So, online church is gradually becoming more familiar. You’re getting the hang of Zoom, Church Online Platform, or whatever format the parish is using for its live or prerecorded services, but you really want to see people and have fellowship over a cuppa like an everyday, non-COVID Sunday. What can you do? Move morning tea into cyberspace as well.
At Hurstville Grove, rector the Rev Mat Yeo says they have morning tea “breakout rooms” on Zoom, where members and visitors are given a few things from the online service to think and chat about.
“People have been staying in morning tea rooms for between 20 minutes and an hour,” he says. “You don’t need too much of a structure because everyone is craving relationship.”
Over at Revesby, senior associate minister the Rev Andrew Lim wants to try a church version of show and tell for the Sunday after Easter.
“Since everyone seems to be raiding the supermarket shelves for flour and other baking essentials, why not showcase a church bake-off – with or without an appropriate theme? Then watch each other enjoy the delicious results of our creations, with live descriptions of texture, taste and aroma!”
In addition, Mr Lim adds, “we had our first online communion on [Palm] Sunday, and we showed each other the various types of ‘bread’ and ‘wine’ we were using via Zoom. It was quite fun seeing people’s interpretations of suitable and comparable elements!”
The evening service at Hoxton Park is using the Discord server, which is often used by gamers. It facilitates people watching church together, but more significant for rector the Rev David Clark are the different rooms or groups people can go to afterwards.
“Last week there was a ‘sermon discussion’, a ‘church hall’ for general discussion, a ‘prayer room’ – that seemed to be busy for nearly an hour – and various other not-so serious chats and memes being shared,” he says. “While I’m still trying to get the hang of it, our teenagers and young adults seem to appreciate it!”
Interaction is especially important for people not in Bible Study groups
Rouse Hill is offering chat and fellowship before church as well as afterwards. Assistant minister the Rev Rick Mason sends out invitations to a pre-church Zoom meeting by text or through different WhatsApp groups he belongs to, with a particular focus on people who are “newish” to church or who aren’t in Bible study groups.
“We know people in growth groups are keeping in touch with each other during the week, but for people who aren’t in growth groups, they wouldn’t necessarily be talking to anybody else [from church] during the week,” he says.
“We hope that everybody will watch the live stream at 10 o’clock and 5 o’clock, but the downside of the live stream is that you don’t get to see people you normally see on a Sunday. In doing a Zoom chat before and after church, we’re trying to create the sense of community, conversation, encouragement and prayer that normally happens on Sundays when we gather.”
The parish has worked hard over the past few weeks to get “as many of our people as connected as possible”, adding that they’ve also helped a number of their older members get Zoom on their phones.
“It means it’s easy to invite them and they know they just need to press a button and they can be part of a conversation,” Mr Mason says.
There's something for everyone
The Rev Dr Raj Gupta from Toongabbie has also seen plenty of older congregants link up to Zoom. Although in the past people had been concerned that online elements would alienate older people, “there they were on Zoom for virtual morning tea on Sunday!” he says.
“This whole environment is forcing us to explore things that we never thought we could.”
So far, Toongabbie’s experience with Zoom morning tea is, firstly, that they need a number of breakout rooms to enable small group chats. Also they find one person is needed to “drive” each room so the format works well.
“Often people can be looking and wondering who’s talking and so on,” Dr Gupta explains. “Someone really does need to facilitate things – more so than would be needed in a physical, casual environment.”
Taking things to the next level
So, once you’ve got morning tea chat, prayer and food “sharing” sorted out, on whichever online platform you favour, perhaps you could add in some extras. Rick Mason says that, for his Bible study the other week, he asked everyone in the group to dress up and/or change their Zoom background to something “that would amuse us”.
“One couple were wearing scuba gear with a fish tank behind them,” he says with a laugh. “Other people had clown hats. Another couple had trawled my Facebook page and the church website, grabbed every picture of my face they could find, and turned that into the background for the conversation!
On a more serious note, he adds, “We’re very aware that a Zoom conversation is nowhere near as good as in person, so we’re trying to do stuff that’s amusing to lighten the mood and help us laugh together. We want to do whatever we can to help people feel included… we’ll keep inviting as many as possible to Zoom conversations on a Sunday so they can keep seeing their friends and meeting new people, and can continue to grow while we can’t meet together.”
Need to get more familiar with the different options on Zoom for your church morning tea or Bible study? A live Zoom Masterclass was run by Bishop Michael Stead, the Rev Mike Paget, the Rev Ben Boardman and the Rev Jodie McNeill. You can see the video recording of that Masterclass through this link.