“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25).
The passage from Hebrews talks about the gathering of God’s people. While we’re currently unable to do this in our sanctuaries because of the COVID-19 pandemic, God is still at work. Many churches in our district have been thrust into the brand-new world of streaming or livestreaming worship services, devotions, and Bible studies. And they have done it with great success.
At Immanuel, Grand Rapids, Rev. Craig Bickel admits he was once resistant to becoming fully entrenched in the online arena for the church. A simple reason for that was that it might take away from the face-to-face relationships. After seeing what can be done online and through social media, Bickel has more than come around on the new technology and now sees it as a great front door to their community. “If you really want to impact new folks, you’ve got to have an online presence” Bickel said. “That’s where they’re going to check you out and they’ll come through that into the community of believers.”
During the pandemic, Immanuel has increased their online efforts. At first, it was in hopes of keeping a continued connection with members. They stream services on Sunday. They also hold devotions throughout the week, along with prayer hours led by Pastor Tyler Carter and Worship Leader Zach Kolkman. They have not only been able to connect, but also engage and reach more people than Bickel imagined. “It’s a tool to equip people to share the Gospel and to help them pray for one another and encourage one another,” said Bickel.
Our Shepherd, Birmingham was beginning to dabble in livestreaming, but the pandemic pushed the church’s efforts from almost zero to sixty in very little time. They now stream three services, hold devotions twice a day, and have Bible studies on Zoom. Rev. Dr. Evan Gaertner has led the charge in getting his community online in a short time and creating content that continues to get better visually and technically every week. “It was like, ‘If you give a mouse a cookie,’” Gaertner said. “If we can do this, maybe we can do that, and if we can do that, we can probably do this other thing.”
Gaertner was blessed to see how they have been able to connect with members who might have been sidetracked and left the church. Now he sees them coming back. “That’s an unexpected boon to this time, that people who thought it hard to come back to church where people knew them and wondered where they’ve been,” Gaertner said. “They can do this side door re-entry and that’s something that surprised me.”
Both Our Shepherd and Immanuel are grateful to experience the successes online and in social media during this time. Pastor Bickel, who also admitted he’s not a tech guy, has some advice for pastors who might be like him in this area: “The teenagers know how to Facebook Live. If you don’t have the skills or abilities, find people—whether they are members in the church or people out in the community—who have those skills. Just let them teach you,” Bickel said. “As pastors, we like to teach. We feel uncomfortable when we don’t know it. This is our chance to humble ourselves and say, ‘I don’t know it, can you help me?’”
Watch this story on video here.
For more information and resources about streaming worship services or devotions, go to MichiganDistrict.org/Pandemic-Resources.
Photos and video by Jeff Heisner/Michigan District, LCMS