When the first lockdown was unexpectedly thrust upon us in March last year, our airy-fairy wishful ideas about being more intentional about an online ministry were catapulted into action. Greatly assisted by church members who were either furloughed or on reduced hours and working from home we were able to instantly launch a new online presence.
This adrenaline fuelled lift off began a frenzy of online activity generated by our production team of volunteers from the church. Our church Facebook page that was previously populated with random postings had a daily pastoral devotional filmed live. A collection of evangelistic pages were soon added to give people a place to create community by posting pics of creation, support with home schooling, sharing practical projects they were involved in etc, etc. A weekly Funday Friday show was screened to bring light relief and laughter as well as a couple of gardening shows using gardening enthusiasts from the church. Oh, and we ran a Sunday morning service initially on Facebook live and now more recently on our YouTube channel.
The response has been brilliant! More people have connected with the church than we could have expected. Complete strangers to us have messaged or emailed requesting help, wanting to know more and wanting to join the church. In October and November, we brought in 15 new members to the church! Over half have never been to a service in the church building with some having never been to any church before. We also have a couple of new believers waiting to be baptised. I have been shopping in the local town and recognised by shop assistants who I had never met before but they felt they knew me because they had seen me online. A bit of an unnerving experience but it demonstrates the power of the internet.
This all made us realise that we had to keep developing this ministry.
Once the initial lockdown was over and our members started to return back to fulltime work we faced a dilemma. How could we maintain, let alone develop this new ministry when our volunteers had less time? One of our key team members and a leader in the church was a lady called Aderyn, who was due to go back to the workplace after maternity leave. She is especially gifted in social media work and in September 2020, our church trustees invited her to work for the church part-time as our digital communication officer. Her brief was to develop our online church ministry and explore the best ways to connect with a new generation of non-churched in our community using the digital world.
Its early days as she researches and experiments with Facebook, Instagram and YouTube but we are seeing green shoots of encouragement. Our online social media presence is growing. One of our video posts at Christmas had over 3,000 viewings and the number of prayer requests and general enquiries to the church have never been so high. Its enough to make us realise that after Covid we will be doing “blended Church”, in which an in person gathering of church will sit alongside an online church presence. The online will not be a carbon copy of the in person. They require different approaches as there is a different dynamic but we are convinced that both are necessary to reach our community as many people live real lives in the online world today whether we like it or not this is 21st century UK and the church has to adapt.
Part of our vision for the role Aderyn has is to make available to the wider church our learnings so other churches can benefit from the hard work and insights she gains. We are not about building our kingdom but His kingdom across our needy land. In a few months Counties plan to do a workshop where Aderyn will share with those interested her journey so far. Watch this space if it interests you!
Tim Cracknell (Pastor, Forest Community Church, Cinderford)