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Area Churches Go Online During COVID-19 Threat

Updated: Apr 8, 2020

By Teri Burns As the governor’s stay-at-home instructions close the doors of area churches to regular services, some congregations are finding different avenues to continue their worship and stay connected. “It’s important to be a part of a faith community,” according to Jason Shirley, Associate Pastor at Word of Life Church. Pastor David Rogers at First Christian Church Disciples of Christ agrees. “Faith is always what gets us through the difficult times.” Here’s how some of the local churches are coping with social distancing. Pastor Manish Shirley, with Epworth United, said his church started Facebook Live services on March 29, 2020, and plan to continue offering this venue to their congregation. “We had a very good response,” he said, adding the video reached about 250 people. “We will continue that for Good Friday and Easter and Holy Week and for the foreseeable future.” Manish Shirley said the Sunday service is not the only outreach the church is making to members. “We are calling each other to see if anyone needs help or assistance with groceries or supplies,” he said, adding the membership also has a couple of women who are making masks for local first responders. As for taking the church offering, he said they are going to encourage people to make donations through their banks via bill pay or through the mail during this period of self-isolation. Another church relatively new to the online services concept is First Christian Church Disciples of Christ. Pastor David Rogers said his church is worshipping via Facebook Live, as well, and are also conducting Bible study via the Zoom application so that participants can interact and discuss the lesson. “Facebook was always just kind of an afterthought, but now it’s a focus, and I think it’s working well,” he said, adding the number of viewers on Facebook has been better than he expected. The leadership of the church is continuing to meet by phone and email. As for offerings, which have been down since people started self-isolating, the church accepts online payments through its website. Although the church is making use of social media for its services, Rogers suggested people limit their social media use during this time because of its negativity. Instead, he suggested people find something that brings them pleasure to keep them occupied and find time to get outside while following social distancing guidelines. “Take care of yourself, wash your hands, and say your prayers,” he said. Sunset Church of Christ continues to offer services via Facebook but has

moved away from Facebook Live. Minister Charlie Weatherford noted that pre-recording the services to post on Facebook on Sunday allows them to edit and provide the best video possible. In addition to Sunday services, the church is providing a devotional lesson on Wednesdays on Facebook, as well. “I have noticed a lot more sharing of the Facebook videos, likes, and people asking to join so they can watch them,” he said. “I’m blessed to have a deacon that is pretty IT minded,” Weatherford said, adding that has helped the church in its efforts to reach members and others during this time. “You know, these days, in 2020, you think everyone’s on Facebook, but with the multi-generations, no, they’re not,” he said. ”We’re trying to do whatever we can to reach people.” Weatherford said of the online videos, “If we can offer some sense of church and some sense of Jesus, then that’s what we’re going to do.” As for offerings or connecting with the church, Weatherford said the church bookkeeper is the primary person in the office at this time to answer the phone and take donations, which can also be mailed to the church. He said he has seen a small drop in donations during this time. Meanwhile, church leadership continues to interact via group texting and a Facebook page for deacons, ministers, elders, and their wives, who help get information out to the membership. Weatherford said now is a good time for people to connect with a church, noting the first place people look when searching for a new church is their website and social media presence, especially since people are finding themselves with time on their hands. Jason Shirley agreed, saying now is a prime time for people to look for and try out these services, keeping in mind that they are limited by the media. He said Word of Life Church has been doing online services on Facebook for a couple of years and will continue that. In addition, they are offering daily lessons and devotionals online and a blog to which people can connect. As for views, Shirley said that they have seen their Carlsbad number increase during self-isolation, but that their services have a global audience, so that can skew the numbers. The church offers online giving via its website or by text. “It’s been a main source of offerings, but we have seen an increase in people using it,” he said, adding the church also has a drop box on location. “Our numbers have been right on par with how they have been,” he said of offerings. First United Methodist Church Carlsbad is another church that is upping its Facebook

game during this time. Pastor Dan Boyd said they started with Facebook Live but also switched to pre-recorded videos due to the lag time in video loading for viewers. The video is then posted to Facebook on Sunday morning. “We normally have between 330 and 340 people attend church between our two worship services,” Boyd said. “The last two videos that have gone out, we’ve had over 1,100 people watch those videos. That’s not all local, but a lot of it is extra local people who know of our church or are finding us.” The church also uses Facebook Live for a five-minute word of encouragement on Tuesdays and Thursdays and a five-minute Prayer with the Pastor time on Wednesdays. “One other way of connecting is we have a church text number where people can text in prayer requests,” he said, adding a staff member stays in contact with all of the prayer teams. The prayer groups are primarily using email to communicate, while the church youth minister is using Zoom and other social media apps that the youth use in order to connect them in groups. The church also continues to reach out to the community. “We normally do a Wednesday meal, but we can’t meet together, of course, right now, but a kitchen crew of less than five still cooks on Wednesdays, and we deliver between 100 and 120 meals to the elderly, sick and the food challenged. Area first responders were also treated to meals recently. The church leadership continues to meet via Facetime, and online giving is available through the church website. Boyd said online giving has gone up about 25% during this time, but donations are still lower than usual. He emphasized, however, that they are grateful. “We are blessed that we had some reserves that are allowing us to continue to function normally and pay our staff,” he said. One area of outreach that has had to take a different avenue during this time is the church shut-in ministry. “Our shut-in ministry has been challenged because many of those are in Landsun and Lakeview. We are blessed that their chaplains are considered essential and can continue to minister to them,” he said, adding the FUMC ministry has chosen to send weekly prayer cards to shut-ins in order to connect with and encourage them. All in all, Boyd said the change in focus on how things are done at FUMC has been good. “We’ve seen an amazing number of people find some sort of connection with faith,” he said, adding they hope to be able to help those people connect with the church face-to-face when things return to normal. While these are certainly not to be the only churches in town making moves into the virtual world of worship, they are a good example of how the community of faith is shifting gears to meet the needs of those needing a dose of faith in today’s chaotic world. FOR A SIDEBAR: * Epworth United Methodist Church: o 10 a.m. Sunday services on Facebook. * First Christian Church Disciples of Christ: o 0:30 a.m. Sunday and 5:30 p.m. Tuesday services on Facebook o 5:30 p.m. Wednesday on Zoom for Bible study * First United Methodist Church: o 10:45 a.m. Sunday services on Facebook o Five-minute word of encouragement goes live at 5 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday on Facebook o Five-minute prayer with the pastor goes live between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesday on Facebook * Sunset Church of Christ: o 10 a.m. Sunday and 6 p.m. Wednesday services on Facebook * Word of Life Church: o 10 a.m. Sunday services on Facebook Add your church to this list? Email and we’ll be happy to update

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