The COVID-19 pandemic has been a time of learning for churches as they adjust to virtual ministry, said Andy Jung, associate executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina.
“In Baptist life, every church has had to make their own decisions as they open back up and as they continue to engage their congregation in different ways online,” he said.
But a few of the challenges posed by the pandemic are creating engaging worship spaces, maintaining relationships and cultivating new relationships, Jung said.
“Our role at CBF North Carolina is to raise the right questions for churches to think about as they determine how to engage online and move forward.”
Jung spoke with Baptist News Global about the pandemic and how some churches have managed the shift to online worship. His comments are included here, edited for brevity and clarity.
Are web views of online worship outnumbering the weekly average of people in the pews pre-COVID-19?
Churches initially were receiving a number of views that far outnumbered the number of people they had in their pews on a typical Sunday. Some of those numbers are skewed because of the way Facebook and YouTube count views. We encourage churches to dig a little deeper than just what the number of views says. If somebody stayed on the video for 10 or 15 minutes, I think that is a viable view to count. The early-on excitement has worn off and those initial numbers have steadily declined since the early part of COVID-19 online services in mid-March.
How do churches engage and develop relationships with people watching services online?
A pastor and ministerial staff might not have the capacity to think about the larger picture. For some, it’s really about a week-to-week survival. However, we know that we’re going to be in this season for a while, where things are not going to be normal, and we want churches to realize they have a bigger reach than they thought. Things like having someone engage and ask questions with people on Facebook as the service streams is a way to interact with viewers. Inviting people to attend a ‘meet the pastor’ Zoom call after the service is a way for attendees to engage with the ministerial staff. Some churches even have virtual communion and a time of invitation.
What role can eliciting responses have?
It’s easy for someone to simply watch a video and then go about their day. It’s great for that person to watch, but there’s not a relationship there. The response is really the first step in which a relationship can begin. The proper way for a church to engage people online is not with an automated bot. People watching a service might respond to a question or an invitation to an outside meeting. A response is important because that is where the relationship can really begin to develop and through that relationship discipleship can be developed.
What opportunities does online ministry provide?
In a short amount of time, churches have been able to adjust and pivot in ways we didn’t think was capable in the past until we were confronted with this opportunity. We are seeing in this season that there is the opportunity to reach more people locally that are looking for a new church home. Churches are also thinking larger than just the local community and thinking about building God’s kingdom in other states and other parts of the world because of technology.
Do you think some churches will emerge from the pandemic stronger in fellowship and outreach?
That is certainly the hope. We have to realize the shift is going to be slow and ministerial staff are overwhelmed. Even when we get back to meeting in person, to think that a church will need to create an in-person and online experience is a lot to ask. We know that churches are working harder than ever and have an incredible amount of pressure. I want to convey that we’re praying for them and we’re working hard to support them. Together we can build God’s kingdom even amidst this incredible season we’re living through.
Read more BNG news and opinion related to the coronavirus pandemic: