As the pandemic and its many disruptions head into a second year, many people are understandably exhausted, lonely and frustrated. Yet there’s also a growing sense of hope and opportunity, especially among people of faith and church leaders.
Covid-related lockdowns have forced congregations to flex their creativity and experiment with new outreach methods. Church members and leaders continue finding solidarity in their mission, however, determined not to let a global health crisis stop worship, education and outreach activities.
Time spent in quarantine also has served to increase worshipers’ awareness of what they most miss and appreciate about in-person gatherings. In fact, a recent Lifeway Research study reveals that 91 percent of U.S. churchgoers plan to eventually attend in-person worship at least as often as they did pre-pandemic. Of those respondents, almost a quarter (23 percent) say they plan to attend church even more than they did before!
On the other hand, some church members likely won’t feel safe returning to in-person worship for a while, even with social distancing measures firmly in place. Some people have even come to prefer online worship and Bible study opportunities, whether through their own congregation or through other churches, both near and far. Pastors even report receiving financial contributions during the pandemic from out-of-state worshipers who’ve never stepped foot inside their facilities.
At this point, no one’s quite sure what church and authentic community will look like post-pandemic. But it’s pretty certain they won’t—and can’t—look the same as before. Though some naysayers predict that churches will face prolonged hardships or even close for good, optimists are confident that the shared challenge of the pandemic can spark a new reformation.
With the help of the Holy Spirit, Christian congregations throughout the country will find new ways to move into a fuller, more inclusive sense of what it means to be an authentic community of believers.
For churches, returning to “business as usual” isn’t an option; their mission statements won’t allow that, because it would mean leaving some people behind. Churches must now think about creating a new community that includes people who can’t be with us physically.
Livestreaming and in-person gatherings need to be merged in whatever ways possible. For example, some churches now incorporate videoconferencing tools such as Zoom into all their activities. As a result, every small group, educational offering and committee meeting is open and accessible to online participants.
What might all these changes and opportunities mean for your congregation? What kinds of new “community” can you build among church members and visitors, and how can you keep everyone connected in the process?
A church photo directory facilitates connections.
In order to meet people’s needs, first you must know them: the people as well as the needs. Relationships require connections and interactions, which church photo directories foster at all times but especially during difficulties.
Whether you’re currently meeting together in person or not, all individuals need encouragement, contact and accessibility with others. That’s why directories are essential for keeping track of church members’ identities, contact information, special days and worship preferences.
Throughout the pandemic, directories and the important information they contain have kept church members linked, strengthened their bonds and helped to ensure that everyone feels loved and valued. Moving forward, directories will continue to play a vital post-pandemic role for church leaders who need to stay aware of who is attending — and how.
Here’s just a few of the ways that a church photo directory contributes to all those important goals:
- Listings and photos help members put faces (and Zoom profiles) to names.
- Contact information allows members to send one another greeting cards, text messages and other notes of support.
- Birthday and anniversary lists help congregants remember one another’s special days, which, as we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, can be acknowledged and celebrated in creative yet socially distanced ways.
- New staff members, volunteers and new church members can quickly get “up to speed” with the help of a current, comprehensive church directory.
- With a photo directory, everyone’s details are located in one handy spot, making prayer chains and phone or email “trees” a breeze.
- Using a safe, secure online service such as Instant Church Directory keeps you in control of members’ photos and data. Plus, members can easily submit and update their own material.
- In tough financial times, Instant Church Directory keeps your congregation connected without the pressure to buy the professional portraits that accompany traditional directories.
As your church transitions into its post-pandemic ministry, be sure to follow these tips for maximum impact from your photo directory:
- Create customized listings. Depending on your congregation’s size and circumstances, you might want to consider creating groups to track which people attend in-person worship and which ones take part virtually. Subgroups can include out-of-state participants and contributors, frequent guests, people who are homebound and so on.
- Use the directory listings to consider who might need different types of assistance, including prayer, visits, meals, errands, cards and more.
- Decide how your church will handle sacraments for both in-person and online worshipers. If your church baptizes babies or children, a directory can help you stay in touch with expectant or new parents about their needs for those services.
- Communion provides another challenge, and rethinking some theological points and practices might be required. How will your church allow online worshipers to partake fully in the gift of God’s sacramental grace?
- Focus on providing a variety of fellowship opportunities, both in-person and online, for people of all ages and interests. For example, young adults moving back and forth to college (and back and forth between digital and in-person classes) may especially crave fellowship and Bible study opportunities with their peers.
- With the assistance of a church photo directory, you can ensure that no one misses out on important educational programs, including Sunday school, vacation Bible school, adult education and new-member classes. For people who continue to remain at home, volunteers can deliver materials to their doorsteps, possibly in kits, baskets or gift bags. Another option is to send a card or email that lists links for downloading curriculum, handouts, crafts and so on.
- Think ahead to milestone occasions and special events, from confirmations and graduations to weddings and funerals. Many of these had to be postponed or altered substantially throughout 2020, so people are more eager than ever to gather for them as a community. How will you connect with people for all these important occasions, and how can your congregation celebrate or observe each one sufficiently and safely? What steps can you take now — and in the future — to embrace church members at all stages of life, nurturing community along the way?
Throughout the many trials of Covid-19, we’ve seen the truth in this saying: “The church is a body of people, not a building” (nor, we might add, a website, nor a teleconferencing link). Even when people are worshiping or meeting digitally, we’re still being the body of Christ and praising a real, authentic God who always remains present and faithful.
Amid all the hardships and impacts of this historic pandemic, our eternal God is calling churches and pastors to stretch and grow. He’s calling us out of our comfort zones in new and unexpected ways for the good of our faith communities as well as our broader communities.
The good news is that the resilience of the church body — God’s people — can move beyond its walls and even its screens, bringing light and hope to all.
This information is provided courtesy of Instant Church Directory, a small team of dedicated folks working hard from home to build a simple yet effective tool for connecting church members. Visit their website at www.InstantChurchDirectory.com to learn more about their online church directory solution.