Evangelism during and after a pandemic

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If there is a phrase to describe my mission field the past 15 years, it would be “evangelize online.”

The roots of this mantra go way back to the early 2000’s during my early days of tornado chasing for FOX6 WBRC-TV. We started chasing the storms because viewers were more likely to seek shelter if they saw live video of the tornado on TV.

I used Yahoo! Instant Messenger installed on a laptop with a webcam taped to the windshield of our storm chase vehicle to send back “video” from our storm chase vehicle. I use the term “video” here loosely because it was more like moving pictures – I was lucky to get 1 frame a second when we were driving. But, one frame was better than none.

As technology began to improve, so did our abilities to live stream. In the summer of 2006 I convinced my TV bosses to start live streaming our newscasts and in 2007 I assisted my congregation (Deerfoot Church of Christ) in setting up a live streaming solution for worship services.

The rest, as “they” say, is history. After leaving television I installed a number of live streaming solutions in churches and consulted on many more. A growing number of Christians understood the value of evangelizing online.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic occurred. By March 2020 just about every church in America was forced to temporarily close its doors to in-person worship services. Live streaming quickly became the necessary tool to keep Christians connected while safely distancing themselves socially from each other to “flatten the curve.”

Preachers had to adapt. Instead of preaching to a room full of people sitting in pews, they preached to cameras.

I fielded a number of calls, texts and emails during the initial weeks of the pandemic social distancing implementation. I shared a number of best practices and watched my friends across the country implement their own workflows. I’ve studied the results.

Lessons Learned

Below are things I hope to see after this pandemic ends.

Keep preaching to the camera, even when in-person worship resumes. We all now know how our sick and shut-ins see our worship services every week, so make them feel welcome by occasionally looking at the camera and acknowledging them.

Encourage your ministers to continue to evangelize online, even after we return to in-person worship services. The videos our ministers are posting on social media during this pandemic are reaching and engaging hundreds of thousands of people every day. They are planting God’s word in more new minds than any other local outreach effort we have done in a long time.

Make room on your minister’s to-do list. These daily devotional videos don’t happen by accident and require a significant amount of time and resources (equipment) devoted to it. Give him the equipment and, when we settle back into our busy routines, please remove enough items off of his weekly to-do list so that he has the time he needs to continue to evangelize online.

Boosted posts. Consider spending $50-100 per week to boost one or two of your minister’s daily devotional videos to social media users in your local zip codes. It could pay huge dividends as God’s word finds its way to the hearts and minds of our scared neighbors, worried how they will overcome the storms in their life.

[RELATED: Effective outreach planning and social media evangelism tools]

Improve your backup communication plan. If/when in-person gatherings are once again prohibited, determine what you do to keep everyone connected.

Practice your plan. Just like kids practice tornado drills and fire drills, you should also practice what you would do in the event normal operations are disrupted. You will probably discover a number of people who find the backup plan to be more helpful during the course of normal operations.

You’ve got to crawl before you can walk and walk before you run. All of us make mistakes, even the pros, because we’re human.

Don’t be nervous about quality. Just be honest with your congregation. Tell them we’re going to try this, learn from our mistakes and keep working to make it better every week.

Don’t put it off. Give it a try today because tomorrow never comes.

Test it out. Make sure it works, then test it again.

Don’t be the only person in your congregation to know how to do this. One day you will be on vacation or sick.

Teach others what you know. Leave the world around you better than the way you found it.

Dennis Washington is a multimedia communications specialist for Alabama Power in Birmingham, Alabama. In his spare time he helps church leaders develop successful communication strategies and growth plans.