Easter & Beyond: 8 Tips for Churches to Consider as They Prepare Digital Services
Recent Barna data show that, in light of the COVID-19 crisis and social distancing guidelines, a majority of U.S. pastors (70%) intends to hold a digital Easter service this year, with 51 percent sharing plans to livestream online and another 19 percent recording an Easter message—whether by video or podcast—to send out to congregants.
As church leaders prepare for this digital Easter, as well as services beyond the upcoming holy day, we want to share some tips, advice and insights offered by faith experts and fellow church leaders for the current moment and coming days.
For further analysis and more advice on how other pastors are leading in this new era of ministry, tune into the ChurchPulse Weekly podcast, broadcast live each Monday with new episodes available each Thursday wherever you get your podcasts.
“If you as a pastor have a certain way you preach or approach [the Easter message], I think it’s important for you to do your best to bring who you are to the message,” Bobby Gruenewald, pastor and Innovation Leader at Life.Church and founder of the YouVersion Bible app, recently shared on the ChurchPulse Weekly podcast. “It’s great if you can have some level of worship incorporated in it as well. It doesn’t have to be the same type of experience as you would have in your physical environment. … So whatever that looks like—people are relatively forgiving right now—I would incorporate some aspect of worship into what’s being built for Easter.”
Don’t Feel Pressure to Get All the Gear
“Even if you’re not doing weekly online gatherings right now, there should be sufficient time to build some type of a video experience [for Easter],” encourages Gruenewald. “If all you have is a smartphone to record, it’s possible to get a reasonable quality video. I also know that there are some larger churches that are, if possible, opening up their studios to let smaller churches record their Easter services. I think this is a great example of how churches that have resources can help support churches that don’t during this time.”
Less Is More
“It’s always better to do less, but do it at a higher quality,” says Joe Jensen, Director of Strategic Projects and Church Engagement at Barna. “I think a lot of churches are a little frustrated right now because what they usually produce on a Sunday morning is nearly impossible to reproduce on a digital platform. Don’t feel like you have to replicate exactly what you do on a Sunday morning. Like Bobby [Gruenewald] said, do worship when you can, but don’t feel like you have to do it exactly as you would on a Sunday if you don’t have the capabilities to deliver that online.”
“This also goes for presenters,” continues Jensen. “Perhaps this means when you’re teaching, you simplify your main points so your audience can more easily engage with the message. I also think there are some implications here for kids and youth. It’s great if you can have kids’ programming, but one of the positive aspects of what’s going on right now is that families are engaging church together. So, be true to yourself, but also think about how you’re engaging the family as a whole, not just the adults.”
Go Live When Possible
“What my husband and I have been doing and what I’ve been encouraging others to do is to answer questions real-time,” notes Nona Jones, head of faith-based partnerships at Facebook and co-pastor at Open Door Ministries in Gainesville, Florida. “Invite people to ask questions, invite people to comment. If you can, go live. Acknowledge [your congregants] as they come online; people need that acknowledgement right now more than anything.”
Be Intentionally Relational in a Time of Social Distance
“There are practical, simple ways for you to be relational in the digital spaces,” explains Jensen. “For example, something as simple as looking into the camera, and not into your phone screen, really makes a difference. It allows your congregants, who are on the other side of that screen, to feel like you are holding a conversation with them instead of preaching at them. Don’t talk at people; talk with people. Imagine there is someone on the other side of that screen and speak to them like you would if you were in the same room as them. Carry that mentality into your sermon delivery.”
“Also think through how you want to keep up with your people in the digital space in order to facilitate relationships,” continues Jensen. “Keep this at the forefront of your mind so that you can remind them of this throughout the sermon, make a clear pathway for them to communicate with you and then follow through with that and reach out during the week.”
Empower Your Congregants to Invite Others to Join
“We’re giving people digital assets to share [with others],” says Bianca Juarez Olthoff of her church’s digital Easter plan. Olthoff, co-pastor of The Father’s House Church in Southern California and the founder of In The Name of Love, continues, “We’re using YouTube Premiere, which interfaces like a live stream, and we’re preloading the message. We want to make it simple [for people to join] and that’s why we’re opting to use the premiere option and then sending the digital link with the assets for people to share online. We’re telling everyone that they’re evangelists.”
Spread the Word: Easter Is Not Canceled
“Our whole theme for Easter is ‘Easter is not canceled,’ and we really want to put that message out there,” says Jud Wilhite, Senior Pastor of Central Church in Las Vegas. “The way we’re doing that is—and there are a few practical ideas that people may steal, because that’s what we do in the church world—we’re challenging everyone to do the ‘5 Things You’re Grateful For’ post and ending it with [our church’s landing page for Easter services].”
“The second thing is chalking the driveways. We challenged people this weekend to go out in their driveways to chalk out messages of hope and ‘Easter is not canceled.’ And the third thing we’re doing is challenging people to record a really basic song and we’re going to make a massive collage video from that to be our Easter opener. We’re trying to bring people into being a part of Easter this year, from an invitation standpoint.”
Have an Easter Mentality Every Day
Whatever the church service looks like, Jensen reminds churches of their role in celebrating the importance of Easter, not just as a holiday, but as a symbol of Christ’s victory over the grave that should be celebrated daily.
“Every day is a resurrection Sunday in the sense that Easter is more than an event, it’s really more of a way of life for us as Christians,” offers Jensen. “It’s the pinnacle of our faith. I want to encourage church leaders to not be disappointed if they don’t have Easter plans as far as an event or program is concerned. Instead, let’s think about how we can have an Easter mentality every day. As leaders, let’s first grab onto the hope offered by the resurrection, and then impart that to our people. Let’s be thinking about the Monday after Easter, because that day is just as important as Easter Sunday. Every day is the day where we hold the resurrection up and celebrate it because it is the foundation of our hope and our faith.”