“Go (Online) and Make Disciples” – by Pastor Dallas
Jesus calls Christians to reach out to people of all nations, but we avoid going out in faith because of the walls of our comfort zones, our tribes, or our church buildings. When we faithfully go, we both fulfill God’s mission and experience God’s presence. Jesus, at the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel, said, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations… And remember, I am with you always.” When we spread Christ’s love to those who’ve never experienced it, we find community with God and the faithful. In a difficult year, God has forced us beyond our walls to do the very things that God has always called us to do. And God has been with us, even while we’ve been physically apart from each other.
“God has forced us beyond our walls to do the very things that God has always called us to do. And God has been with us, even while we’ve been physically apart from each other.”
A February snowstorm was the catalyst that pushed our church’s ministry into the digital frontier for an online Ash Wednesday service. Many churches have been in the digital mission field for years, but this was a learning step for us. That night, we began a new sermon series titled, There’s Another Way. We didn’t know yet how much that phrase would become essential in 2020. While we missed the warmth of each other’s presence, we worshiped from our homes and beyond, and did so with others who we might not even know by face.
Three weeks later, COVID-19 led to the shutdown of on-site gatherings. I had to learn a lot about trust in that season. I had to trust that the message God was moving in my heart would reach beyond a camera lens. The camera lens didn’t respond to my tone or my questions; I had to trust that the God who moved me to speak would move someone to listen on the other end of a screen. Real ministry was happening beyond our walls.
The curiosity about church was really high in those early weeks. Suddenly, we had out-of-state friends and family worshiping with us. There was a lot of work behind the scenes to extend our worship to the world beyond. Typically, Brently and I would gather on Fridays to pre-record the service, which now included activities like changing camera settings and checking audio levels for each other. After recording the service, it took another 10-12 hours of video editing on Friday nights and Saturdays to trim the videos, adjust the audio, add lyrics to the video, and export the videos for different platforms. The work was worth it because it helped spread good news in a time where painful news seemed to reign.
That workflow wasn’t sustainable. Eventually, as we would start to offer in person worship and other events, the amount of time needed to pre-record worship would be difficult to maintain weekly. We needed a sustainable way of expanding our worship and our ministry impact to those beyond our walls, so we began transitioning to live streaming to broadcast services in real time without the extra hours of edits and publishing. Transitioning would require a lot of work. We needed new equipment, more volunteers, and more training.
We needed at least four volunteers every week. In addition to needing someone to run the soundboard, which we had done in the past, we also needed someone to run the live stream computer and its presentation software, someone to operate the cameras, and someone to host our social media feeds during the live stream to welcome, pray for, and moderate our online platform. With new challenges and opportunities ahead, we were blessed to have 10 people step up to learn and serve.
Why did volunteers commit to helping move the church beyond our walls? They sought to benefit those beyond the walls, including church members who couldn’t physically be present. One volunteer, Mike, explained, “I wanted to help the church during a time when others couldn’t. Many people from the church have helped me in the past so I felt it was my turn to try and help others.” God binds the people of the church together. God’s loving bond extends beyond our building.
“I WANTED TO HELP THE CHURCH DURING A TIME WHEN OTHERS COULDN’T. MANY PEOPLE FROM THE CHURCH HAVE HELPED ME IN THE PAST SO I FELT IT WAS MY TURN TO TRY AND HELP OTHERS.”– Mike Hughey
The bond between our volunteers has grown through serving. The team describes the experience of serving in this season as “special,” “inspiring,” and “very rewarding.” Bridget described the effect of serving, saying “I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie that has developed with everyone working on the team. I think it has brought us closer as we work together to stream the services.” We don’t grow closer together during selfish pursuits. God grows us together as we reach out in mission beyond our comfort zones and walls.
Creating and consuming digital content is not all there is to spiritual life, but we hope that our digital outreach invites people beyond our walls to experience our worship and, most importantly, our God. Mike shares his hope that our church would “reach people it normally wouldn’t reach. If we can help someone by putting ourselves out there than it was all worth it.”
Ministering in a digital world means you may never meet the person whose life is affected by our church’s ministry. We might not see that one-person face to face, but if we can introduce God and the way of love to one new person, it is worth it.
Another team member, Marilynn, describes the mission saying, “We are called to spread Christ’s love and to make disciples wherever we go. We have tools to do that today like never before in history.” Let’s trust that God will take the faithfulness of our planting digital seeds and grow them up into flowers of real life discipleship live we’ve never seen before.
This story first appeared in our October – November 2020 magazine issue. If you’d like to receive our print or digital magazine issues, subscribe here. Read the entire October – November issue online now.