Lockdown Sunday School: How to be Together When You’re Apart

Very little feels normal about church these past six months, but one of the most consistently meaningful weekly meetings we have maintained is the Bible study my wife and I lead for young adults.

Isolation and loneliness are threats to mental, emotional, and spiritual health in the best of circumstances, and when isolation is the prescribed safe behavior, it’s that much worse. Seeing people, even on a computer or phone screen, and hearing their voices as they process what is happening to and with them have been a lifeline.

Caring about someone else, hearing their struggles and studying the Bible together are vital in the best of circumstances, and in a pandemic, these practices can mean the difference between merely existing and truly living.

From the outset, our group has used Google Hangouts as our platform, meeting each Sunday at 10 a.m. using the same link. There was no magic behind the choice. Google has other tools for virtual meetings, and other popular collaboration software may work better. While all of us have used various platforms for virtual meetings at work, Google Hangouts was something already built in when we started back in March that was as easy as sharing a link.

Attendance has been consistent and participation high throughout. The only technical challenge we worked through early on was the amount of background noise that seeped through. Now that we all know to mute ourselves unless we’re talking, everything has worked smoothly.

As for participation, no matter which platform you use, interactivity is limited compared to face-to-face Sunday school. If you’ve already resumed face-to-face instruction after having done Bible study virtually, you know what this feels like.

In the virtual setting, you have to be more comfortable with pauses and awkward silences before people answer discussion questions. You also have to get over your fear of talking over someone. The facilitator or teacher can help in those cases by lining up a queue of who should speak next when a pileup occurs. Our group members may have felt self-conscious early on, but now I think everyone understands unintended interruptions are just a fact of life. There’s no reason to be embarrassed or hold back just because you might accidentally talk over someone. No one thinks you’re being rude.

Our group is now seriously discussing how we can get together safely, if not for weekly Bible study, at least for occasional fellowship. The ingredients of that safety recipe are familiar to everyone by now: wear masks, maintain social distance, pick an outdoor setting, don’t share food, wash your hands, and, most importantly, don’t show up if you have any symptoms or think you may have been exposed to COVID-19.

Our church is planning to resume face-to-face worship in the parking lot in October, and our new worship schedule will directly conflict with our meeting time.

From our experience thus far, I know whatever we do in this next phase of pandemic church, we will prioritize getting together in some form as we seek to maintain and grow spiritually in community. Sunday school has never felt more relevant.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications and writes a blog at newsouthessays.com.

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