Last Sunday, almost 20 Baptist Churches in Victoria live-streamed their services. A month ago, there was very few. The last four weeks have brought with them progressively tighter government restrictions on gatherings all across Australia. These have presented a gargantuan challenge to the church, which intuitively recognises the deep need we all have to “not give up on meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25). With social gatherings now limited to two, and physical distancing in place, all traditional ways of thinking about community and communal worship need to be radically changed. In this challenge, leaders have been extended and have needed to work well outside their natural abilities in order to achieve the great feat of gathering online.
And, as with all healthy families, the lessons are being shared, and support is being offered between churches. Essendon Baptist has graciously written a blog post of their journey from ‘zero to go’ with the lessons in their steep learning curve. Their hope is that it will provide practical information and encourage others who are hoping to launch online with little lead time. The family is in this together, and growing together. Several church leaders from around Victoria have offered us their reflections on this sudden swerve into digitalisation.
Mark Nidenko, Associate Pastor of Heathmont Baptist Church, comments on the explosion of changes in the last two weeks: “We have been greatly encouraged by the grace our congregation has shown us as we have worked out our response. We are enjoying the challenge of integrating a mix of technologies into our services and exploring the way that they allow us to run programs we thought would need to close (eg. Playgroup). We have been streaming our services and youth groups over YouTube and using zoom for our lifegroups and as our welcome cafe.”
Many pastors in the last two weeks have expanded their everyday vernacular to include “Youtube Channel, Facebook Live, Teleprompter, live-stream, Google Meet, Vimeo, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Zoom …” They have learned the varying capacities and the pros and cons for each offering for their own setting, and are now seeing their faces on those platforms. Grace Munro can attest to the weight of this work for church leadership: “Pastor Jun Tan at Balwyn Baptist has been VERY busy making the adjustment to online services, and we are definitely getting there, and it is good to get together even while not being together.”
In some churches, this new challenge has brought with it surprises and latent abilities. Kathryn Vaughan, Co-ordinator of Pastoral Administration at Camberwell Baptist Church says, “At the beginning, when it was hard to imagine how we could possibly transition our service online in a week, a few people surfaced unexpectedly from within our congregation with the willingness and the gifts to enable this to happen.”
Pastor Aaron Wardle of Wangaratta Baptist is fortunate to learn quickly with software. Even so, he admits, “It has taken a bit of effort to get it all set up!” In Wangaratta Baptists’ first stream, they used both Facebook Live and Youtube, wanting to achieve maximum reach. The online.church platform was utilised where those gathering can chat, share a heart, and share a live prayer request with the service hosts. Camberwell Baptist has chosen to use Zoom, which helps the congregation to connect with one another via text and allows people see each other on screen.
Each church is approaching the challenge differently, bringing their unique culture to their gathered worship, and choosing the technical options that will serve their church and its surrounding community. Pastor Adam Hince of Essendon Baptist summarises perfectly, “I don’t think anyone at Essendon is pretending this is church as we’d really like it – but we are making it work, and doing our best to connect with each other and not just with the screen while we do so. We’re also doing our best to keep it like our normal church services – so it’s not as polished as others, but it is ours.”
Our Churches in the Union have responded with agility and creativity to the COVID-19 crisis as it has unfolded into a pandemic. We have brought the good news in the midst of the vulnerability of the human condition, and sought to bring us into contact with one another under extraordinary circumstances.
Let us continue to show unprecedented love through these unprecedented times.
If your church needs support in your work to meet online, please head to our COVID-19 Church Resources and COVID-19 Advice Page. Both are being updated regularly to help you understand how to navigate the new challenges and gather your church online. Crossover is also providing practical help to churches entering the online space. You can check out their resources here.
Thank you to the teams at Balwyn, Camberwell, Essendon, Heathmont and Wangaratta Baptist Churches for sharing their insights in moving church services online.Online Church Services