Overcoming Zoom Fatigue: Pastors, IT Specialist Discuss Video Conferencing
By Rachel Eldridge
Church of God congregations are using technology in new ways during the COVID-19 pandemic. Church leadership meetings, small group sessions, youth gatherings, and recovery groups are all meeting virtually through video conferencing tools. Maintaining connection during a time of social distancing is important for staying healthy emotionally and physically, but being intentional about technology is also key to guarding against exhaustion from increased screen-time. Two Church of God pastors and an IT specialist recently weighed in on the topic.
“Everyone I know has some amount of ‘Zoom fatigue’ right now,” said Jan van Amerongen, executive pastor at Mountain Park Church, Phoenix, Arizona. “Zoom can’t replace human relationships…there are so many things that contribute to the feel of a room that you don’t get on video, especially when people are on mute. It can leave you emotionally weary.”
Zoom, of course, refers to the video conferencing software that many people, from business professionals to preschoolers, are using to connect with work, school, and friends on a daily basis.
“There is a little burnout from the younger people and families who also use Zoom for school and work,” said Tom Pelt, interim lead pastor at The Church at Bradenton, Florida. He added that a sense of humor is helping them push through. “People connect to authenticity, not perfection. We just roll with the technical difficulties and laugh at ourselves through it. We could easily develop a hilarious blooper show through all of this!”
Both pastors are encouraged by how many of their parishioners have made the shift to virtual gatherings, caring for one another, and even inviting friends and family to join them in their church Zoom groups.
“They continue to engage in discipleship, ministry, and community when they could have just unplugged and drifted away,” said van Amerongen.
To help frequent Zoom-users avoid burnout, van Amerongen is finding ways to keep things fun and fresh. His staff has been using Zoom’s virtual background feature to come to meetings with preselected background themes, such as “winter wonderland” or “your favorite cartoon as a kid.” He also noted the importance of staying truly connected with family and with God, not letting screen-time numb oneself to real life. Now is the time to linger at the dinner table together with household members, dig deep into Scripture, and develop new spiritual disciplines.
Jodie Reminder, assistant director of information technology services at Anderson University, agreed. On days with constant screen-time, remember the importance of low-tech, socially distant connections. Since not everyone has access to Zoom, and since some people are tired of it, try calling a friend on the phone or sending a card in the mail.
At the same time, if you haven’t used Zoom yet, it’s not too late to learn new tricks. Reminder encourages new users to practice Zoom with a friend or family member first to get comfortable, so they don’t feel the pressure of missing a lesson when they attend virtual Bible study for the first time. She also recommends making sure there is light on your face if you’re on camera (“if the light is behind you, it can put you in silhouette”), and dressing like you are meeting in person (“the camera may be on you from the waist up, but imagine having to jump up because the smoke alarm went off. You’re going to save yourself a lot of embarrassment by actually wearing pants!”).
Finally, Reminder shared tips for church leaders to ensure their Zoom interactions are secure from so-called “Zoom-bombers.” “The biggest concern I have is when a link to a Zoom call gets shared publicly because this makes you vulnerable to outsiders who might try to disrupt your meeting,” Reminder said. “We want to be open and welcoming, but we also want to provide a safe environment for those in the meeting.”
Meeting hosts should familiarize themselves with Zoom’s Help section on safeguards, such as waiting rooms that let you admit the people you know, permission settings that prevent others from sharing video, and the ability to remove users from a meeting while preventing them from rejoining.
“I highly recommend having someone you know act as the moderator to manage your meetings,” Reminder said. “That person can monitor the chat and can be ready to quickly stop someone who is disruptive so you can lead the meeting.”
Rachel Eldridge is a freelance writer who takes frequent walks to avoid Zoom burnout. She attends First Church of God in New Albany, Indiana.
Learn more about the response of Church of God Ministries to the coronavirus (COVID-19), including resources for you and your church, at www.jesusisthesubject.org/theway.