When the United States was hit with COVID-19, our church families were instructed to stay at home. Thankfully, God provided a variety of technology tools that we can use to stay connected with our local Bible Fellowship Church family.
Worship “Gatherings” through Video
YouTube is a popular choice for sharing a prerecorded or live streamed Sunday morning worship. Pastor David Brandt was already working on setting up a YouTube channel for Lebanon BFC when the stay at home order started. He picked up the pace and got it up and running in time for the first Sunday that we had to stay at home. It takes a lot of time to produce the worship service videos especially when the service includes video from a worship team or someone from the congregation sharing Scripture or announcements.
Facebook is also a go-to website for worship through video. Although Whitehall BFC had already been live streaming their video on YouTube since 2016, now that the stay at home order came, Pastor Tim Schmoyer added Facebook streaming as well. There was an increase in viewers once Facebook was added especially viewers that members of the congregation knew personally because of the way Facebook alerts users to videos that their friends are watching. Many other pastors use both Facebook and YouTube as well such as Pastor Josh Gibson from Emmaunel BFC in Sunbury and Pastor Mark Orton from Graterford BFC.
Church Planter Los Morales of Christ Alone Fellowship decided to stream on Facebook only because of the community feel of Facebook. There are many more opportunities for ongoing connection and engagement because of the Facebook comment and response section.
Twitch is another online streaming choice. When Twitch.tv began it was mostly used by video gamers, but it has since seen an expansion in its usage. It works similarly to YouTube but with a cleaner dashboard. Kutztown BFC is using it to stream the service led by Pastor Ezekiel Mack.
For a more intimate setting, many pastors are using Zoom for their worship service. Zoom services can only be accessed by people who are given a specific Zoom link to click or phone number to call. Pastor Dennis Cahill from Piscataway BFC has so far only been using Zoom for Sunday morning worship. The advantage to Zoom is that the participants are able to see each other and interact with one another. Pastor Carl Fischer from Nazareth BFC said that it was so precious during their Zoom communion service to see the people greet one another just like they were in the church foyer!
The Zoom conference call tool has also been the most popular choice for midweek prayer gatherings. It’s also be used for Executive Board Meetings and Church Extension Board Meetings. But adults are not the only ones meeting online on Zoom.
For the Young
Coopersburg BFC has Zoom meetings for their preschoolers complete with scavenger hunts, songs, games, and a lesson from God’s word. What a blessing for the kids! La Roca de Reading is using a variety of online tools to keep meeting with their young people. The teens are using Google Hangouts. The Kid’s Club is using Facebook live.
Calvary BFC in Sinking Spring is live on Instagram and YouTube each weeknight at 8:00pm except on Wednesday night where they live stream their youth gathering from 6:30-8:00. After they wrap up at 8:00 the students jump into a Zoom call with their small group leader. Youth Pastor Greg Carder says, “It’s been a struggle to get all of our regulars to join in, but it’s worth the pursuit. We have also been active on our Instagram each day with a mix of fun and spiritual content.
One concern on everyone’s mind when the stay at home order started was offering. First of all, it’s a big part of worshipping the Lord to be able to give offerings. Secondly, the offerings are crucial for sustaining the work of the church. Many faithful BFC folks mailed in their offerings, but others used online giving. Several churches made online giving available for the first time during quarantine including Pastor Tim Nessler from New Beginnings BFC in Woodbury Heights. He used tith.ly to add giving to their website. It helped tremendously. About one-third of the congregation has been using it and, thankfully, giving has been pretty consistent through the lockdown.
Without bulletins and announcements from the pulpit, our churches have relied on email and phone calls to communicate with their congregations. Many churches already had these systems in place. Some churches began using a texting service to communicate with those congregants who have a cell phone. Pastor Mark Bickel from Wallingford BFC started to use Text in Church for that service. Others used Twillow to pay as you go for texting their people.
What We Have Learned
At the moment of this writing, we are still in quarantine, but the news media is abuzz with talk of what reopening will look like. What have we learned about technology tools that we can carry with us into our future church ministry, whatever that may look like?
Having an active online presence can reach more people and/or different people than you are already reaching.
All of the pastors with whom I have spoken were amazed at how many online views they were getting of their services. The total numbers of views exceeded the amount of people that normally come to the church building on a Sunday morning. Big and small churches alike found this to be true. Although some of these views may be from other believers whose churches are not doing online services, other views are from people who are searching for the truth or searching for a church home. Will this increased reach from a focused online presence transfer to in person attendance when we are able to reopen again? Time will tell, but I think it is more likely if the viewers are actively engaged.
Online visitors need to be greeted.
Just like in-person visitors are more likely to return to church when someone welcomes them and takes initiative to get to know them, the same is true of those who choose to check out your church online. Reply to those who comment on your social media pages. Invite those who have liked your service to like your social media page so that they continue to get notified when your service is posted. If you are not receiving any comments, ask questions in your posts or your services so that people have something specific to answer.
Online tools can enhance the church’s ministry although it cannot replace it.
These technology tools are not new. Facebook began in 2004. YouTube began in 2005. I don’t know when Zoom started, but I’ve been using it for almost four years for online meetings. When the stay at home order started and churches jumped on board using these technology tools that have been around for years, I pictured God in heaven delighting in His church saying, “Yes! I have created these tools for you to use! Thank you for finally using them!” Since the Lord has instructed us not to forsake the gathering of the saints, He does not want technology to replace worshiping in person together, but now that we have been forced to use them, we can use them creatively to assist the church in making disciples of all the nations. We can continue to stream our services so that unbelievers may hear the truth about Christ. Our online services can help the sick and the shut ins stay connected with their local church family. We could meet with our missionaries through Zoom to pray with them and for them. We can faithfully email, call, and text our people so that there are constant reminders of ways they can grow in Christ.
We are so thankful to the Lord for the technology tools that He has given to us and for the people who know how to use them! May we prayerfully and intentionally use digital platforms to invite people to join in the fellowship of the local church.
How has your church connected with people online during the stay at home order? Comment below.