Last fall, the Fetzer Institute released a new research report on best practices for creating sacred space online. As we continue to creatively adapt to new forms of gathering during pandemic, these five suggestions offer valuable insight and feedback to church leaders in all areas as they continue equipping and caring for the church through online community.
Connect Through Physical Space
In a digital meeting, don’t forget that people are in physical spaces that might need attention, and have been shaped by the spaces where they used to gather in person. Invite folks to share their physical location. Use video backgrounds that reflect your physical gathering places. You might introduce your group to the practice of land acknowledgment. Finally, allowing ample short breaks to tend to bodily needs and incorporating body-centering breath and prayer practices can also help people stay present in their space.
Bring In The Real
Digital adaptations can lead to a sense that worship, prayer, and community aren’t “real,” but attention to sensory elements of spiritual gathering can help shift that perception. Invite participants to engage their senses or share a meal or beverage during the gathering. Create shared, real rituals by inviting everyone to light candles or set a space at home for digital gathering time. Build connection by mailing or dropping off a shared object, such as a ribbon, stone, holding cross, or votive to all members of the gathered community.
Attend to Details Before and After
In order to maximize the significance and attention span of shorter digital gatherings, facilitators can take extra care with preparation and follow up. Thorough written communications before a digital gathering can provide expectations, ease technology frustration, convey welcome, and prepare for the physical and “real” connections already mentioned. Excellent follow up after a gathering can include a summary, sharing contact information of participants to facilitate their connection, clarify goals and follow ups, or offer spiritual care.
Holding space in facilitation is a way of opening our hearts, creating welcome, releasing control, and offering invitation for vulnerability, complexity, and full presence. This is art of any facilitation, and can certainly be more challenging in a virtual format. Contemplative practice, music, and shared ritual can help in setting the tone, as can opportunities for creativity and play as a prayerful response. Practical ways of holding space digitally might include discussing and establishing group norms, providing an outline before a gathering, and being particularly careful to honor schedule, time, and screen fatigue.
Invite Creative Engagement Opportunities
With so many distractions available in a digital gathering format, creative engagement can keep folks mentally and spiritually present to the gathering. Integrate non-screen components, such as journaling prompts, breaks for silence, or body practices to keep the whole self engaged. Utilize breakout rooms for change of pace and building deeper conversation, and look into other interactive features, like polling and screen sharing multimedia.
Questions for Reflection with Staff, Committees, or Volunteers
These practices aren’t fool-proof and can require extra attention and preparation, but they offer us insights into how we can capture some of the richest parts of our spiritual gatherings, even in digital community.
Consider bringing these practices to your staff, colleagues, vestry or other committees and volunteers. You can use these reflection questions to generate conversation and planning for deepening your online community experiences.
Start with your experiences as participants.
- What virtual gatherings have felt most meaningful and engaging?
- Which gatherings or meetings have been draining or frustrating?
- Do you see these best practices at play or absent in your experiences?
Reflect on your current practices of online gathering.
- Which of the five are already part of your ministry and community gathering practices?
- What ministry areas have room for adapting or experimenting with these practices? Which groups in your church would be most receptive or benefit from these practices?