I am struck that our worship attendance numbers have actually increased during this COVID-19 time. In particular, it seems that our worship strategy of having the service available in multiple places; YouTube, Facebook, and a Zoom meeting, has been beneficial. I have noticed that the YouTube and Facebook numbers climb for the first three days or so of the post and then level off. I suspect that, in this era, when we watch what we want to watch when we want to watch it on Netflix, having worship accessible in this way in particularly beneficial. We live in a time when flexibility and choice are prized. Those of us who organize church services may recoil at the individualism inherent in these preferences. But, we might want to have compassion for others who, for whatever reason, have had difficulty accessing worship in our buildings on Sunday at 10:00 a.m.
As I look forward, and peer into the world of limitations with singing and physical distance, masks and smaller groups, I see an opportunity to experiment with new worship opportunities. Perhaps we could add an evening outdoor worship service, with acoustic music, a conversational sermon, and quiet spaces. We could offer a more formal service with a meditative style in our sanctuary in the morning. It’s possible that smaller groups will create a more intimate sense of community and contribute to stronger relationships. Perhaps new forms, times, and places can meet the desires for worship, relationship, and meaning that have materialized in this time of social distance and collective concern.
I know what I’m suggesting is not radical in the world of church worship. Many churches offer the types of services and choices I am suggesting. What previously would have been radical for many churches is the idea of changing worship from whatever it is that we have always done, to anything that is different. But our new circumstance gives us the ability to experiment without a sense of judging what we have always done. We aren’t changing the service because we disliked it. We are changing the service because we are adapting to the needs of the moment. This is a natural temporary period that allows for open ended and fluid ideas. We shouldn’t use this time to race back and approximate a clumsy and impoverished version of what we have done before. We can instead use this as a time for vibrant experiments that will inform our future together.