Many people have asked: So, what unique things are other churches doing to connect with people online in this season? As all congregations work to create engaging online worship and other experiences during this time of self-isolation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve compiled examples of how 26 of our congregations are being the church virtually in effective and innovative ways. We hope they inspire you to think about new ways your faith community might help people stay connected to your church, each other, and God. (We will lift up more examples later on, so if there’s something you’ve done or seen that you think should be included in the next compilation, let us know.)
Multi-campus Centennial UMC didn’t let the pandemic stop it from having a vibrant Youth Sunday worship service featuring teens leading everything from call to worship to a testimony of faith to music to prayers. And virtual worship at Centennial UMC’s St. Anthony campus is worth checking out simply because of the professional production quality, which makes for a worship experience that’s a pleasure to view.
Hamline Church in St. Paul and River Hills UMC in Burnsville include multiple music leaders in each worship service, singing in unison while physically apart. It is powerful! Hamline Church’s Palm Sunday worship service features songs at 06:09 and 33:39. And a recent River Hills worship service features a song at 25:05.
Rev. Leah Rosso—lead pastor at First UMC of the St. Cloud Region in Sartell—frequently has creative teaching moments and illustrations in the worship services she leads. Toward the beginning of one pre-Holy Week online worship service (starting at 01:58), she told the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet as an act of service to others while washing her own feet in a bowl. She used this story as an opportunity to remind those watching that we’re all called to be servants to the people in our lives and asked them to reflect on how they might do that during this time of social distancing.
On Palm Sunday, several churches invited children and families to send in photos and/or videos of them holding or waving palm branches and used them to create a virtual Palm Sunday parade. Cross Winds UMC in Maple Grove and The Well in Rosemount (start at 14:13) were among them. Faith Church in Farmington also had people send in photos of palms, palm branches, and home worship areas and used them in a four-minute “faith parade” video. A montage video featuring photos or videos of members is a great way to help people stay connected while apart.
Hilltop UMC in Mankatohas been featuring a fun “Ask the Sipe Family” segment in worship (starting at 11:06) in which the family answers a question that church members have posed. One recent segment features Rev. Matt Sipe and his wife Julie answering a question about how they met while geocaching with their son. It brings a personal touch and engages people in a different way than the rest of worship.
Not every church has multiple worship leaders or fancy equipment to record and broadcast services, but that doesn’t mean a meaningful worship service can’t be offered. Bemidji UMC, Wesley UMC in Crookston, Erskine UMC, and Fosston UMC have been partnering to offer a joint worship service that’s recorded and broadcast from the home of Revs. Rob Kopp and Michelle Miller. They do a great job incorporating multiple elements of worship in a simple but effective way.
Devotions and Bible lessons
Vineyard UMC in Hutchinson has debuted short, highly engaging, and easy-to-understand Bible lessons featuring the pastors’ young children along with strong visuals. The first one delves into the story of Jesus walking on water. The church also does two-minute children’s illustrations that unpack sermons in worship. This one features a magic trick and teaches about justification and atonement.
Main Street Church in North Branch has been sharing Facebook videos of kids sharing devotionals and prayers. These are heartwarming and a great way to involve the younger generation in the life of the online church. Here’s one example and another.
Inspired by members of Ellendale UMCsaying the Lord’s Prayer together while apart, youth at Park Avenue UMC in Minneapolis are featured in a similar video of its youth jointly reciting the Lord’s Prayer from their respective locations. UMC of Anoka did the same thing during a recent virtual worship service (starting at 39:20). These simple but powerful videos are a great way to remind members that they remain connected as a family of faith and in Christ.
Rev. Bill Eaves, who serves White Bear Lake UMC, leads a Facebook Live evening prayer time every night at 7 p.m. Each segment is short but provides good food for thought related to a specific scripture reading and helps people stay connected to the church. One recent segment changed gears and served as a question-and-answer session allowing members to ask any questions they might have related to theology or loving neighbors or how the church is responding to the pandemic.
New City Church in Minneapolis has been offering brief online devotions featuring members reading scripture. Each devotional video post on Facebook includes some questions to reflect on at a prayer station in your home (which New City encouraged each person to create). One recent devotional focused on Psalm 121 and those watching were encouraged to reflect on the image of God as “protector.”
Other virtual messages and experiences
Messiah UMC in Plymouth has a short weekly “All Things Messiah” Facebook Live segment featuring a few key opportunities to help people stay connected to the church. In this recent edition, presenter Amy Matthews reminds people that the church hasn’t forgotten about them and invites people to a drive-through May Day experience at which people can pick up a grow-it-yourself pot of forget-me-nots, get a popsicle, and drop off donations for a local food shelf. She notes several other tangible opportunities as well, like a virtual Financial Peace University and an invitation to write a note of support to graduating high school seniors. This segment makes clear that even in the days of quarantine, ministry is very much still happening and there continue to be ways to serve and be involved.
Every Friday, Christ UMC in Rochester creates and shares a brief “Good Things” segment on Facebook in which a staff member highlights something positive that’s happened within the church community over the past week that deserves celebration, along with some photos. This recent segment highlights members making and delivering meals to a temporary homeless shelter and the church’s United Methodist Women knitting pocket prayer shawls being sent to the church’s members.
Wesley UMC in Winona made an innovative, well-produced, and engaging virtual “Church Noir” skit for Easter. In it, a detective investigates the greatest mystery of all time: Jesus’ resurrection. This proved to be a unique way to delve into the story that forms the cornerstone of our Christian faith.
Every Wednesday evening, Rev. Erica Koser—pastor of discipleship and justice ministries at Centenary UMC in Mankato—reads a children’s story from her chicken coop. In one recent video, she read a book about finding hope and asked kids watching where they see hope these days. Rev. Carrie Binnie, who serves Community UMC in Monticello also does online story time with her kids.
Rev. Bethany Nelson, who serves Park UMC in Brainerd and Emily UMC, has joined with several other clergy across the country to offer virtual “Stuck at Home Bible Camp.” Every few days, a different clergy “counselor” tells a Bible story and leads children in doing a related at-home activity. Nelson recently led a session on Jesus calming the storm.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.