A SERIES ON THE CHURCH AND THE PANDEMIC

Some changes during pandemic have worked for church, panel says

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Even with all that has gone wrong with the coronavirus pandemic in the past year, there were a few changes that churches may want to keep.


A panel of Kentucky Baptist pastors and leaders gathered recently for a conversation with Kentucky Today and talked about what has worked well during the pandemic and how some is worth keeping around permanently.  


Zoom meetings: While many church members may have suffering from Zoom overload because of work-at-hone commitments, the idea of having church committee members getting together that way remains something to consider.


“Committee meetings for us are a lot shorter because we’re Zoomin’ them,” said Jeff Crabtree, the pastor of faith development at Hillvue Heights.


The pluses of Zoom meetings include being able to meet from home instead of traveling to church and it becomes mostly business that is discussed which shortenens the meeting to essentials.


Online services: Most churches have enhanced their online presence and, in many cases, have found a new audience. The verdict is still out on the overall effectiveness and the panel suggested that each church should evaluate its online presence to determine if it needs to be continued or even discontinued in some cases.


Now that churches have established an online tool, they can expand it beyond just showing the morning worship service to use evangelistically. Nick Sandefur, the senior pastor at Porter Memorial in Lexington, has plans to do more of that once attendance comes back to about 90 percent of pre-COVID numbers, he said.


Online giving: A lot of Kentucky Baptist churches moved to online giving to make it easier for members to tithe without having to be at church because of the virus. It has been a popular tool and may have helped keep many churches afloat.


“That would be something I’d encourage them to do if they’re not already there,” Crabtree said of setting up an online giving plan. “Not all of them are but I can tell you, for us, our online giving has gone up astronomically. It’s a good thing and we ended the year in a financial black.”


Churches have set up the online giving and placed boxes in strategic places so members can put in their tithes. But the panel was in agreement that it should be more than that because giving is part of the worship experience and should be treated as such.


“As we bring it back, we may not be able to do it in the way we were doing it, but we can make it an act of worship and focus on that aspect,” David Stokes, the executive director of the Central Kentucky Baptist Network, said. “We still need to make giving an act of worship.”


He said having a box in the back of the church, where members can deposit checks or cash, simply isn’t enough. “What I’ve noticed is they are not worshiping. They have a box at the back door and it’s like a passing comment at the end of the service,” Stokes said.


Crabtree said Hillvue puts a worship emphasis on giving by having someone give a report every other week about where the offering is going. “We may say 'Some of you may have given or some have given online. Let me tell you where your offering went this week. Here’s something you can pray over this week.'”


Paul Badgett, the East Region consultant of the KBC who facilitated the meeting, said “it’s the most worshipful thing that we do when we learn how to give” and deserves a place in the service.


He said some churches where he has preached have a time of offering when the instrumentalists play and people come forward and drop their tithes and offering into offering plates as an act of worship. “Depending on how much you have in your congregation, you might be able to do something like that,” he said.

The Lord’s Supper: The tradition of passing the plate may not return anytime soon or how churches do the Lord's Supper.


Typically, the elders or deacons of the church pass out the elements to the congregation, but this worship practice has been interrupted by the pandemic. But social distancing and virus fears have caused churches to switch to the all-on-one packages with the juice and wafer together, which limits further contact.


Hillvue has taken it a step further when it comes to safety by having the Lord’s Supper be an online experience, Crabtree explained.


He said the church at one time took the Lord’s Supper every week but has gone to once a month and changed the model for how it was done. “You can gather what you need to do that with and take the time, look right into the camera and have that special time,” he said. “That act is really big for some of our folks. I think the Lord’s Supper piece is huge for that small rural church and how they can do that online.”


Social distancing and masks: The panel said masks and social distancing will likely be with the church into the new future but one area that must not change is finding ways to get the gospel to the masses.


It's been fairly easy to social distance; however, masks have been a source of worry for some with membership sometimes divided over it. One suggestion was making an area that was mask-only. Even now, some churches have services where masks are required and others where masks are optional.


But taking the gospel out doesn't have any option.


“We have to figure out a way to evangelize,” Crabtree said.


Matt Shamblin, senior pastor at Rose Hill in Ashland, said churches need to evaluate everything they do.


“The whole aspect came up of was the church essential because, in large part, many churches didn’t know why they existed in the first place,” he said. “And we we’ve got to ask those tough questions and do what only the church can do. We need to reach out and make those human connections.”


Smaller churches have been able to do that better than larger ones during the pandemic, Shamblin said.


Crabtree said they have taken an idea from the smaller churches to serve the senior adults with that human connection by taking them fruit baskets and placing them on front porches.


“We targeted 135 senior adult families and we did something the small church would have done very well,” he said. “That’s so unusual for a church our size because we were driving across several counties, but it allowed our elders something to get involved with. And that’s like taking a message from the small church and that’s something good.”

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