Live stream, live service
Darren Bovis-Coulter gives an insight into how a small church is attempting to bring everyone along as it emerges from the restrictions of the pandemic
Limbrick Wood Baptist Church is a typical smaller church in an area outside the main city centre of Coventry – we are not a huge congregation and we are not cash rich. Most people have multiple roles that contribute to the daily life of church – being small has some advantages and we found this to be the case when the pandemic saw our church doors closed on a few occasions due to the lockdowns.
But being small also meant that we could implement all the suggestions on responsible good practice and mitigations when gathering during the peaks of the virus. For a reality check here, not everyone saw these steps as positive and like most churches we had all the extremes from there is no virus, to thinking it was going to wipe us all out – so how did we manage our Sunday Services? Without going into lots of detail, I feel it's useful to briefly share our journey.
One of the first things we realised is that there was a lot of technology in our pockets on our phones and also on our computers, but there was a digital divide between those who had, and those who did not have or didn’t want to engage in that way. So right at the start we were always thinking about how to engage with these two groups. It became clear that not everyone was going to be able to have the same, but everyone could be included in some way.
We were also very much aware that there is a wealth of copyright information that we needed to know and understand, and with the big social media platforms there are strict rules about what you can and cannot LIVE stream, much the same as using copyrighted material in church, but for some reason folk think that online things are different... they are not – if you use copyrighted material on Facebook for example, they will stop or cut your live stream. If you use these things on YouTube it highlights the issues which can be a simple notification, or they can request the items are taken down, or again they will stop your live stream in mid-stream.
With the issues of gathering multiple households or musicians together and with the copyright issues in mind, we realised that we were able to gather as a family band and play music without running into any of these issues, and during the first lockdown we really felt sung worship was something that should not be set aside, so we decided to live stream two short times of music. Over a few weeks of doing this we were struck by the lyric from 10,000 Reasons: "I’ll still be singing when the evening comes", and SongRise and SongSet was born. This was family fun time with upbeat songs in the morning, and more reflective wind-down worship in the evening. We also did a number of events around the campfire in our garden and invited folk to come and join in with us online.
Also, when folk started clapping on their doorsteps for the NHS, we set up our family band on the driveway of our house and played songs to those living in our street. We really felt that even though we were locked down we were still able to bless others, and the online platform gave us the opportunity to reach folk all around the world and right outside our house. At the height of the lockdown we had about 20,000 people joining our little family online each month.
This vision to bless others also served the church Sunday morning setting, and while we saw other churches engaging with Zoom services, Zoom never took off for us (I know Zoom has been a massive blessing to others). This is specific to our setting, because we needed to be able to deliver some sort of normal service format which could then be put on to a DVD for those on the other side of the digital divide. Something they could watch and join in with prayer requests, and to be pastored via telephone calls to feel included.
As a church we were only closed for those few weeks where everything was locked down – our doors have been open the rest of the time, with Risk Assessments constantly being updated to keep everyone safe, and now that most restrictions have been lifted we found ourselves facing another set of scenarios, especially when our building got broken into twice and all our equipment got stolen.
As pastor I didn’t want to lose the precious relationships we had made with folk online, and equally we needed to be able to serve those who want to gather on a Sunday. The theft of all of our tech actually came as a blessing as we started to rethink what we were going to replace, so as well as getting essentials like microphones and PA systems we were also able to install a basic live streaming setup. However, I became increasingly uncomfortable with sharing everything we were doing and praying about in church for the family of believers who were gathering there – and this became quite a burden to me, and why I felt drawn to write this article.
I wanted to still connect with those online, and those who were looking in, but I wanted our church family to have the freedom to pray and receive ministry without the world watching in – was there a solution? At our last church meeting I presented this idea: Why don’t we invite everyone to join with us in the first part of the service, the welcome, the call to worship, the notices and non-personal announcements, the sung worship part and the Bible reading. But after that, the live stream switches to a pre-recorded message of that Sunday's sermon, and when that finishes, the online part of the service finishes with some closing words to say we would like to pray for folk and how to get in touch, as well as an invite to physically join with us if they wanted the full engagement of church life.
This meant that as pastor I had the opportunity to speak more freely as I preached the same message, but could engage with the congregation more, ask more questions, invite discussions, and personalise the preach as God leads when we submit to Him. This doesn’t does mean that the online message is any less teaching, but it is not cluttered by engagements that might not translate onto a live stream, and from a safeguarding perspective, personal details or testimonies are not online for all to see – church can still remain family, but the gathered both online and physical can engage in the same things, which is especially useful to folk that work shifts (and we have a number of them in our congregation).
So as a recap, we still live stream, but only the first half of the service. We can still put that whole service on a DVD for folk who would like that. Our online family can still engage to a point, those who physically want to gather can, and we found that those who thought they could stay in bed watching the service are generally getting out of bed and coming to church because they know that there is a blessing to be found when God’s people meet together.
We are still on a journey of refining this, but I hope this helps give an insight into a small church and how we are emerging from this pandemic and bringing everyone along with us. If you would like to chat more about this please contact me.
Darren Bovis-Coulter is pastor of Limbrick Wood Baptist Church