How are we supposed to reach people when we can’t find people and can’t hang out with them or even get close to them? We asked our church planters how they are learning to adapt their outreach efforts. It’s a challenging time, but here are some helpful, specific things OPC church plants are doing and learning (some specifics and identifying tidbits removed):
As you can imagine a big theme is technology (it’s blessings and cursings!)…..
1) “When COVID-19 brought our college campus ministries to a halt, we struggled to see how this could be for our good. Over time, however, we’ve seen how God has used this change positively. With campus ministry on hold, we were freed up to reassess our outreach plan to downtown, and we started to see another avenue for ministry: outreach to our cities’ immigrants and refugees. Although we still have plans to continue campus ministries, God has used this time to connect us in significant ways with the Turkish Muslims living downtown. We have started a bi-montly Quran/Bible discussion via Zoom, and the gospel is regularly proclaimed and discussed. We also have major plans to begin an ESL ministry at the beginning of 2021.”
2) Early on in the pandemic, we used Facebook ads and advertised for a drive-in service. (In our county we could meet outside where we could not do so in town). We met on my property and advertised for it. We even put out signs. We did not get visitors at that time. It might not have resulted in anything at the time, but people found us from that, started listening to sermons, visited, and in some cases have now joined our church. Nearly every newcomer tells me that they listened to sermons (in some cases for 3 months!) prior to visiting. In my opinion, the pandemic, as challenging as it has been, has made hungry people more hungry for the truth. They are looking for it.
3) We have focused our efforts more online, which was something we needed to explore more but had not. For example, we updated our website which was sorely overdue. We recorded daily devotionals and children’s book readings. We did not receive any in person visitors through these, but it has encouraged us to continue posting videos (such as who we are and why we do what we do). We plan to run a series about worship in January because of it.
4) We have utilized available technology to stay in touch and reach out to new people. We have live-streamed our worship services and live-streamed a study on the book of Revelation. We’ve also learned how to turn our sermons and studies into podcasts that are now uploaded to and through several different platforms. We recently received notice that our sermons and studies have been downloaded 1000 times. So, all in all, the pandemic and resulting lockdowns have resulted in our having a much greater online presence.
5) “We are concentrating on improving our website and virtual outreach. We added some evangelistic videos to our website. We are planning to add member interviews and personal testimonies on our website. We aired an invitation to visit our website and worship on a Christian radio station.”
Along with some of the unexpected pivots and blessings noted above, note this providential pivot:
6) “We were unable to have prayer meetings together prior to the pandemic. We now have a weekly Zoom prayer meeting that not only attracts our church members, but also draws in contacts in a number of other states, and also occasionally draws in the two inmates to whom we are ministering. This has been the most positive thing we have seen come out of the pandemic. Our prayer meetings are a very rich one hour in the week!”
And several pastors noted, that whatever technology they use and whatever “results” they see, in the end it’s the one-on-one relationships that are the heart of what they are doing. That’s not a new idea for most, but it’s being confirmed more pointedly during the pandemic. Here’s one representative example for a pastor:
7) “For outreach, we could not do any of the huge outdoor advertised outreaches we were planning, nor going out to do evangelism and outreach at car cruises or the county fair like we planned. Instead we have had to focus on personal relationships and thinking about building true lasting relationships with those near us; our actual neighbors. And that has been a huge blessing.”
Like last week, we hope these specifics are an encouragement to you that God is at work building his church and blessing the OPC even in the midst of a pandemic with its associated lockdowns.