The Church has come online, but is it working?
One of the plus sides to the divine disruption of COVID-19 is that the Church has truly come online. We’re seeing church growth in digital spaces on an unprecedented level.
But while I’ve heard a lot about what this church is doing online, or that church is doing online – I was curious about the end-user; whether doing church digitally is actually working.
By that, I specifically wanted to hear about people actually coming to Christ through online services and digital means. As Easter would be a good first “test” for this, I chatted with a number of pastors and church leaders about how sharing the Gospel across new platforms had been going.
Pastor Timothy Yeo of Hope Singapore shared with me that his team had been working hard to get word out about Hope’s Easter services to family and friends.
He revealed that “many, who might not have joined us live at our physical church venue, have been very receptive to watch our programme online.
Now we can get the gospel out beyond the four walls of our physical location.
“Because of the new format, now we can get the gospel out beyond the four walls of our physical location.”
That optimism was shared by Daniel Tan of Bethesda Bedok-Tampines Church, who serves the youth congregation as a ministry staff.
Daniel noted that “the move that most churches are taking to put their sermons online will have great impact for evangelism, where the gospel can be streamed into computers and phone screens.
“May we only be faithful to preach this gospel and to follow up with those who respond.”
Pastor Timothy also shared that even in the weeks leading up to Easter, he had heard of pre-believing friends who had joined their livestreamed services and “given their lives to Jesus, despite watching the service fully online.”
One such example of this I could find on the church’s Facebook page was a post about a brother who received Christ online about a month before Easter:
“Patrick received Jesus as his personal Lord and Saviour after our online service on 15 March. After watching the interview with Lucas Chow on Navigating Uncertainties in our online service, our LG each shared our reflections. When Patrick shared about his belief of ‘many gods’, an LG member invited him to humbly consider and accept the one and only God. Amazingly, he accepted without hesitation said the sinner’s prayer to receive Jesus into his life. He has just started with First Steps, learning to use the Bible app, and watching Bible Project videos to know, understand, and love God more.”
That’s someone coming to know Jesus Christ through an online church service, an online video call, an online Bible app and online videos!
I emphasised that “online” bit because it’s exciting to know that new platforms are working. And when it comes to new methods, Pastor Timothy shared that his church groups “are holding watch parties on Facebook and setting up online Life Groups to connect with new people.”
I also had the chance to chat with Aaron Sim, a cell leader at Faith Community Baptist Church, about how they’ve been sharing Christ online.
He started by outlining FCBC’s signature approach: 幸福小组 (XFXZ), which means “happiness groups” in English.
“One of the key aspects of XFXZ is to ensure that our guests experience love from the church and cell community,” he said. “This means we give them our best for each of the 8 weeks. This includes providing home-cooked food, intentionally interacting with them to get to know them better or providing the warmth of a family.
“However, due to COVID-19, we have had to dramatically change how we conduct XFXZ sessions to try to bridge the gap between offline and online meetings.”
In light of the safe distancing measures, Aaron shared that his group had to “consider postponing the sessions until it’s safe to meet again, or to conduct it online via video conferencing.”
But he shared that they prayed as a group, and felt the “peace and assurance that physical distance cannot stop God’s miraculous works.”
To that end, Aaron said that his wife bridged some distance by including a “personal touch” through baking orh-nee (yam paste) tarts and having them delivered them to their pre-believing friends on the day of their small group session. (Editor’s note: This was before the circuit breaker measures kicked in.)
Physical distance cannot stop God’s miraculous works.
As a cell group, taking things online has taught them to be flexible and to be obedient to God: “As we took a different approach, it is true that some key elements were lost.
“But in obedience, God provided us with a conquering spirit as a group to overcome challenges and creatively touch the hearts of our friends, who have appreciated our efforts to cook and deliver meals and weekly gifts to them – that really helped bridge one of the offline-to-online challenges.”
Aaron also brought up a breakthrough his group had in their first fully-online XFXZ session: during the session, a pre-believing guest’s husband “came into the room and stayed there – he was listening in.
“One of the challenges we had was to have her husband join us in the offline sessions. But with the circuit breaker and flexibility of locations through the online approach, he actually stayed in the room through the session.
“I believe this shows that the online sessions can reach more people than we otherwise would have had offline.”
What Aaron’s cell group is doing together reflects something Pastor Timothy said about Christians in the COVID-19 season: “I see a generation of people who are undeterred by the challenges of attending church, and constantly finding new ways to be the church.”
Pastor Timothy said that this season is bringing out the best in church leaders. “No one knows what really works, as none of us have ever led through a pandemic of this magnitude.
“We always knew about the importance of relying on God, but we can subconsciously fall back on our experience, familiarity and know-how. This season forces us back into dependency on God.
“The word “church” comes from the word ekklesia, which means a gathering of believers. Church is not a two-hour weekend programme, a building with a cross on top or a religious organisation run by men.
“This season causes traditions and forms to be stripped away and forces us to re-evaluate what we truly prioritise. “
The way every church is adapting across denominations to share the good news tells me two things: the Gospel is irrepressible and God’s plans cannot be thwarted.
Daniel agreed: “One of the lessons learnt during this time is that not only do all things work for the good of those called according to his purposes (Romans 8:28) – all things work out for the glory of God.
“Meaning that even in the postponement of events, God’s will for His Church is being done. Christ being the head of His Body, the Church, knows the best way to bring glory to the Father.
“Man may brainstorm together to plan church programmes for the upcoming year, but it is the LORD who appoints the future. It is then a journey of trusting the leading of the Chief Shepherd, who knows what is best for his Church.
God is redeeming the way we do church and evangelise with our neighbours.
There is a shaking that is happening in this land, a divine disruption. With death literally in the air, more and more people are taking a grounded look at their lives.
Indeed, Aaron observed that there is a noticeable difference with the neighbours he reaches out to: “They have become much more open about their lives and questions about God, allowing us to really pray more targeted prayers for them.”
With so much shaking going on, I think we’re coming back to the basics in a precise time that has been appointed by God. We’re coming back to the fundamentals like loving God, loving our neighbour. Carrying out the Great Commission. Doing fellowship like they did in Acts. Living life with eternity in mind.
Through all these, and this weary season, I believe God is actually taking us to the next level in the way we do church and evangelise with our neighbours.
These are early days, and there’s still a lot to learn when it comes to sharing Christ online and through new methods. But surely there is a wave that is sweeping through this land, and I hope we are riding it as we carry out God’s light and commission in these dark days.
THINK + TALK
- How are you and your church friends responding to church being taken online?
- What are some good things you’ve seen coming out of this?
- How can we convey the gospel message online?