May 4, 2020

Password-Protected Worship: A Missed Opportunity?

“Zoombombing” is when an uninvited person joins a Zoom meeting, usually for the purpose of gaining a few cheap laughs at the expense of the participants.

Because Zoombombers sometimes use racial slurs, profanity, pornography, and other offensive imagery, faith communities have begun to password protect their online worship services in order to prevent univited Zoombomers from entering.

I would like to suggest that password-protected online worship services are a huge missed opportunity for evangelism.

Here’s why.

Because of COVID-19 and the extended lock-down we are experiencing, many people in our neighborhoods are lonely, anxious, and sometimes despairing, and because of this they are hungry for connection, mutual support, and hope, things that they could find in our worship services and other online activities, IF we let them join us. Some of them may never have set foot in a worship service in their lives, but they might just feel the urge to try it out, if we don’t place unnecessary obstacles and complications in their path. Password protecting our services makes it impossible for the stranger to participate in our worship and for us to welcome the stranger into our midst.

Which means it’s not only a missed opportunity for evangelism, but also for the products thereof: church growth, revitalization, and ultimately financial resources. Our online worship services are an opportunity for doing well by doing good. If we can open our virtual arms to the people of our neighborhoods, they may just decide to join us “in the flesh” when it is when it is safe for us to open our doors to them. But even if it weren’t good for us in the long run, it is still our “burden of care.”

This is not the first time I have shared my opinion on this subject. So I am well aware of the objections. We have to protect our flock from seeing and hearing things they cannot unsee and un-hear. These Zoombombers may shout out racial or vulgar epithets. They might expose themselves. They might share messages that are inconsistent with ours. It’s not worth the risk.

My response is twofold:

First, over the more than 25 years I’ve been ordained, I have seen all of those things happen during a worship service INSIDE the church building at least once, yet I have never once considered locking the doors of the church to keep out those who can’t demonstrate their bona fides. And I can tell you this, it’s a lot easier to remove a disruptive person from a Zoom worship service than it is to remove them bodily from your physical worship space. Which brings me to my second point.

There are ways you can proactively prevent most of these things from happening simply by changing the settings on your Zoom meeting and thoughtfully managing Zoom during the worship service (click here for an article on how to stop Zoombombing). Our old paradigms of how to do worship (and all other aspects of being a faith community) were the first casualties of COVID-19. They are gone for good (both literally and figuratively). And God is calling upon us to help create the new paradigms, with God, each other, our neighborhoods, and perhaps even new partners in ministry we have not yet met. The Chinese word for “crisis” includes the characters for both “danger” and “opportunity.” This is what COVID-19 has brought to us. The DANGER is real, but so is the OPPORTUNITY.