There has been a surge in the provision of online worship over recent months (as signposted here), with daily prayer and Sunday services. There has also been a significant uptake in online opportunities for mission, fellowship and study.
As lockdown eases, churches are wondering how to maintain gains while resuming other commitments.
Across Lichfield diocese, churches are increasingly looking at how to work together across deaneries, through Shaping for Mission.
Deaneries may be a ready space for the provision of ongoing online ministry. Working at deanery level is small enough to be ‘local’, while sharing workload and exploring ways of collaborating. While some parishes may wish to provide their own distinctive online presence, a deanery-wide arrangement can ensure that none are left out.
Drawing on the expertise of those who have been housebound as well as others who have been newly included during this time, we offer a simple framework to support deaneries wishing to develop manageable but meaningful virtual church. It was developed by a team assembled from Enabling Church, Communications, Discipleship, Vocation and Evangelism, and the Mothers’ Union.
There are powerful reasons to consolidate the online ministry which has recently developed:
- Minsters have put much energy into establishing practices, developing resources, raising skill levels; in some churches, new volunteers have come forward to resource online worship and ministry;
- Virtual worship has worked well for many Christians. There is much evidence about strengthened discipleship, strengthened community life, and strengthened prayer/worship life;
- Online ministry has been inclusive for many who have felt excluded from church, including both newcomers looking for spiritual sustenance, and those who were previously members of church communities prior to becoming housebound.
We recognise that several categories of people have been able to access virtual church:
- housebound and their carers from the community;
- those who are temporarily unavailable (visiting, busy, working, ill, looking after children)’. These may be ‘temporarily housebound’ and may participate from home; or may ‘catch up’ later;
- those who wish to join in church privately, perhaps because they are interested but want to get to know the community prior to joining
- those for whom it’s a natural way of participating in activities (perhaps especially younger people)
- those who are taking their existing participation or discipleship deeper e.g. by participating in daily office, or forming small groups;
- those from round the world who feel some kind of connection with either the place or a minister.
At the same time, we know:
- Some figures bandied about online worship numbers are vastly inflated;
- Online worship excludes some even as it includes others;
- Some parish priests are finding the provision of virtual worship excessively demanding.
The gains have been significant enough that we want to keep them, even while we recognise that maintaining current momentum is not straightforward. We also realise that despite the considerable adaptations, we might not have arrived at a new equilibrium yet.
What are the gains?
For many, virtual morning and night prayer have been well attended and taking daily offices online has enabled new people to attend regularly.
As much of the church’s life has moved online, many people who are housebound, both recently and more long term, have been delighted to have access to the worship, community and mission of the church again.
For some, church online has been a more egalitarian space, with no ‘cliques’ or side conversations in fellowship, with many aspects of disability no longer a barrier to full participation.
In this section we are assembling a variety of resources that will support parishes, deaneries, fresh expressions and chaplaincies in various aspects of online ministry. You might also find the national Church of England pages useful: