I’ll never forget the date of our first lockdown church service: March 14.
I had to preach.
The days leading up to it were tense.
On March 10th, one of our locals announced on Facebook that Andrews University was canceling the annual Passion Play.
On March 11th, the NBA announced that it was suspending the remainder of the basketball season.
It’s as if the dominos were falling in slow motion.
On March 17th an email went out to all University associated staff: a special forum was being called for Wednesday, March 18th. An important announcement was going to be made. We all shuffled into this gathering curiously, sheepishly. We weren’t quite sure if we needed to be physically distanced from each other. And then the word came from the President and Provost: students were going to be sent home and classes would move online.
It was going down, for sure.
Since Pioneer Memorial Church is connected to the University, we decided we also needed to have our first lockdown service.
Do you remember what it was like for you?
I know, there’s a spectrum. Some churches stayed open for much longer than that. But in this post, I want to examine the evolution that our church has gone through during this pandemic. There’s a decent chance we might all end up in a hardcore lockdown again, so there might be some useful lessons for some of you.
Phase One: Regular service to an empty church
This was the first phase. We quickly got the word out to the church members that they needed to stay home and watch online. Thankfully, we’ve been doing online streaming for years, so we were ready to go. We physically distanced the singers a little, but no participant had any mask.
I was grateful that there were some volunteers in the audience that I could speak to while I occasionally looked at the camera. It felt odd to try to speak directly to the camera.
We did this for two weeks.
This was my sermon on that day.
Phase Two: Church service with almost no volunteers
Someone from our team had a COVID scare. They were with someone who was exposed. It was decided that we wouldn’t bring in our large team of volunteers. Instead, we’d only use two of the cameras. They remained in a static position and were controlled remotely.
This is what the sermon looked like on that day.
Phase Three: Everything pre-recorded from home
This was a big deal for us. It felt like a hit. It felt like we had lost a battle and were giving up, but it was necessary. Check out what it looked like for Pastor Dwight. He preached from his living room in a cardigan. I think he opened up Zoom and recorded the sermon with his laptop. The audio was bad. The video was bad. But we had to pivot to this quickly, so we didn’t have a choice.
The next week Pastor Dwight had a lapel microphone, at least.
By April 25th, we were using a better camera and consistently had good audio.
These were extremely busy times, but also exciting times. I saw innovation taking place like never before. Joshua Goins led out in a heroic effort through music and worship. Here was our April 11th worship set, for example. Here was our worship set for May 9th. Our media team also gets tremendous credit. They were pulling some crazy hours as they did all these edits every week.
It continued like that for the whole summer.
It was also during this time that our Sabbath School classes moved things online. They created a page where there were Sabbath School classes and resources for every age group. This was under the leadership of Ben Martin, our Children and Family Discipleship pastor, and Lindsey Pratt, our Youth pastor.
This stage felt really good. It was a lot of work to pre-record everything, but it meant that on the Sabbath I could relax. I’d experience the service in my PJ’s like everyone else.
We also decided to essentially decentralize everything. Just about every element of the service was outsourced to someone else. For example, I created a schedule for the call to worship and opening prayer. Ben Martin had a schedule for the children’s story. Lindsey Pratt created a schedule for the Scripture reading, and so on.
It was a blessing because we saw church members involved in the worship service like never before. We could see each other’s living rooms. There was a sense of togetherness and community. We were all in it together.
Phase Four: Lead from the church with no one attending
As the summer continued to progress and as Andrews made plans to reopen in the fall, we realized we would need to make transition plans as well. So we decided to go back in the way we left: we’d do church with no one in it. This is what the sermon looked like on that day.
It was useful to have a few weeks of leading church like this because it helped us get the kinks out.
Phase Five: Reopen the church
In this post, I wrote about how we would reopen safely. We’re still in this phase.
So what has changed and what has remained the same?
Our children’s story and Scripture reading are still online. We also added a new element to the service: a dedicated testimony time. You can see the videos here. Also, we’re not passing out an offering plate in the worship service.
But everything else is in person again. One of the big differences, though, is that we’re all a lot more cognizant of the online audience. When I do the announcements or welcome I speak to the camera about 50% of the time now.
So what about you? How have things changed in your church? What has remained the same?