Notes from FIEC Leadership in Lockdown webinar on Staying Online while Meeting in Person with John Stevens and Phill Brown.
1. With the additional pressure upon pastors and church leaders caused by the implications to church life of constantly changing government guidance and rules, it is easy for their attention to be taken off God. We need to remember to praise God. Psalm 103:1-5 reminds us that we stop praising God when we forget His benefits. We need to remember that God forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, satisfies and renews. These spiritual benefits and blessings are comprehensive and so our praise in response should be wholehearted.
2. As much as we want to do what is as close to normal church pre-lockdown, the measures that government has put in place, does not make that possible.
3. Understanding and Applying the ‘Rule of Six’. *
– It is still not clear about what is and is not allowed.
– Gatherings of more than 6 (except in case of larger/extended households) are unlawful.
– ‘Qualifying groups’ of up to 6 people can be in the same premise/place e.g. you have multiple groups of six in a church building.
– Mingling (socially interacting in some way) between qualifying groups is not allowed.
– Social distancing guidance has not changed. It is required between members of different households in qualifying groups and between qualifying groups.
– Exemptions from the ‘Rule of 6’ (but still with social distancing) include weddings, funerals, special life events (max 30), work, education, support groups, provision of voluntary or charitable services.
4. ‘Rule of Six’ and Church Life. *
– Ordinary Bible Studies or Prayer Meetings are unlikely to qualify for either the support group or education exemption, but a Bible Study for new mothers or those struggling with addictions might.
– Church staff team meetings qualify for work exemption (although not relevant in my situation as there are only 2 members of staff).
– Elders Meetings and Church Business Meetings might come under the exemption for the provision of charitable service.
– Member of staff leading a group might be considered as doing work or providing a charitable service.
– A pastors fraternal meeting or preaching group might be classed as work.
– The reason for might is because the guidance for how the legislation is to be worked out has not been published yet.
– If an organised church activity is taking place in a private dwelling, a risk assessment should be undertaken, and everyone who attends needs to understand how social distancing will be observed.
– A big question is whether the ‘Rule of Six’ means 6 people in a dwelling (house/garden) at the same time or means 6 people in each gathering taking place in a dwelling (i.e. the kids in bed loophole).
– More than 6 people can be present at a church worship service, but qualifying groups rule must be observed. The government is keen to stop mingling which means no chatting or moving between groups. Practically this means a group comes to church together, socially distance between households and other groups while they receive the service, and then leaves as a group together.
– If there are lots of groups of 6 on church premise for Bible Study and Prayer Meeting, interaction (discussion, prayers) must be contained within the group of 6 unless it is a contribution from the front to the whole group like in a worship service.
5. A good way to think about how we apply guidance and rules to the church worship service is to think in terms of organisers (staff, stewards) and attendees (those who come). Stewards and pastors do not need to limit their interaction to the qualifying group they are part of because they have a particular function linked to running the meeting.
6. Church leaders must not encourage ‘mingling’ implicitly or explicitly, otherwise they could be accused of organising an unlawful gathering.
7. Children who go off to Sunday school are still counted as being part of the qualifying group of those in the main service they came with.
8. Does a brief greeting in passing count as mingling? Probably not. But stopping to have a brief conversation does.
9. It seems to me that where the ‘Rule of 6’ really impacts church life is home groups that want to gather in person. We don’t have home groups at Banstead Community Church, so this new rule has not impacted church life significantly more than the previous guidance had. We have a weekly church prayer meeting which we moved online to Zoom and that still seems to be working well and is accessible to more of the church.
10. We live in a visual aid. Many prefer to watch over read. Recording sermons on video and uploading them on YouTube can be beneficial for those who want to catch up on a missed service, unable to gather, or who want to watch again.
11. Learn to look down the camera lens. Powerpoint slides with sermon notes on positioned just underneath the camera might be a helpful aid to doing this and work better than a teleprompter.
12. Hybrid services (online and in person) are essential while the whole church is unable to attend due to size of space or health concerns.
13. Remember to speak to both those in the room and at home. Saturday Night Takeaway with Ant and Dec may help with learning how to do this well as they are masters of speaking to those at home watching on TV as well as to the live audience. Practice speaking to the room and camera.
14. Be cautious about using in-house language because if it is online it will inevitably be a shop window to those outside the church.
15. Start online services on time. See viewers as guests, and be ready to receive them at start time. [We have a countdown on our livestream to aid with this].
16. Watch other churches. See what they are doing. Do they have ideas you can borrow, use, adapt?
17. Do the best you can. Remember you are serving your congregation primarily – any from outside the church is a bonus.
* This is my understanding what John Stevens said. He wrote a long blog on this HERE.