I am writing this during the weekend where much of the Northeast (and some of the Southeast) of the United States is reeling from a series of blizzards that dumped 18-30 inches of snow. I just received a message from one church regarding how they are cancelling services in order to keep folks off the road. While I do agree with keeping folks from driving in dangerous conditions, many of our weather-cancellation messages just stop at “don’t come out this week, we’ll pick up next week.”
In this age of connected devices and services, I’d like to encourage pastors and their communities to do more than just call off Sunday services. I’d like to welcome them to take the opportunity to check in with their communities and use the weather as an excuse, if you will, to re-connect personally.
Set the Tone With Your Message
First off, cancellation messages should set the tone of things a bit better. It should not sound as if there is no other potential of connection – only that the regular connection is the one that will not happen. Using language such as, “We will not meet as usual because of weather conditions. For those living within the same neighborhood, please make a reasonable effort to check in on one another,” is a way to extend the community beyond the walls of the sanctuary.
In my opinion, we should be utilizing online spaces (whether this means blog or church forum) to encourage folks to (re)connect to those spaces. If a blog, this is where the pastor/lead teacher should schedule a blog post to go up the same time their sermon would – and such a posting would have either an outline of what was going to be preached, or the full notes, or even a transcript (as many do write these before preaching). If there’s a decent presence on Facebook, Church Community Builder, etc., use those as places where not only a message can be posted, but where folks are encouraged to speak up towards how they are working around weather issues (whether that is posting about members to check on, or for those who are going out in teams to shovel driveways and sidewalks).
In a simpler manner, we can go ahead and cancel services, but then offer live-teaching in venues like Google Hangouts. This does mean that the pastor-teacher would have to have a Google account, and there might be some minor coordination with those usually tasked to get the word out about program changes, but it would at least allow for a continuation of teaching while playing smart with weather and environmental conditions.
Encourage Your Church to Think Bigger
Lastly, you can encourage your community members to check out online communities who are already in this space. Life.Church is a pioneer in this area, as is Every Student and many others. If you aren’t on deck with who has online spaces of fellowship – this is where you should do your homework and encourage both your leadership and community to rumble outside of the range for a time.
Now, this is just a simplistic reiteration of something that should be on your radar. Just because there’s not a physical connection doesn’t mean other aspects of the behavior cannot happen. Sure, there’s no sacraments (or maybe we do communion better because its a full meal at home), but no sacraments doesn’t mean no community.
At the very least, take this moment to encourage folks to pray with their families. Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Encourage them to worship and fellowship at home. There’s nothing quite like a time of prayer, worship, and fellowship to knit us closer when the environment dictates distance.