Last week, I reflected on the dangers of this pandemic. Gathering physically carries the risk of serious sickness or death. The social isolation from not gathering carries a negative impact in terms of both mental and physical health. Most congregations choose to not gather physically. Instead, they have turned to online worship and video conferencing.
The Rise of the Cyber-Church
Among a large group of people, including church leaders, “Zoom” has become a household name. I’m guessing that most of us had not heard of this online, video-conferencing software before the pandemic forced safer-at-home measures. Now, it has become the hub for interpersonal ministry.
Along with Zoom, many congregations now live-stream worship services via Facebook Live and YouTube (perhaps other platforms, too). Pastors and other church leaders have had to take a crash course in communication technologies. Our often low-tech congregations have become a cyber-church with a cyber-community
Many people now stay in contact with friends and family through video chatting via Facetime, Hangouts, and even Zoom. Often, this has led to keeping in better contact with others than in pre-pandemic times.
On the ministry side, you probably have experienced some benefits of virtual ministry. Many non-attenders are “returning” to church through virtual worship. And, while most people stick with their own churches, “congregations” are no longer limited by geography or schedule. Without these limits, some people have become more involved than before.
However, moving everything online, especially to Zoom, has caused “Zoom fatigue.” Many people are getting tired of connecting via video conferencing. Some Zoom-based ministries are seeing a drop off in participation. Hopefully, the start of the program year can reverse some of this. However, the transition of many schools to online learning could also make this worse.
Lack of Access
With this rise of a “cyber-church,” we can also see clearly the problems of a lack of access to technology. Some people might lack the technology due to disinterest and inexperience—often seen in older adults. But this lack can also come from preexisting or pandemic-related economic pressures.
Older adults have often been the bulwark of congregations and the recipients of various visitation ministries. Those who are economically disadvantaged of any age could participate in congregational activities in person. The physical closure of church doors has especially serious effects on people without the ability to participate electronically.
While I am pointing out the problems we are encountering as we have created this “cyber-church,” I am most definitely not urging a quick return to physical gathering. In fact, I am extremely wary of—even opposed to—a return to physical gathering anytime soon. The problems of separation are serious, but I firmly believe in following John Wesley’s first rule: Do no harm. The risks of transmitting this disease far outweigh the cost of staying apart. We do, however, need to acknowledge the problems and seek ways to ameliorate them.
I really wish I had a cure for Zoom fatigue. I do suggest that you evaluate the quality of your online efforts. Ask yourself: for your target audience, do the perceived benefits of participation outweigh the mental costs, the Zoom fatigue?
In terms of lack of access, your congregation can partner with others to provide devices and Internet access to those who do not have them. This won’t be easy with the tightening of church budgets and the potential invisibility of those in need of help. But it’s an issue of justice that deserves serious consideration.
Go Low Tech
I would highly recommend that—along with any online ministries your congregation will offer—you go low or no tech. This is a topic I will delve deeper into next week. While virtual communications technology has been a Godsend for many, we still need offline contact with others. A few thoughts (not original to me):
- Pen Pals. Old-fashioned pen pals, with paper, pen, envelopes, and stamps.
- Phone Calls. The original person-to-person, long-distance communication.
- Socially distanced visits. There’s nothing like being face-to-face (six feet apart, with masks, in an outside/well-ventilated space).
- Family-focus. Connect with the people you live with.
- Common Activities. Many people doing the same thing, separately.
These ideas, and more, offer opportunities that can potentially last and grow even after this pandemic is over. More on this next week.
In all things, God’s peace be with you,
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
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