When Worship is No Longer Building-Based

by | Apr 23, 2020 | 0 comments

Christians believe that out of death comes resurrection. Even Christians have been hard-pressed to believe that new life could arise out of this pandemic. Yet that’s what’s happened. Take church buildings, for example. Their size, shape, and cost have shaped our ministry and mindsets for millennia. They have been both a blessing and a burden.

Yet once church buildings had to shut down, congregations found something quite surprising. The change in the nature and scope of worship changed freed people from building constraints.

This article will discuss the shift that has happened and three ways to turn this unexpected gift into a long-term culture shift.

Once church buildings had to shut down, congregations found something quite surprising. The nature and scope of worship changed and freed people of building constraints. Click To Tweet

Pre-Pandemic Mindset: Building-Based Worship 

For many congregations, the building has defined ministry. The building’s upkeep may have been your de facto ministry, and a concept Bishop Robert Schnase calls a shadow mission. When buildings set the parameters, it can be challenging to break free of historical precedents. Ghosts of worshiper’s past, as much as the building’s structure, play a part in reinforcing conventions.

The coronavirus has done for many churches what they could not do for themselves. Not only have congregations been forced out of their buildings, but the size and scope have also changed. Congregations are now moving from building-based to relationship-based worship.

Mid-Pandemic Mindset: Relationship-Based Worship

Now that worship is a distributed experience and is no longer centralized in one building, and can be reinvented. Worship takes a new feel when people worship with mailed bulletins, emailed orders of worship, pre-recorded videos, Facebook Live, or some other fashion. Instead of being solely building-based, worship can become more intimate, more immediate.

When the structure of a sanctuary does not confine, the dynamics of worship can organically morph. Suddenly, the building gives shape to relationships. Those relationships include both person to person and person to divine connections.

Interactive Church can be far more interactive this way. For instance, at an online family Passover Seder I conducted, everyone got up from their seats to open their respective doors for Elijah. If you send out printed bulletins or create home-based worship, be sure to include actions and reflections to engage worshipers.

Authentic When you Livestream worship, gone is the distance between the pulpit and the pew. A camera’s immediacy means the message must be genuine to connect with people, especially for people whose attention spans have shortened due to screen time.

Organic Evangelism Boulevard on Broad UMC, whose “storefront sacramental” worship services formerly attracted a full house of 30, has expanded to 50+ online. Evangelism is so much easier and organic online. Led by Rev. Drew Willson, this congregation has also found that distributed worship has released them to fulfill their vision: “Extending God’s table.”

The shut-down of churches has forced quick shifts in congregational life. There is no guarantee that these quick shifts in mindset will automatically translate into culture shifts. Let’s talk about how to intentionally transform these rapid shifts into positive, sustainable culture shifts.

Turn This Quick Shift Into A Culture Shift

  1. Frame the online experience in favorable terms. Yes, you and your people may be missing each other much. Yes, you may miss your building. Yes, you may miss the freedoms the pandemic has momentarily restrained. However, framing the online experience with gratitude will help you keep this option alive once social distancing has eased.
  2. Expand your options. Once people have online options, they treasure them. Online ministry means your people can participate while traveling, indisposed, sick, or feeling lazy even when face to face worship is once again available.
  3. Extend your shelf life. Unlike starting an additional worship service, which depends on a certain number of people to be considered viable, online worship has an entirely different shelf life. It can be experienced hours or months later and still be fresh.


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