Over the last month, most churches in America have been forced to cancel all of their normal services and activities due to the coronavirus outbreak and government-imposed lockdowns. Because pastors and churches rely very much on face-to-face interaction to effectively minister to their congregants, the current crisis has presented a unique challenge unlike any we have ever faced in modern times.
With most churches closed to the public, many are opting to livestream their services online through their website or through platforms like Facebook and YouTube. Pastors are giving messages from their living rooms or simply broadcasting their sermon from an empty church auditorium. And while it’s certainly not the same as meeting in person, online outreach has proven to be incredibly effective.
Allow me to give a personal example. I’m privileged to attend GraceWay Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., just east of Capitol Hill. After being forced out of our rented facility due to the coronavirus, online outreach has become our only means of airing our services. Our pastor, Brad Wells, says, “The apostle Paul brought the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to an ancient marketplace. So whether it’s an ancient marketplace, a modern marketplace, or a virtual marketplace, Christ’s disciples need to have the gospel prominent.”
Over the last few weeks, we have witnessed our online outreach explode. We’ve been developing our online ministry over the past few years, particularly with livestreaming services through our website and Facebook. Before the coronavirus pandemic, our livestream averaged reaching anywhere between 500-1,500 people on a given Sunday. Now, over a month into completely livestreamed services after the virus forced us to cancel in-person services, our reach has soared to 6,000 as of Sunday, April 6th! Similarly, our peak viewers on March 8th, the Sunday before the lockdown began, was only five on our Facebook page. On Sunday, March 29th, that number surged to 64! At the start of the quarantine, the livestream of our morning service was shared just eight times and received only 17 comments. On Easter Sunday, April 12th, our Facebook livestream was shared 42 times. The following Sunday, April 19th, saw 251 comments! We have received comments from people watching all over the country and around the world. We have even had people call in to request prayer.
Another example of the effectiveness of online outreach comes from my home church, Parkers Chapel Free Will Baptist Church in Greenville, North Carolina. Like GraceWay, Parkers Chapel has been gradually developing their online ministry as well. Before the coronavirus pandemic forced them to cancel regular services, the number of people who engaged with the Parkers Chapel Facebook page averaged around 100 or fewer. As of Sunday, April 12th, that number had surged to 2,000! Similarly, Parkers Chapel’s Facebook livestream reached around 100 or fewer people before the pandemic. But on Sunday, April 12th, the reach peaked at over 12,000! Pastor Gene Williams praised the effectiveness of Parkers Chapel’s online ministry: “It has been amazing to watch the opportunity that the Lord has given to us through this adversity to reach so many. It is not the size of the audience alone, but their appetite to know the truth that has been changed. Our online platform has enabled us to stay connected not only with our church but also with our community and even beyond that.”
I share these examples to encourage other pastors and churches who may be discouraged about not being able to meet in person. Yes, our present circumstances are far from ideal, but that doesn’t negate our responsibility to continue fulfilling the Great Commission. Just because we are not able to meet like normal does not mean we still cannot spread the gospel. God has provided us an incredible tool in the form of livestreaming that previous generations never had. In fact, we are likely able to reach even more people now than ever before because so many more are watching services online. Facebook usage has soared by over 50 percent since mandatory quarantines have forced so many to stay at home.
We each have our own social media networks that no one else has access to. It’s likely that many of the people in your network look up to you in some way and value what you post. What an incredible opportunity to reach them by sharing your church services on your personal page. For example, after sharing GraceWay’s services over the past few weeks on my personal social media, I’ve had numerous friends and family members, some who are unsaved, reach out to me to say what a blessing the service was to them. These are people who likely never would have been reached had I not shared the service on my own page.
Consider this also. One of the most disastrous implications of the virus is the tremendous toll that mandatory business lockdowns are taking on the economy. Some people are becoming desperate and hopeless because they have lost their jobs. In fact, the most recent numbers from the Labor Department show that more than 22 million people have applied for unemployment benefits in just the last month, likely bringing the unemployment rate close to 20 percent. Domestic violence is increasing as well. Many families that are not typically together during the workweek find themselves at home all day, which is leading to more arguments and abuse. We are also seeing an increase in drug and alcohol abuse as people become more depressed and isolated. Pornography use is up as well as many in isolation seek an outlet for their anxiety and depression. Perhaps most concerning of all is the increase in suicides.
With many people in desperate situations spending so much time online, now is the time appointed by God to develop your church’s online ministry. We are living in unprecedented times. But with that comes an unprecedented opportunity to reach thousands of unbelievers through social media with the lifesaving power of the gospel. There will be hopeless people mindlessly scrolling through their Facebook feed who need to hear your message!
So pastors, be encouraged. Yes, these are far from ideal circumstances, but God has provided us an incredible opportunity to spread the gospel. In fact, this is an opportunity that previous generations have not had. So take advantage of whatever God has given you this Sunday. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Even if you just livestream singing a few songs on the guitar with your family or giving a brief devotion from your living room, I promise you God will bless it. There are people out there who are more desperate now than they have ever been before, people longing for the hope that is found only in Jesus. God has promised that His Word will not return void (Isaiah 55:11), so boldly proclaim the truth that God has given you with whatever means He has given you.
We have not been given the spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7), so may we always be able to give a reason of the hope that is within us! (I Peter 3:15)
If you need help developing your church’s online outreach, here are some practical guides and websites to help you get started:
- How to Create Your Church’s Social Media Strategy in Minutes – Tithe.ly
- Pro Church Tools
- How to Livestream Your Church Service: A Practical Guide – The Gospel Coalition
- Stream Your Church Services With Facebook Live – Church Tech Today