Broadening the Reach of the Local Church.
Church as we know it changed abruptly last spring with the arrival of COVID-19. Pastors and congregations had to quickly adjust to the new, uncertain reality. Even those who had already been livestreaming services found themselves having to adapt to government restrictions. Others had to implement massive changes virtually overnight.
One glaring realization for all churches during the pandemic was the importance of technology. On one hand, this meant added expense and increased complexity. A quality online presence requires money and lots of volunteers. In some rural settings, internet quality is weak.
On the other hand, technology has broadened the reach of the local church. Congregations have expanded to other countries and even other continents. More people are able to tune in to more services on Sunday, or watch these at more convenient times.
Pastor Brady Bond (KU 2018) of Victory Highway Wesleyan Church’s Elmira Campus, in Elmira, NY, told of someone viewing their service from a city about two hours away. When this parishioner learned that the church was having a baptism service that afternoon, he drove the two hours to the church to be baptized.
Journey Church in Fredericton, New Brunswick, has a vision to become a multi-site church. According to Lead Pastor Matthew Maxwell (KU 1993), “technology has proven to us that we can now carry the gospel to these small towns where the church is leaving.”
Technology not only extends the reach geographically, it also allows the church into homes and hearts right next door. People who might never darken the doorway of a church are now attending online.
Some viewers have become attenders. Rev. Mike Agrell (KU 2007) of The Ridge Church in Maple Ridge, NB, tells of a family that began listening online, and now attends regularly in-person This phenomenon has prompted some like Carey Nieuwhof to compare online ministry to an online dating service, giving people a low-risk chance to get acquainted. Rev. Brent Ingersoll (KU 2006), Lead Pastor of Kings Church, describes technology as the new church lobby; Brady Bond calls it the church’s “front porch.”
Technology extends the reach of the church in other ways. A volunteer in Pastor Ryan Genereaux’s (KU 2017) youth group at The Ridge set up a YouTube channel for the teens. The channel then ended up being played in a local middle school during lunch.
Another benefit of technology has been the need for more volunteers. According to Agrell and Genereaux, leaders at The Ridge have stepped forward out of a desire to contribute during challenging times.
Journey Church has a saying: “every mounted camera is one less volunteer.” Taking this philosophy, they actively reached out for more volunteers when COVID struck. The response, according to Maxwell, has been “explosive.” “You just try and tell them they can’t come and serve.” In the face of technology’s complexity, wise pastors have turned to digital natives—young adults—who are now providing leadership.
Although it is not entirely clear what church life will be like after the pandemic, pastors recognize more clearly than ever the value of technology as a tool. It is as indispensable as “a hammer to a carpenter,” said Agrell, “like oxygen,” according to Ingersoll.
Brady Bond pointed out that the importance of technology means that all ministry leaders, even those in smaller church settings, need a good understanding of technology. People now expect church services to look and sound professional, both in the room and online.
While understanding the value of technology as a tool, pastors also recognize it is only a tool. The goal is not technology, but relationships. According to Pastor Sydney Bond (KU 2018), co-pastor at Victory’s Elmira Campus, this year has demonstrated “the beauty of community.” In Mike Agrell’s words, “corporate worship is here to stay.”
The pandemic has also clarified the essence of the church. “It flushed out a lot of consumer Christians,” says Ingersoll. More than attracting Christians, the goal of the church should be “making attractive Christians.” If technology is the “church lobby,” the goal is “to move people into the gathering.”
Pastors have always been committed to discipling believers, but recognize anew the centrality of Christ’s command. “Making disciples needs to be done more holistically,” says Ingersoll, “and with greater urgency.”
The pandemic has also raised questions. What is a gathering? How do we determine who is part of a church? What does spiritual fruit look like in an online community? How does the church reach out evangelistically in a socially distanced age?
Although the church will look different in a post-pandemic world, many congregations are emerging with renewed clarity in what matters most, and a passion to utilize available tools toward the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
To download the complete Spring 2021 issue of the Ablaze newsletter, click here.