them when I am in lockdown? Lets go back to Eamon Holmes’ proposal. For me personally it lacks humanity, it lacks relationship and its deeply unsatisfying. I would have been so disappointed not to have been asked in person.
I wonder if some of the ways we’ve previously thought about communication and online events have lacked a human element to them?
There are some excellent resources out there on reaching out to friends and offering hope in a crisis. Many of these are high quality, one directional live video communication. There are many benefits to this platform, you can have breadth and reach in a way that you might not have otherwise. I’m conscious though, that with online saturation being at an all time high, we need something more than this.
A huge felt need in COVID19 is for relationship and gathering. We’re experiencing isolation, a lack of community and physical contact with people. It would be a shame if in our attempt to offer hope, we miss out on the best that communication technology can give us. Our events, friendships and conversations could be even better. Let me give you some examples of this. Firstly I’m not saying that you need slick, top notch equipment. In many ways my friends think that its a complete joke that I’m responsible for our new church COVID19 tech team. Jamie Haxby captures the same point in his blog post:
“I’ve done devotional thoughts live on Facebook from the treehouse in my garden amongst other weird places; it’s never well-produced: it’s just shot on our phones, but it does engage with people….we are not a big church, we are not well equipped with tech equipment, quite the opposite. But, we are creating 8000 engagements a week on Facebook alone: this is comments, likes, shares, reaching 50,000 people in the last 28 days. The result has been many new people watching on Sundays and telling us that they have been watching, people getting in touch asking us to phone them up to tell them about Jesus from a variety of backgrounds. There are some amazing testimonies starting to come to the surface.”
Through Community in a Crisis I’ve heard stories from many churches. God is opening a new door. Churches across Europe have seen an increase in guests at their services, this is surely good news. William Wade from Life Church says this “Online presence for services have trebled/quadrupled. We use pre-recorded videos and put them on our Facebook page at 11am each Sunday (with daily encouragements throughout the week). One of the best outcomes of moving online has been to ask church members to send in a 1 or 2 minute video of encouragement. It has really served to remain in some small way connected. It also serves to give a voice to the many rather than the few”.
There are so many ways that we can creatively and publicly engage with our friends. My favourite to date was a facebook watch party that we held. Two friends came along both of them thanked me for the opportunity to hear more. One messaged afterwards “It reminded me of church as a teenager, I knew something was missing in my life, but I didn’t know what until tonight”. The other friend and I ended up chatting on zoom and doing a Seeker Bible study. These watch parties are so simple and a great way to go from attending an event with anonymity to engaging your friend with the person of Jesus.
We have the most incredible reason to believe in and offer community and relationship at this time. We believe in a God that is relational to the core, from the very beginning of time he was Father, Son and Spirit.Tweet
I’m encouraged as I write this that I’m not alone in seeing this open door. There are some really helpful articles in Christianity Today talking about this opportunity and open door at the moment. One that really stood out was one entitled The Pandemic lockdown is a Godsend for the Indian church. Issac Shaw says “I believe the church has been ushered into a new age of growth and engagement with each other and with the world around us. We are witnessing a huge turning after God.”
Wouldn’t it be amazing if church online could provide this in increasing measures. We have an open door to invite friends to our church services during this time.
In the rush and pressure of this new online life, lets not forget something essential to the gospel. The incarnational, human, relational aspect of sharing this good news with our friends. If the way the message is being communicated says something about the message itself. Then, maybe we need to rethink how can we use technology to its best potential? How can we create the most relational, warm, welcoming events and church in this season? How can we be praying daily for our friends? How can we love our friends and care for them at this time? We’ve not (in our life time) had to think about our ecclesiology or missiology during a pandemic. We’ve not had to think about public evangelism in a pandemic. What a great opportunity to learn some lessons and even take them into life after COVID19.
In this time of need this exhortation rings clearly from 1 Thessalonians “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”. Lets be people that love our friends, share our lives with them and speak the good news of Jesus.
Never before have my friends been so open with me, never before I have been so open with them. COVID19 is changing all of us and is changing our relationships too. I have had more opportunities in the last few weeks to show love to my friends, to pray with and for them and to speak of the good news of Jesus. Its been a great time for honest conversations between friends.
Other ideas for online evangelism
Read: Communicating Hope during #COVDI19 – ideas from across Europe
Watch: Community in a Crisis Youtube channel – Jamie Haxby from Hope Church Lancaster shares about his experience of how they are seeing many more people engaging with their church since being online.
Community in a Crisis
At Community in a Crisis We’re passionate about building #relationalonlinechurch during #COVID19. Visit our facebook page or on Twitter. Register here for our training materials, recordings and events. We have training on; Offering hope in a Crisis – Evangelism in the local church, Multi-Platform worship training for worship leaders and Getting your church online through Zoom.