Social distancing doesn’t equal spiritual distancing

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TAMPA—During a time when gatherings are avoided due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida Baptist churches are experiencing heightened connection and attendance through online efforts to reach its congregation–and the masses.

Whether it requires the development of a brand-new program, or simply enhancements to an existing platform, the current environment has made it clear that an online presence is an absolute must for today’s churches.

When senior pastor Justin Kirksey first arrived at Hopewell Baptist Church in Plant City in early 2019, he wanted to develop a live online streaming service to complement the current process of recording sermons for online use. But he didn’t realize just how critical this service would be to continue a connection with his congregation in a time of crisis.

When the coronavirus hit the nation, Kirksey scrambled to make the online service happen.

Hopewell Baptist Church, Live StreamKirksey’s advice to any church without an existing online presence is “make the decision to invest.”  After that, leverage the collective resources, knowledge and experience of church volunteers. They hold the key to long term success, he said.

“I would encourage everyone, don’t worry if it looks perfect, just do it to get something out there, even if it’s just with a cell phone. Every week you learn and improve the visual effects, just try it and get it out,” Kirksey said. “God is using this to hold us together during all of this.”

Kirksey acknowledged the team that pulled together the online ministry in record time– David Vanderwier and his daughter, Brittany, audio/visual ministry; Wade Fussell, sound ministry; and Steve Coleman, minister of music, and his wife Joy. “We also have a team of musicians and singers that have helped, and an entire church that has enthusiastically bought into the process,” he reported.

In contrast to the newly established program of Hopewell Baptist, First Baptist Church in Dade City has been conducting webcasts for more than five years. Senior pastor Randy Huckabee reported “an easy transition” in these difficult times.

While continuing to have various smaller group meetings via Zoom and other platforms, the church’s main conduit to their congregation is now their online Wednesday and Sunday services. The spike seen in views and participation since they stopped meeting as a group is part of God’s “very clear, orchestrated plan,” said Huckabee.

Creativity played a role as well as the church established a weekly “drive-in” service. Taking advantage of undeveloped land owned by the church, members gather from the safety of their vehicles to praise God together. The church team is also taking advantage of the mandatory isolation by stepping up their efforts to frequently reach out to members via telephone, emails and even texts, Huckabee reported.

This past Easter, many churches implemented new ways to reach their congregations. Online streaming services seemed to be one practical solution that is likely to remain a resource of the church for years to come.

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