Churches respond to pandemic and learn to use social media

Horizon Weekly | 22 April 2020

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Article: Churches respond to pandemic
Article: Canada’s churches learn to use social media

Churches respond to pandemic

By Karen L Willoughby

From New Brunswick to British Columbia, some Canadian National Baptist Convention churches are seeing a tenfold increase in attendance as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Online, that is.

EastSide Church in Miramichi, New Brunswick, pre-pandemic drew about 50 to Sunday morning worship. The last Sunday in March, 100 watched during the church’s Facebook Live service, and perhaps 900 clicked onto it later, Pastor Victor Somers told the Horizon.

In Quebec, La Chappelle Church added 1,000 to its pre-pandemic 3,000 viewers, and they’re viewing from Switzerland, France, Belgium and Africa as well as Canada and the United States.

Westlynn Baptist Church in North Vancouver, British Columbia, pre-pandemic drew about 50 to Sunday morning worship. The last Sunday in March, about 100 watched the church’s Facebook Live service, and probably 1,000 clicked onto it later.

Similar stories are being told to the Horizon across the nation. On the other hand, some churches aren’t seeing many more than their usual Sunday morning pre-pandemic attendance.

“There are several churches in our area,” said Steve Fish, pastor of Faith Baptist in Saskatoon. With several online services to choose from, the week before Palm Sunday Faith had about 60 online versus a pre-pandemic 85, before others tuned in during the week. Being online is one way churches can “touch” members and the community at large, Fish added.

“God’s still on the throne,” the pastor said. “Our response is to be praying, first and foremost.”

Praying for what? Fish referred to 2 Chronicles 7:13 and 14. If I close the sky so there is no rain, or if I command the grasshopper to consume the land, or if I send pestilence on My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. [HCSB]

“The recent wildfires in Australia were the result of drought, a lack of rain,” Fish said, adding, “Then came the locusts in Africa. Now there’s the pandemic, and verse 14, our call to pray.”

In addition to prayer ...

Eastside Miramichi has a pandemically-closed café designed to build community, which Somers supplements with daily posts on Facebook Messenger.

“It’s times like this the church can set up and make a difference,” Somers told Horizon. “I’m calling the congregation to be courageous, to be brave, to do what the government says and to look for ways to minister to the community. To others outside the church, the Gospel comes across clearly. This is part of the broken world we live in and we can have hope in Jesus. None of us are going to get out of this world alive.”

Eastside recently received a $5,000 grant from United Way that it passed on to Family Food Box Delivery, to help people living paycheck to paycheck. Volunteers from the church now and in the past deliver food to those in need.

“I’m excited to see what the future church will look like when all this is over,” Somers said. “Being innovative in getting the Gospel to as many people as possible. I think God has a plan. I can’t wait to see it.”

In Montreal, LaChapelle Church members have a close relationship with each other and their French-speaking neighbours locally and worldwide, Missions Pastor Dan DiVincenzo told Horizon. He leads the church’s I Love Montreal initiative.

“We bought food for the families in church and outside the church,” DiVincenzo said. “They are really thankful we are taking care of them. We call them just to make sure they are well. We cannot do a lot of things because of isolation, but we can do that. We have worship online and training online three times a week, and devotions every morning.”

Thames Christian Fellowship in Chatham, Ontario, also has been focusing on calling its members. It recently added a Daily Time Together on its Facebook page. Sunday messages with notes and Power Point are streamed and uploaded each Sunday. What pre-pandemic was an 80-person Sunday congregation has grown to an average of 200 online, including some as far as Jordan.

“For individuals not able to watch online we are recording the audio and providing hard copies of the notes,” Pastor Don Read told Horizon. “Our message is hope. The message we are giving to our congregation is we are agents of mercy. Check in with each other, check in with your neighbours and family. We as a church are doing our best to make sure no one is alone during a time of isolation.”

At Bridge International Church in Calgary, Pastor Eric Dizon told the Horizon that the church’s online worship services and prayer gathering are “going well,” and additionally the church is near completion of 21 days of prayer and fasting, supplemented by the pastor’s personal devotion and reflection to those participating in the fast.

Pre-pandemic, “The only thing I was doing online was just posting encouraging messages on our Facebook and Instagram pages,” Dizon said. “Right now we decided to do our small group online. I also encourage our leaders to call members and keep conversations going online or over the phone. For our Sunday worship services, we are doing Facebook live asking members to watch online. … There are feelings of discouragement, but we are trying our best to strengthen each other.

“My concern for the church is that people can become lazy and complacent with their church life,” the pastor continued. “This crisis introduces new ways of interacting, especially online, which can be challenging to other church members. This crisis has made us closer as a church and made us reflect more on what God wants us to do in our own lives and as a church. I saw that we are praying more right now. A perfect opportunity to speak life and encouragement to them. We have been praying for God to increase our number but this present situation tells me that God wants this small church to increase in faith, growth, and maturity in Him.”

In far western Canada, North Vancouver, Westlynn Baptist Church has added a Farsi-speaking church’s English-speaking members to Westlynn’s English-language online congregation. Westlynn also has a Russian-speaking congregation. Zendah (Living) Church asked Pastor Sam Chua if he would add Zendah’s members who are more comfortable with English than Farsi.

“We’re not sure for how long,” Chua said. “They don’t have the ability to do English online.

“It’s curious, the amount of interest of nonbelievers in our service,” Chua said. “We received an email from an individual in our neighbourhood who said he was very concerned at this time. He has a tiny belief in God because of this pandemic. That’s one example of a person who took the initiative to find a church in the neighbourhood. I’m going to visit with him this week, probably outside, with a good social distance.”

Westlynn has written to its members, asking them to help their neighbours, the pastor told Horizon. “What we’re trying to do is to blanket the neighbourhood around the church, and the neighbours of our members.

“As difficult as it is to understand, God has a really good purpose in this pandemic,” Chua said. “God is doing good things, and for that we’re really grateful.”

Canada’s churches learn to use social media

By Karen L Willoughby

Some CNBC churches across Canada struggle as they juggle local ministry in a time of “fear and anxiety,” as one pastor called it, and global social media.

Some technology-driven pastors are as comfortable talking growth-hacking and data-mining as they are quoting scripture. Others, not so much.

Marc Ira Hooks, for 30 years a media producer and now pastor of First Baptist Church in Branch, Texas, northeast of Dallas, offered his expertise to churches at the start of the technological learning curve.

“As a media guy I am concerned with the number of churches who are putting up entire services,” Hooks told the Horizon. “I see two concerns in doing that. I see a lot of people violate the spirit of social distancing when [members of] the praise team or sound team are sitting or standing next to each other. If the church can’t lead in doing what’s right, I think that sends a bad message.”

Hooks said he’s also concerned about churches putting their entire worship service online when they don’t have copyright permission to do so. A CCLI licence is needed to perform music in a church building. For a service to be recorded or distributed, a synchronization licence is needed, which is more expensive.

“We are the church and we should be subject to the law,” Hooks said. “We should do what is legally and morally correct.”

As a media producer, Hooks suggests only uploading the pastor’s sermons online, rather than the pre-sermon parts of the service. He gives several reasons, including the fact that television is a close-up media. When the camera backs off to include the entire praise team, watchers become uneasy because they instinctively want to be within 18 inches to three feet of the action.

“If everything is wide-angle it makes the people feel uncomfortable,” Hooks said. “It’s important when doing any kind of television but more important in this social media environment to utilize a close space. That’s why I’m less inclined to upload a full worship service.”

Instead, he sends an email to members with an order of service, the scripture passage to be used, and the music for the songs, including YouTube performances, and an invitation to hear him speak at 11 a.m. Sunday.

“But the number one production problem is bad audio,” Hooks said.  “If you’ve got a pretty picture and bad sound, you’ve got bad video.”

An ambient microphone in the middle of the room picks up everything, such as the furnace coming on. Directional mics worn by the pastor or handheld mics from the praise team are sent to and through the soundboard, Hooks said.

“Attach the output of the soundboard to the input of what you’re using to broadcast so the broadcast sound is being controlled by the soundboard,” Hooks said.

“My perspective is that this is an unusual time,” the media producer/pastor said. We’re not here to put on a show. We don’t need a great production. What we need to be is preaching the Gospel. Bring comfort and peace, find ways to demonstrate the love of the Gospel within the restrictions we have and proclaim the Gospel so people who are lost can come to Christ.

“We can talk directly to the camera and directly to people,” Hooks continued. “People can find praise music everywhere. Preaching? If you’ve got a compelling message, that’s all you need.”



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