About a year ago, we were experiencing one of the biggest disruptions to collective life in decades. Although the calendars of some were wiped clean, others’ lives ramped up to an exhausting pace. Church workers and communicators fell into the latter category. Leading in unfamiliar territory quickly became the norm and tools that were once supplemental shifted to our primary conduit for connection.
In this shift, some really great things have happened. We’ve been creative, honed problem-solving skills, grown in our tech know-how, and learned just how vital community is, particularly in difficult and uncertain times.
Things look different now, even as we’re beginning to see glimmers of coming out of the pandemic. We have a greater appreciation for opportunities to physically gather together, even if that looks different for a while.
The sudden switch in how we worship, work, and otherwise connect has served as a catalyst for change in many ways. For some, it was a nudge or push to roll out a larger online presence after more quietly cultivating this area in pre-pandemic life. For others, it was jumping feet first into brand new waters and learning to swim all at once.
In all of this, there has been much discussion on the role technology played and continues to play throughout the pandemic, both positive and negative. Although we don’t know exactly what it will look like on the other side, we can consider the tools, technology uses, and habits we’ve picked up over the last year and think about what is worth keeping around and what we can shed moving forward.
Naturally, there are few universal answers to these questions, as each context comes with its own nuances. In answering them for ourselves, we must begin by looking at our own congregation’s mission and the ministry priorities that flow from it. I posed these questions for discussion in the Lutheran Communicators group on Facebook and the following themes emerged.
Start with or return to the foundation: God’s Word
As mentioned earlier, one blessing the pandemic gave to many was the gift of time at home. Rather than rushing from one commitment to the next, individuals and families found themselves mining the closets and shelves of their homes for things to do, including picking up their Bibles. Pastor Mark Triplett, who serves at St. Mark and St. John's Lutheran in Rushford, Minnesota, noted, “No matter what technology solutions we come up with, we still have to have our foundation built on the Rock of Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection and the faith the Holy Spirit formed in our hearts.”
Embrace more personal communication avenues and limit automation
From an efficiency standpoint, automating as much as possible is a win. From a connection standpoint, it generally falls short. If we’ve learned anything through this year of distancing and remote everything, it’s how much we need one another. Seth Hinz, director of marketing and creative at Pathfinder Church in Ellisville, Missouri, shared, “I think, for churches, it's returning to our roots of personal connection. Skip the email check-in, send a handwritten note. Don't just text, call. All of this technology can be great, but at the end of every fiber-optic line is a real person—and they long to be known.”
Continue to cultivate a strong online presence and means for connecting
Whether livestreaming or posting pre-recorded videos, the pandemic ushered in a wider use of online platforms for worship services, classes, and devotions. “We've reached people this way that we wouldn't have otherwise,” noted Kim Harlan, a volunteer tech team member and social media admin at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Saratoga Springs, New York. Noting the limitations of only online worship and gathering experiences, she added that she’s looking forward to the time when their “online presence [can] be used to bring us physically together,” and cultivate more meaningful connections.
Develop basic video making skills
Closely connected to maintaining a strong online presence is learning basic video making skills and equipping others in this area. Matthew Bergholt, manager for online support and services in the LCMS School Ministry Office, explained, “While not every video needs post-production, having good-looking video and the skills to shoot it yourself goes a long way in sharing a message quickly and effectively when you may not have access to all of your resources.” Key things to keep in mind are frame composition, audio quality, stability, and lighting.
Embrace new or untapped ways of reaching and engaging those outside of the church walls
The pandemic brought to light or emphasized the needs of many outside of our churches and in our
communities. The move to digital platforms for many ministries also made them accessible to those who might not otherwise be aware of or engage with them. Katrina Huckabay, lay communication director at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Grandview, Missouri, shared, “Ministries can thrive and grow when available online. People who may never walk into the physical building join and grow with the ministry.”
Through online sources, churches and individuals found ways to serve their communities offline, as well. Packing and distributing lunches to school children and their families, delivering groceries and meals to high-risk households, and making masks were just a few ways congregations saw their members activated in their neighborhoods and cities. This demonstrates the importance of remaining attentive to and meeting the needs of those often right outside the church’s doors.
Ditch unnecessary handouts and prioritize information that is widely shared
The need to limit physical touch points for health reasons has given churches the opportunity to assess tools like bulletins, printed announcements, and other hard copy handouts. “Every week we would spend hours creating the handout only to see them left in pews and underutilized,” Hinz explained.
Sharing information via digital channels can streamline not only the creation process, but distribution as well. Deborah Buck, a communications coordinator, noted that having a digital bulletin is helpful for those worshiping at home and gives those who want to have the document in hand the option to download and print.
Whether shared via digital or print avenues, as church communicators striving to serve people well, “it's our responsibility to share only the most pertinent updates,” said Hinz. He also noted, “If people want a deep dive, we strive to keep the website up-to-date.”
Say goodbye to perfectionism
The near-breakneck speed of change in the early days of the pandemic forced church workers and
communicators to set up new systems and churn out content with little time for incessant nitpicking. These short timelines can force us to keep moving forward, not getting caught up in chasing the perfect at the expense of the good and done. Kimberly Myers, director of communications for the Nebraska District of the LCMS, commented, “I'd like to shed the perfectionism that holds me back from finishing something I fear isn't all it could be. Sometimes ‘pretty good and finished’ is much better than ‘almost perfect but still a draft’!”
Although this list is far from exhaustive, the thoughts shared are great food for thought (and maybe even action) as we each look at our own congregations and contexts. As we continue to respond to the needs of our members and those in the community, we do so confident that God is with us and His Word is alive and active, just as He has promised.
See where you church can improve and reach its goals of connecting with others inside and outside of the church by personalizing your content mapping.