By Cynthia Mendoza
No one saw the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic coming—or the way it would significantly alter from one day to the next the way ministry is done. But neither did anyone foresee the mission-driven creativity and innovation that churches have embraced equally as fast to keep ministry going in new ways.
As recommendations not to assemble in large groups quickly morphed into government mandates to stay home, churches were not only forced to close their doors for Sabbath worship but were severely limited in how they could meet in small groups for planning and producing content. The biggest question was, “How are we going to do church on Sabbath if we can’t meet?”
Cue digital and online worship. Livestreaming church services was not new to many churches who had already been doing it for years, but for others it was a brand new experience that required a crash course in learning how to use technology in order to connect with their congregations and offer a worship service or any other kind of content.
But for both technologically experienced and inexperienced churches, there was still much unchartered territory in terms of learning how to digitally connect with members and be able to worship consistently in the weeks and months ahead.
“At first we just started on the telephone,” said Aurelio Huerta, district pastor of the Rubidoux Spanish and Lake Elsinore Spanish churches, of the initial steps he and elders took to stay connected to their congregations. “It was challenging to learn new technology. As a church we had some idea, but not really in depth.”
Huerta’s congregations were divided into seven groups comprised of seven families per group. Each group was assigned a day of the week when they meet together online to study the Sabbath School lesson. On Sabbath, Huerta then preaches live from his home.
“We’re trying to maintain a systematic way that church members stay in touch with each other, apart from my usual phone calls,” Huerta said. “This is how we keep our members engaged.”
For Valley Fellowship church in Rialto, using technology wasn’t necessarily new, but adapting to livestreaming was more of a challenge. Before this, the church simply recorded their sermons and then posted them to YouTube afterwards.
“We had to figure out how to go live as opposed to posting afterwards, because going live has different components,” said Baron Sovory, sole pastor of the church. They also became active on Facebook and Twitter.
Using budget-friendly programs, Valley Fellowship created a way for members to record the various parts of the church service throughout the week, such as the welcome and scripture reading; then those parts were easily integrated into the livestream.
Digital worship has also allowed the church to invite guest speakers from near and far to present for their online mid-week service.
“Our online prayer meetings have been some of the best attended in a long time,” Sovory said, adding that inviting guest speakers for online worship may be something they continue to do in the future, even after returning to on-site worship.
Darren Carrington, sole pastor of the Fullerton church, saw a need for people to feel comforted and connected from home, and he sought to fill it through a Facebook Live reading of Uncle Arthur’s Bible Stories.
Carrington reads two stories from the classic children’s books twice a day. He goes live every morning and then posts a pre-recorded story reading later in the evening.
His story time has even reached families in Australia, one of whom shared a photo of their three girls watching story time on a large TV screen connected to YouTube.
Prior to the pandemic, the church already had a YouTube channel for sharing their Sabbath morning worship, but they were struggling to get subscribers. The silver lining in otherwise negative circumstances is that many more people have now subscribed in order to stay connected.
“People really want to connect,” Carrington said.
The youth department also took unprecedented steps to offer content and connection for kids and youth. Early in March, before stay-at-home orders were issues by the state, the youth department team and 12 youth and children’s pastors quickly planned and recorded a full Sabbath School program for the first Sabbath that churches would not be able to assemble as a group.
But creating content together became a challenge when the stay-at-home order was put in place. The kids’ Sabbath School production team divided up the different parts of a Sabbath School program and each recorded their part separately at home. The various parts, including the lessons from SECC’s Growing Young Sabbath School curriculum, are then put together and edited for the final video, which is shared on Sabbath morning on the youth department’s Facebook page.
“This experience affirmed that churches collaborating can produce amazing results,” said Manny Vitug, associate youth director for family and children’s ministries. “It’s also an opportunity for churches to look at ministry beyond their own walls and touch a larger group of people.”
Patty Marruffo, associate youth director, echoed similar thoughts about the experience.
“We have amazing pastors who are willing to roll up their sleeves and produce content, not just for our own members but for our communities too,” she said. “For many people, church is life; it’s where they find nurturing and encouragement.”
For information on the youth department’s worship resources, visit their website at seccyouth.com. For a
list of SECC churches offering online
worship, visit secc.adventistfaith.To receive the latest news and updates from the conference, sign up to receive the SECC Now newsletter: http://bit.ly/seccnow.