As Christians across the world are celebrating the holiest of weeks, churches across the world continue to adapt to new ways of worshipping in these crazy times. Easter Sunday will be no different. Many will celebrate Easter at home via some version of live streaming, while others will perhaps celebrate at a drive-in service.
Although the worship may be different, congregations have been receptive to the adjustments. For the time being, these changes will be the “new norm” for any type of worship activity during these times of social distancing.
While some churches were already using social media to broadcast services and reach out to congregations, many are now forced to rely on online video worship or drive-in services to be in compliance with mandated orders. The Blount Countian reached out to some local churches to get a glimpse of how they’ve adapted to this “new norm.”
Oneonta Church of God
Oneonta Church of God is conducting all worship services and Bible studies online. Pastor Josh Taylor said although it is nothing like being with people, it has sparked creativity and opened the eyes of others to see how effective video streaming can be. Given the current situation, many church members are now realizing that God’s word can reach those who are not able to or choose not to gather in church.
During its first video service, OCG reached more than 400 viewers. That is 10 times their average attendance. OCG currently streams their Sunday morning service, two Wednesday night services, and a video every other day offering encouragement, motivation, and prayer.
For those without access to the internet, the church is putting the Sunday morning service on CDs to mail out. Taylor said video streaming allows members to still be a church.
Taylor wants other churches to know there are many free resources to help navigate the process of video streaming. He said, “It is time for all of us to come together, reach out, and help each other.” Any churches needing help can contact Taylor at 205-936-0803.
Lakeview Baptist and Straight Mountain Missionary Baptist
Lakeview Baptist and Straight Mountain Missionary Baptist churches have chosen to use live streaming and will continue to do so as long as the four staff members are allowed to gather.
Their first Facebook Live attempt was held a couple of weeks ago. Straight Mountain pastor Ricky Statham admits it was initially awkward because you didn’t see the usual faces looking at you, but soon the awkwardness dissipated.
At the present time, Lakeview and Straight Mountain are videoing the 10 a.m. Sunday service and continuing with the journey through Genesis on Wednesday night. The Sunday service usually lasts from 30 minutes to one hour. Of the 60 or so initial viewers, church and community members made comments before, during, and even after the service. The video continues to reach people as it is being shared on Facebook.
New Life Ministries
Just like other churches, New Life Ministries has been brainstorming for ideas for people to get out and worship without causing danger to others. The past three Sundays, the church has had two different types of services. They want to see which is most effective for worship.
The first week, the congregation met in drive-in fashion. People parked their cars in the upper level of the parking area with windows rolled down. Pastor Jack Decanter and a few other members set up under the covered drive-thru area adjacent to the church. They chose to keep the service to one hour or less to hopefully prevent people from needing to get out and go to the restroom.
At the end of the service, an offering was collected in drive-thru fashion as well. The preaching area was cleared so that cars could drive by and put their offering in the collection plate. Some members mailed their tithe, but others wanted to give directly.
The church scheduled another drive-in service for last Sunday, but due to lack of clarity on the restrictions and limitations of travel, they chose to cancel the service to make sure they were not violating any orders. They live streamed their service instead.
Two Sundays ago, they tried video streaming. They did a Facebook Live service with as few people as needed to get the job done while maintaining safe distance. The church has received a lot of positive comments from each of these services, but remains open to new ideas for ministering to others.
Decanter has noticed that this period is especially difficult for the sick and those in nursing homes. Many of them do not understand why they are not being visited, and it is causing them to suffer emotionally. He has not been able to visit anyone for about three weeks.
Union Hill Baptist
Union Hill Baptist Church is utilizing Facebook Live and YouTube for their 11 a.m. Sunday services. They are also putting their Wednesday night Bible studies online.
Some classes are using Facebook Live for Sunday school studies from 10:45 a.m. until 11:45 a.m. The staff is able to connect for conference calls by using Hangout. Images of those connected during the meetings are shown at the bottom of the page. Because it is voice activated, a larger image pops up on the screen when they are talking.
To keep in more frequent contact with church members, Pastor Bill Barnett and his wife are conducting a live chat on Friday nights. Barnett said having the extra day of interaction, along with the worship opportunities and Bible studies, allows everyone to reach out and connect with others every couple of days.
Barnett acknowledges that these restrictions have shown the staff and congregation an opportunity to connect with a lot more people. The church had not been using social media prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Barnett said they would likely continue using the online worship opportunities even after the restrictions are lifted.
Lester Memorial United Methodist
Lester Memorial United Methodist Church began live streaming before the mandate was sent down. They have been using radio and TV broadcasting for several years, but decided in early 2019 to move to live streaming through YouTube as a more effective way to stay connected.
The church is flexible to out-of-the-box ideas and continues to find new ways to keep its members connected.
Pastor Harvey Beck said other church leaders have also found ways to connect. The youth stay connected through Zoom and social media. As teachers continue to use social media and the internet, they have also been connecting the old-fashioned way, by telephone. Some of the Sunday school material is distributed in a drive-by fashion. The material is placed in an envelope and picked up at a specified time and location.
On Easter Sunday, Lester Memorial will live stream a sunrise service at 6 a.m., followed by both the 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. services. In addition, the 11 a.m. service will be on WCRL 95.3 radio and Channel 70 on Otelco cable TV.
They also plan to live stream services for community Holy Week. At noon each day, April 6-10, five different local pastors will share an Easter message via live stream on YouTube.
Beck said, “In the middle of all this bad, there is good happening.” There continues to be a concern for those who are at-risk going out or for those who do not have anyone to help. In response, there are 35 members who have committed to going to the grocery store and/or pharmacy for those who are at a higher risk of suffering devastating effects of the virus.
Although he never thought he’d say this, Beck is thankful for social media that is allowing people to stay connected. He noted that it has been helpful during this period of uncertainty.
There has been a first for Pastor Beck during this isolation period. He laughed and said while he has worn a lot of different hats in the last 30 years, it was a first for him to deliver toilet paper to an elderly family. First Baptist Church pastor Larry Gipson told him, “I bet you didn’t learn that in seminary.”
Beck received a message on Sunday that an entire family was gathered in their living room listening to the worship service together. They were then able to talk about the scriptures instead of everyone heading in different directions to eat or for other obligations. Who would have ever thought about attending a church service while eating Eggos and lounging in their pajamas?
In the middle of all this bad there is good happening. Yes, the routine of fellowshipping has changed temporarily, but Beck said, “Jesus is the same today and tomorrow. He is our foundation.”
And yes, it is odd for all of us, but it is also beautiful to see believers finding ways to worship. Change is not something that many people like, but with these changes, worshippers from around the county still have the opportunity to “gather together in His name.”