In Wisconsin (where I live), it’s been about 15 weeks since churches closed their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As many have said, this closure is about church buildings and gatherings. Church itself has not been closed, but instead, it has had to move to people’s homes. You’ve probably moved a lot of things online, and, hopefully, found a workaround for those people who don’t have the Internet access to participate online.
You may have a plan for the summer already and are looking now to the fall when the program year begins. How will you proceed? If you are making plans on how to return to church gatherings like worship services—or already implementing them—I urge you to move slowly and follow the advice of health officials and likely your greater church leadership (bishops, etc.). Gathering for worship has often been linked to outbreaks.
Keep at-Home Options
Even if you are planning to resume in-person gatherings—with precautions—I would recommend keeping online/at-home options. The church I attend has not yet released a plan for returning, but I will not attend with my family until I am comfortable with the risk. I might be overly cautious, but I know I’m not the only one. Retaining at-home worship and educational options is important to keep more people connected to your congregation and engaged in faith formation.
I’m probably “preaching to the choir,” but I feel it’s important for me to state. If you’ve already made your decisions and are comfortable with them, you can skip to the devotions section below or even to just The Word @ Home devotional resource button.
Again, you have likely been doing online worship for months now, and you have likely worked out the bugs from your process. However, since fall is often the practical “beginning” of the church year (rather than Advent 1 or January 1), it is a good time to reevaluate what you do and make changes if necessary. When you return to in-person worship, your process might need to change anyway. Either way, here are some of my thoughts as a not-quite-professional, at-home worshipper who has seen a couple different examples.
- Provide the resources. If you are assuming that worshippers have anything but the screen in front of them, please don’t. Many probably will not have a Bible handy, will not have printed out a worship bulletin (if you are providing it), and most definitely not have a hymnal. Give them everything they need, figuring out how to get text onscreen if possible.
- Provide the music. I love singing in church, but I am not a confident singer. I don’t know the words to many hymns or other worship songs, but I probably know more than the average online worshipper. So, provide the lyrics. Include some song leaders in your video. Do not just have the accompaniment playing.
- Prepare to perform. Assume that a large portion of your worshippers is not going to sing along. When you do, you are basically asking people to sing solos, or—possibly worse—become a song leader for their family. This goes for pretty much every other part of the service as well because it feels awkward to talk to a screen. Maybe I’m just an outlier here, but I don’t think so.
- Provide for participation. Since we are assuming that online worshippers are going to default to being passive audiences rather than active participants, give them something to discuss or do. This can be within the sermon (e.g. “Pause here and discuss or reflect on a time you have been rejected”) or you can give homework (though it’s best to call it a challenge or similar). No matter what, try to have it written down (on the screen or downloadable) for those of us who are not auditory learners.
Christian education is the second pillar of faith formation at church. How do you provide Sunday school (or whatever you call it) at home, especially for those with younger kids? Many of you have been experimenting and experiencing and therefore have a lot more knowledge about this than I do. However, if your educational plan is limited to Zoom or other online platforms, I would urge you to add (not replace) a purely at-home portion. This means something the family (or couples, or individuals) can do themselves. And it has to be easy, easy, easy! Don’t assume families have supplies. Some congregations even prepare monthly supply boxes and distribute them to families.
Why? (Again, I’m focusing on families with younger kids as the specifics for engaging teenagers, couples, and individual adults are different.)
- In-person connections. It is amazing how connected we can stay with family, friends, and congregation members through technology. However, direct, person-to-person contact is an essential part of life, especially for kids. Structured activities at home can bring faith formation into a normal family gathering.
- The teacher as student (or cross+gen learning). Let’s be honest, one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it. So, even if the activities you send home are in a teacher-student format, the parents are going to learn along with the kids. Even better, focus on cross+generational activities where everyone participates, teaches, and learns together.
- Stronger families. Learning together, playing together, and talking together strengthens relationships within the family. Stronger families benefit everyone. It’s as simple as that.
The Rest of the Week
While formal worship and education might no longer be limited to once a week at home, they probably will be done on a single day. What about the rest of the week? This is a problem—and opportunity—that is always with us, pandemic or not. The answer is creating and maintaining a habit of daily (or as close as we can get) faith practices. Often, setting aside time for faith practices, either as a family or as individuals, is called devotions. Devotions are times we set aside to focus on God and each other (if done in a family/grouping). There is an infinite number of ways we can do devotions, but here are some basic components that you can work with:
- Opening: This can include lighting a candle, saying a prayer, singing a song, or even just saying “let’s get started!”
- Personal conversation: Ask each person to share something about their day. You can talk about “highs and lows” or structure it another way. This allows for a deeper sharing than might happen other times and places. But be careful, this can take a long time if y’all get chatty (as we do in my home)!
- Learning: Usually this would involve reading a Bible passage (or story from a children’s Bible) and talking about it, but you can also read from another spiritually-enriching book or even watch a spiritually-enriching video. You can structure a short conversation on a special topic, too.
- Praying: There are a multitude of ways to pray, from reciting the same prayer each time or everyone talking at once. The important thing is to do it.
- Closing: Share a blessing, extinguish the candle, sing a song, or say a prayer.
Again, you can prepare something yourself, have families create their own devotions, or purchase a resource. For the Narrative Lectionary, we have the Living the Word: Sharing God’s Story @ Home weekly resource. For the Revised Common Lectionary, a weekly The Word @ Home page comes with the God’s Word @ Home (RCL) product. I’m also creating a shorter The Word @ Home sheet following the Revised Common Lectionary each week this summer and giving it away free! Check out the purple button below.
Keep It Simple
The most important thing that you can do as a faith formation leader in this difficult time is to do your best to provide simple resources for families (couple, individuals). The less daunting the task is for parents, the easier it appears to be, the more likely a busy family will adopt it. Regular accountability challenges would help, too. In the next few weeks, I’ll be focusing on some of the mental obstacles individuals and families might face in adopting home faith formation practices.
Free Devotional Resource
As I mentioned above, this summer I am creating a free, weekly devotional resource following the Revised Common Lectionary’s daily lectionary, based on the “take-home” sheet for the God’s Word @ Home (RCL) home-based curriculum. Check it out and share it widely! To download, click (or tap) on the purple button below. This is a single sheet PDF document that includes a Bible reading plan, prayers, blessings, and conversation starters. I hope that this can be helpful to you!
Peace be with you,
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
If you are looking for faith formation resources for families at home, check out our new Living the Word: God’s Word @ Home (Revised Common Lectionary) and Living the Word: God’s Story @ Home (Narrative Lectionary) products. Stay updated by liking our Facebook page, subscribe to our e-newsletter, or follow this blog!