Am writing this during the weekend where much of the Northeast (and some of the Southeast) of the USA is reeling from a 18-30 inches (1.25-2.5m) of snow. I just received a message from one church on how they are cancelling service in order to maintain some of the wisdom of keeping folks off the road. And while I do agree with keeping folks from driving in dangerous moments, 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, perhaps we can encourage pastors and their communities to do/expect better.
First, cancellation messages should probably 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. But to those of you 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.
IMO, 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 also 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.
That takes care of the teaching portion, what about praise and worship. As many will readily declare, this is something better done in the presence of others. And yes, I’d agree as well. But, we can’t. The weather won’t allow it. So, we adjust expectation by either allowing for that same Google Hangouts tool to be used by the worship leader to do a live session. Or, we skip the live music and have the worship team share a playlist of songs by other artists which motivate them towards praise and worshipful moments. Services such as Apple Music, Google Play Music, Amazon Music, Spotify, and Pandora do this quite easily (allowing for the creation and sharing of a playlist).
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 for a week doesn’t mean no community.
And at worst, we take moments like these to encourage folks to pray with their families. Nothing like prayer to knit us closer when the environment dictates distance.