Technology and the Church community in the midst of the pandemic

The Centre for Theology & Community l

Josh Harris is managing a new CTC project, harnessing the potential of community organising for congregational development – and he is also a Curate at St George-in-the-East. Here he poses some questions – and highlights some resources – for churches in the midst of the current crisis.

As Angus Ritchie wrote last week,  this crisis is fast-changing and bewildering. In barely a week our churches have gone from suggesting we shouldn’t shake hands in the peace to the first suspension of public worship since 1208 and the closure of all churches in London.

Over the past week my parish, along with so many others, has scrambled to move much of our worship and community online and over the phone. There is a huge amount of learning taking place – and there are a lot of mistakes to be made, just as there are innovations to discover!

At the Centre for Theology and Community, we work with churches to harness the power of community organising. This work will continue throughout the coming weeks. As we learn fast how to move our church life online, two key questions are surfacing:

1. Who might be overlooked and excluded by these changes?

As Angus wrote last week, Jesus places the poorest and most vulnerable at the heart of his church. The Church is not an “us” who minister to those in need: the “us” must embrace, and recognise the gifts of those who are often marginalised (in the wider culture, and too often in the Church).

Technology can include people who are unable to be physically present at church – and there is learning the wider Church can do from those who have developed initiatives such as An Ordinary Office long before this crisis.

But technology can also exclude. How do we develop new modes of being Church in the coming weeks which continue to allow the building of a strong and deep relational culture which includes those for whom access to a smartphone and reliable 4G or broadband connection might be difficult?

2. How do we stop our imagination being constrained by the particular technology we’ve reached for this week?

There is an abundance of technology now available, whether to livestream a Sunday service, pray the office together, or have a small group conversation. We’re all this week trying to get to grips with the relative merits of different platforms or formats and a good amount of experimentation – as well as looking at what others are using – is important. But it’s crucial to keep exploring what options are available and not just settling with whatever form we’ve found that works this week.

One of the hallmarks of an organised church is that it is “constantly reorganising, to renew its focus on people”. Now, that’s not just about our power structures and patterns of life but also our online presence and resources we are drawing on. We need to keep evaluating and keep reorganising.

Moreover, the pattern of our mission and ministry is set by God and the people and context into which we are called – not by the features that Zoom offers. So as we get to grips with the technological tools at our disposal, let’s keep organising, keep evaluating, keep on discerning where the Holy Spirit is leading us.

… So, what are some of the resources available?

We will continue to update this post over the coming weeks as others with expertise write guides to using these and other resources – and as the learning of what has worked well, and what hasn’t, becomes apparent!

Ian Paul gathered around 300 responses on how Sunday went which you can read here. His reflections on what this all might mean for being church are the first of what will become a familiar theme in church blogs over the coming weeks.

As Ian points out, there is a difference between broadcasting a service and creating opportunities for interaction and relationship building.

A great place to start on how to livestream a worship service is this article. Many churches broadcast the service on some combination of Facebook, YouTube and/or Instagram. A great example in east London of livestreaming on Facebook (including a guide to using emojis in the comments to join in…) is  St John’s Hoxton. You can also embed Facebook video into your existing website if you don’t want to be directing people to too many URLs.

A number of churches used Church Online Platform, which allows a combination of prerecorded clips and live interaction including for prayer – and which seems to offer some good functionality for connecting with ‘visitors’.

St Mary Walthamstow produced a fantastic (and beautiful!) Sunday service using Shorthand Stories. This service drew on pre-recorded material, liturgy to engage with, worships songs with lyrics to join in with, and gave opportunities to submit prayer requests or asks for help.

St George-in-the-East put together a lower-tech podcast for Sunday which included pre-recorded contributions from various church members recorded on their phones and laptops so that we continue to hear from a wider range of voices than just team members. Audacity is useful for recording and editing audio, and for now we’re hosting it on Soundcloud. This week we are setting up the capacity to have a landline number which, when called, automatically plays the podcast so that any church members without easy access to the internet can simply dial in.

Our neighbouring parish of St Paul’s Shadwell livestreamed the main service from multiple locations, then the church broke up into its home (‘connect’) groups for discussion, sharing and prayer over Skype. This seems to be a pattern many churches have adopted, which creates fantastic opportunities for people to remain connected as community.



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