Last Sunday (March 15), I had the opportunity to preach to six exhausted employees in the break room of our local WalMart. I also got to preach at the same time in the living room of a lady in South Africa who had given up hope and was in the process of walking away from her faith. I preached to a few folks who had declined persistent invitations to attend church. I preached one-on-one to at least three different young adults who haven’t been inside our church building since they graduated from our youth ministry. And I preached in the homes of hundreds of church members who were ready for a word from God in light of all of the coronavirus craziness.
Actually, I was preaching to a camera in our church’s chapel in front of a small handful of musicians and tech people. But the worship service was livestreamed, and its impact continues to reverberate.
First Baptist Church in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, has been discussing the possibility of livestreaming our worship services for a couple of years. We knew that livestreaming might be a way for us to connect with members who were unable to attend for various reasons, and we knew it was what all the “cool” churches were doing to connect with younger generations.
We were taking slow steps toward implementing a livestream. Those slow steps turned into a sprint last Friday when Jackson County issued a prohibition against gatherings larger than 50 people. A pandemic pushed the idea of livestreaming from the category of luxury to the category of necessity. We pulled everything together so that we could go live on our church’s Facebook page at 9:30 Sunday morning.
I’ve been amazed at the positive stories that have been pouring in since Sunday. There are obvious benefits of gathering as the church face-to-face that can’t be replicated with computer pixels. But there are also unique advantages of a livestreamed worship experience (beyond slowing the spread of the virus).
Church members were able to use the service as an outreach and ministry tool, inviting coworkers and even friends across the ocean to check it out. People who weren’t quite ready to take the risk of showing up at our building proved to be willing to tune in from the safety of home. A Sunday when we didn’t have enough people in our building for a pickup basketball game turned out to be a Sunday on which our ministry may have been broader than it has ever been.
I’m now a loyal fan of worship livestreaming. I’m looking forward to the day when it will be something we practice in addition to gathering face-to-face rather than in place of it.