By Lorie Ham
This has been a difficult time for everyone but people continue to find new ways to connect, including churches–whether it is via Zoom, YouTube, Facebook, or other online video options. A multitude of churches have been streaming their Sunday services online, and many have managed to put their other programs online as well.
Some churches have even found that this situation has brought them unexpected opportunities for ministry. “Our vision sees beyond our walls, but our regular schedule resists that,” says Mark Isaac, Lead Pastor at New Life Community in Dinuba, CA. “Having to close our facilities on March 15th we immediately went to two broadcast formats to reach our people and the community: radio and the web.”
Their church has the added benefit of having been on local radio for decades. They are also managing to reach all age groups with various programs and services online, including posting scavenger hunt challenges weekly and daily devotions for their youth group. Their Summer VBS is also already being planned to take place on Zoom. Phone calls and emails are being used as well to reach out to their members, checking in on them, and offering one-on-one counseling. And members are reaching out to each other.
Reedley Mennonite Brethren Church also moved all ministries to an online format according to Lead Pastor Malcolm Light. “We keep telling the church, we have never closed, we’ve simply moved to a different way to do it.”
Reedley too has used phones, email, and Zoom to meet other needs of their congregation and check in on them. “We send out a daily prayer line via email, and pray regularly with people over the phone and through text.”
Many are trying to address physical needs as well. “Our deacons have taken meals to some and provided support as needed for others who are struggling financially,” shares Pastor Isaac.
While some may have concerns about meeting the spiritual and emotional needs of their congregations during this time, many seem to be doing well in that respect. “People tell me that their faith is deepening during this time,” continued Pastor Isaac. One of the greatest concerns has been for those who live alone or who aren’t familiar with technology, “though contacting these generally older adults shows that they’ve weathered much in their lives and have tremendous resilience.”
As churches prepare to reopen, most are trying to do so carefully and slowly, and abide by government guidelines–moving out furniture to create distance, providing facemasks and hand sanitizer, and keeping some doors open. Handshakes and hugs will be discouraged. “We’ll reopen worship services first, and likely not restart our in-person kids’ ministries until after schools reopen,” shares Pastor Isaac.
While there will be many adjustments as churches reopen, Pastor Light feels the larger changes affecting their congregation will be in the unity this has been developing within their congregation. “I am seeing the Covid situation a bit like a heart attack. We have two ways of responding coming out of this trauma–return to business as usual and get the same results, or consider some major shifts that will give us a longer more healthy life. I am praying towards the end that we will make some shifts we have needed to make for some time and seek a more healthy, thriving, and impactful future as a part of the bride of Christ.”
Pastor Jim Kennemur of Madera Avenue Bible Church in Madera, CA has also been offering online services and reaching out via phone and email to his congregation. “I have encouraged our people to call each other and stay in touch.”
He feels that while social distancing and not being able to shake hands and hug one another will be difficult at first when they start meeting again, it is not something that will last forever. “But mostly I think we will value even more worshiping together.”
Through all of this, many have found resources and encouragement from their fellow churches and other organizations. “Our denomination, our insurance company, the local ministerial, and countless organizations have been providing a constant flow of information, ideas, strategies, camaraderie, and prayer,” says Pastor Isaac. “The point is to look beyond the current crisis to the ongoing relationships and ministry opportunities for people in our community.
“One helpful article by Andy Crouch, former editor of Christianity Today, advises that every church consider itself a start-up and begin recasting vision for a new day. As with our faith in Jesus, ‘the old has gone, the new is here!’ (2 Corinthians 5:17) Churches should be great at providing leadership and hope for a post-pandemic world!”