We reached out to a few of our newest church plants to learn how they are continuing to “gather”, build their teams, and disciple the people around them in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope you find these ideas inspiring and encouraging and that you’ll join us in praying for these church planters and their churches!
What has worked best for us is using the group breakouts in online Zoom meetings. At the end of our gatherings, which are shorter than a normal in person gathering, we break into groups of 4-6 people that each have a group leader to facilitate. We talk through a couple discussion questions. Then each group leader ends their group time in prayer. We’ve found that about a third of our people stick around for the groups. We encourage those who are not sticking around to take the questions with them to use to reflect during the week.
Many people have reported back that through the group discussions, they've gotten to talk with and engage with more people in the church than they have in the past.
Facebook Live Q & A
Then we saw COVID-19 move its way into our state. Our government was one of the first to enact a stay-at-home order. We joined the hundreds of thousands of churches and went all digital. Though it was difficult, we were shocked to see how many people that don't attend our physical church began to attend online.
We've started doing a Monday night "Hanging with the Jacksons" Facebook Live every week. This conversation is a place for us to share more of the nuggets from our sermon prep that didn't make it in the 30-minute sermon for Sunday.
Then on Tuesdays, I often go live from my personal Facebook page and we talk about the virus. I have a medical day job, so I try to give practical advice. Some weeks we’ve experienced tons of engagement on these.
We also try to send a text or message to each family in our church community every week or two, sometimes simply to ask "How are you? or How is your family?" We have to increase the number of digital "touches" because, for now, the physical touch is gone.
Daily Devotional & Weekly Connect Calls
Then Wednesday evenings, in place of our usual weekly dinner party, we are meeting on Zoom to catch up and trade stories from isolation.
For our Sunday services, we moved to a produced Facebook Watch Party. We are recording using the best equipment we can afford: an iPhone 11s with external Shure mics, and editing with Final Cut Pro. We do:
- A 30-45 second welcome video from my wife and I, explaining what’s going to happen during our time together.
- One song, recorded by the worship leader and her husband
- A 10-15 minute talk with 1-3 questions interspersed within so that people can respond in the comments.
- Relevant quotes, scriptures, questions in the comments as the video goes live
- A Zoom call to follow, in which we connect and catch up as a group, as well as discuss the topic. We offer to provide the log in link to anyone who direct messages us.
Our reach has grown considerably, and engagement seems good. We’re always thinking in terms of next steps, so we’ve got an Alpha and a virtual open mic night planned.
Scripture Reading Plan & Prayer Guide
We’ve been using Zoom for our weekly Sunday worship and Wednesday prayer meetings because we did not want to lose out on continuing to build community. We thought that if people were just watching us without the opportunity to interact with each other we would lose our momentum in building relationships. We have been able to pray with each other and encourage each other. However, we have found that getting someone new to join a Zoom meeting is virtually impossible. So, we are planning to try another approach where we will post the sermon on Facebook, YouTube, and our website at our posted meeting time. Then after viewing, people can choose to log on to Zoom for a time of communion, prayer, and fellowship. This may give others in our local community a chance to connect with us after checking us out first.
We also put together a scripture reading plan and prayer guide for the week leading up to Easter. We posted it on our website and ran a Facebook ad to share it with our local community. The idea was to give families an opportunity to walk through the story in the Scriptures together while they are restricted to their homes. It is our hope that people were exposed to the story of Jesus and also became aware of our church's presence and availability in the community.
Card Writing and Book Clubs
Pivoting quickly to online services meant that we would not have a normal start. My husband Alex and I had planted a church in the 90s with 5 children aged 6 and under. All we had learned then was not what was going to move us forward now.
We now have 3 zoom groups, 2 book clubs and 1 apprenticeship class meeting online. Instead of meeting people one on one, we’ve been able to deliver groceries to homes affected by the Coronavirus. For Easter, we delivered Easter baskets to the homes of the 3 children that had come to that first Sunday. It took most of the afternoon because those families were hungry for conversation even through physical distancing! Sending written personal cards has also been one of our focuses. We have sent cards to nursing home residents, to special need adults, and any shut-ins we know about.
We will continue to rely on God’s leading as to how this Covid-19 church plant will grow!
Online Alpha Course
People have taken more interest in spiritual things now that they have more time with their own thoughts and death has been forced in front of them. I thought perhaps people would respond to Alpha, since it gives people a space to share their own beliefs as they hear the Christian perspective. The bar is low for people to try because they don’t have to leave home, which leaves them with lots of control over their own environment. Running Alpha online can be super easy and because you don’t need a lot of volunteers and nobody has to make any food, so the cost is low. I think doing Alpha online has real potential.
Our particular context is very religious though. Even those who are lost and need to have a real encounter with Jesus have just enough Christian understanding to keep them from a deep encounter. It’s hard to get people in Altoona to connect to something that’s not a normal church service. I believe in Alpha enough that I’m trying to crack that nut, even though it’s tough.
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