LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Kentucky Baptist church leaders have been innovative in getting out the gospel message during the coronavirus.
Pastors and worship leaders learned how to be social media experts, how to deliver a message into an electronic tablet with nobody else in the room, and have spoken to their congregation drive-in style on the parking lot.
They’ve kept their church members encouraged with phone calls, text messages, emails, and social distance visits.
It’s been different. It’s been challenging. And, in a strange kind of way, it’s also been a helpful learning experience. Having to find ways to share the gospel on social media is leaving many pastors with the desire to continue on.
“Online presence has dramatically increased participation in worship services of churches, connecting with two to 10 times more people than they had in worship previously,” said Darryl Wilson, Kentucky Baptist Convention Sunday School and discipleship consultant. “But many pastors and church leaders have struggled to know what to do to get responses from attenders.”
Wilson said that can be solved through methods that allow participants to call or text responses privately.
Not only have church leaders improved their technology skills, but so have members of the church – even those who had never used it previously. They are Zoom-ing around like they’ve done it all their life and maybe for the first time have created a Facebook page.
Even with many churches returning to in-person services, this isn’t the time to back off technology, Wilson said.
“Encouraging churches to enlist a point person would be the most concrete way to ensure that social media presence continues beyond this pandemic,” he said. “By providing training, the KBC could challenge and equip that point person to take the next step with social media.”
Ministry leaders need to keep advancing their media technology skills. There’s always room to learn more and ways to sharpen those skills are available, KBC leaders say.
“I think all leaders could learn more through training,” said Alan Witham, a regional consultant group leader at the KBC. “However, most have been forced through a steep learning curve already and have the tools needed. Learning could take place in terms of building upon leaders recently acquired knowledge to make them even more effective in using an online platform to a greater extent.”
Todd Gray, the executive director-treasurer of the KBC, said his family has enjoyed the Zoom meetings for Sunday School classes when the pandemic was keeping the church doors shut. The ability to not only hear voices but to see their faces has been a blessing, he said.
“We have enjoyed weekly contact and fellowship,” Gray said. “While we miss the human contact portion of the meeting, it has been good to see the faces, hear the stories, and participate in a Bible study with other believers.”
Hundreds of Kentucky Baptist churches have taken advantage of the Zoom platform for Sunday School and Bible studies. It has allowed everyone to stay in touch in a different way. Individuals, once technologically challenged, learned how to log on and they even started liking it.
“From my personal experience with my small group at Parkway Baptist Church, Bardstown, our weekly attendance has grown meeting on Zoom through the pandemic,” said Matt Flanagan, the Children & Student Ministry consultant for the KBC. “Several families have demonstrated their willingness to join even when travelling out of town. Meeting together in-person is the best pattern for discipleship, however having the option to join through zoom will be a blessing to families that travel on the weekends.”
Churches around the world are holding virtual worship services online, either recorded ahead of time or live-streamed. People are watching, but what about responding?
“The challenge with online viewers is a similar challenge that churches faced pre-COVID-19, with those who were guests to worship services,” Witham said. “When people connect online for a worship service, God is working in their life in some way. We need to join God in what He is doing by attempting to follow-up with guests and, in this case, online viewers.
“Churches need to find ways to connect with people and invite them to indicate whether they are open to follow-up and continued conversation with a church leader. An invitation to respond online via text during or at the conclusion of a service is one option.”
Using social media as a tool to reach others for Christ is the goal.
“Allow social media to deliver the tools for testimonies and gospel conversations,” Wilson said. “Provide resources and places for sharing responses to the gospel. Highlight individuals and churches who are doing a good job. A social media online group might also help.”
Gray said some church leaders have been able to lead people to Christ after meeting them via social media.
“Churches will be well served to think through methods and work with other leaders to follow up with social media guests,” he said. “Asking attendees to ‘say hello’ allows the hosts to follow up with guests who may not be part of the congregation.”
Flanagan said now that churches have used social media to their advantage, they need to build on the momentum and even grow their church.
“Churches focused on connecting with their communities will need to continue their energy and commitment to social media even as the church begins to re-gather on campus,” he said. “The churches with consistent and encouraging social media presence will often have the first opportunity to connect with new families in their areas.”