Amid coronavirus, church leaders share ways to prepare for long-term changes in worship

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Pastors are being encouraged to focus on mental health and make other long-term shifts in ministry amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Judah Smith, the lead pastor of Churchome in Seattle and Los Angeles, launched an app for anyone to join his church, offering guided prayers, a virtual lobby and a chat feature to talk with a trained pastor 24/7.

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"I think we have an opportunity, actually, to engage at a deeper level," Smith told Fox News. "We're finding that actually being home, engaging face to face is going to lead us to an interesting place in faith and I think will change how we worship going forward."

Judah and Chelsea Smith, co-lead pastors of Churchome, offer "Guided Prayers" as a new feature on the church's app redesign.

Judah and Chelsea Smith, co-lead pastors of Churchome, offer "Guided Prayers" as a new feature on the church's app redesign. (Churchome Global App)

He believes church at home and in smaller settings is going to be a "massive trend" for years to come.

Other faith leaders are pointing out the need for a focus on mental health as people are forced to stay inside.

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Doug Clay, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, said their mental health committee polled pastors on advice for other leaders during the outbreak and came up with best practices, Christian Post reported.

First among them was boundaries.

“All of us are going to be stretched in ways we haven’t been stretched before,” Clay said at the COVID-19 Church Online Summit in a panel discussion hosted by Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

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Other mental health advice included processing decisions with a trusted friend, taking a break from the news and social media, and finding healthy physical and emotional rhythms, as well as adapting to realistic ministry expectations, and making time for laughter.

Colin Watson, acting executive director of the Christian Reformed Church, said they need to reframe "social distancing" as "physical distancing," a sentiment shared by many other leaders.

“We want some social closeness so we need to figure out some new ways to be in church together,” he said.

The Rev. César Vega sets up a tablet to livestream Mass to home-bound congregants Friday, March 27, 2020, at Holy Family Catholic Church in Yakima, Wash. (Amanda Ray/Yakima Herald-Republic via AP)

The Rev. César Vega sets up a tablet to livestream Mass to home-bound congregants Friday, March 27, 2020, at Holy Family Catholic Church in Yakima, Wash. (Amanda Ray/Yakima Herald-Republic via AP)

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A lot of ministries have gone online, using Facebook Live, Instagram Live and YouTube, but smaller churches that have never held online services have struggled.

Scott Ridout, president of Converge, a movement of churches working to help people meet, know and follow Jesus, says he prays coronavirus will lead to a "pandemic of prayer...that God will use this to draw more people to himself."