FRESNO—While California Southern Baptist pastors say they are grateful for technology which enabled them to be online for church March 22, they also report challenges in using technology effectively.
With the entire state shuttered in response to the coronavirus, CSBC pastors statewide were optimistic about this new way of doing church and ministering to church members.
Shawn Meyer, pastor of The Gathering in Clovis, said, “We didn't have any technological mishaps, and the feedback from church members was very positive. Everyone was very appreciative of our quick reaction to contextualize ministry.”
Meyer, also a church planter, said he and the church staff received several texts and emails of encouragement about their leadership from church members.
“It seems that people were worried about not getting sermons, and they were so excited that we were online right away to support their families. And they took the time to tell us! I don't think I realized what a strong community of Jesus followers we have at The Gathering. They've been taking great care of each other and staying well connected, which makes it easier for me to focus on the big things.”
Emelio Meza, pastor of Highland Avenue Baptist Church in National City, said, “We saw that we went beyond our imagination related to the web and received a lot of good feedback.”
Meza also noted the church has multiple avenues for giving tithes/offerings. “Our finance entries were better than we thought. Our people were faithful. I praise God.”
Using information technology professionals who are members of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Richmond, Pastor Ted Goslen, said his congregation used Zoom to do Sunday School with good attendance, “including and 89-year-old member. Our people enjoyed seeing and talking with each other that way.”
Goslen used Facebook Live for their worship service which reached some people who “don’t go to church.”
He added that since Zoom was such a positive experience, the church will use the conferencing technology on Wednesday evenings for its weekly prayer service.
Saying the online services were “great,” Shawn Beaty, senior pastor of Clovis Hills Community Church in Clovis and president of California Southern Baptist Convention, explained his congregation conducted three Saturday and two Sunday services resulting in “reaching about 1,800 people and registering six decisions for Christ.”
In San Jose, Don Fugate, pastor of Foxworthy Baptist Church, said it was his congregation’s second Sunday online. “We have been livestreaming our services for more than two years,” he said. “We also have online giving and text giving options that we've been using for several years.”
One unique ministry for the San Jose congregation was making and delivering DVDs to senior centers where the church normally holds worship services.
Fugate added the church redesigned the homepage of its website to reflect the current situation. “Our ‘Watch Online’ box is now at the top (of the homepage) with accompanying sermon notes. We thought it would be silly to continue advertising events and groups that aren't meeting at present.”
Robert Helou, pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church Arabic Fellowship in El Cajon, commented that the church’s experience with live streaming was “very encouraging.”
Normally the church has about 300 worshipers on Sunday. Helou reported analytics for the streaming service “totaled 2,540 views with a reach of 5,500. We praise the Lord for the alternative to meeting regularly in a church building.”
Alfredo Noble, pastor of Christians for Christ Church in Los Angeles, thanked God “for this blessed opportunity to allow us to reach those who would ordinarily pass us by.”
He exhorted other pastors to realize “the church is the only place where God is the main focus. We must continue to be that light in the time of darkness and be available to stand and be counted for our Lord, especially in these terrible days.”
Noel De Guzman, pastor of Westside Baptist Church, a predominately Filipino congregation in Los Angeles, said, the church has been audio streaming on Sundays which is mostly heard by church members. “This last Sunday, we had more than a 1,000 (live streaming). It was a blessing to hear church members sharing the online service with others.”
Even with the positive experiences, churches faced challenges.
Meyer said most of the challenges at his church plant were “tech-related” noting the congregation has “limited tech resources.”
Goslen said his challenge is to “better harness technology during this time. We have wonderful IT folks who are much more advanced than I. My challenge is figuring out the best way to utilize technology.”
At New Life Church in Fremont, Sang Woo, administrative/media pastor, said their biggest challenge was the “Internet connection.” He added, “We are planning to upgrade our Internet speed so we can get used to doing worship services online.”
Noble said, “We need to upgrade our technology in order to be consistent in this new venture, especially in regard to online services.”
“Our churches need to be healthy and smart” according to CSBC President Beaty. “When I say smart I mean they need to embrace current technology.”
He explained that even though members don’t do certain things like “online giving” pastors must do the “hard work of leading people to do what may be uncomfortable.”
“Pastors must commit themselves to reading and learning. In the 21st century we will change or die," he said.
Los Angeles Pastor De Guzman said, “We are in this scary time, and God is using this trial to bring people to His Kingdom.”
He believes “there are those who are in tune and attentively listening; more are seeking hope in this trying time.”
Meyer said, “People need us! I didn't realize the extent to which our families lean on the church. But they really do, and I'm blessed that God has used this time to teach me more about that. So, whatever we can do, we need to do it!
“You may not think it will make a difference, but if my experience this week says anything, it absolutely makes a difference, no matter how small your church. So, we should do whatever we can right now to minister in this new context, because people are in great need of Jesus and their church at this time.