By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
With restrictions now mandated on how many people may congregate due to the coronavirus, Yukon churches are using the latest technology to connect with members.
Pastor Tom Arnould believes the current situation ultimately will help churches who are finding innovative ways to minister to their flocks since regular services have been suspended.
Arnould leads Good News Church, 1054 E Main, which is among churches across Yukon that have had to adapt due to COVID-19’s impact on the community.
“One of the take-aways from all of this experience is that it’s forcing us to re-think ways of reaching people and re-think how we have done things,” Pastor Arnould. “When it’s all said and done, I know it will have a net positive.
“Some of the technology will remain beyond the current crisis that we’re in.”
Pastor Arnould on March 25 ministered to the congregation of Good News Church’s “sister church” in the Czech Republic. Through the video chat application Skype, Arnould spoke with members of Bible Center of Faith in the town of Tábor south of Prague.
Many church members in the Czech Republic also have been confined to their homes and cannot congregate because of COVID-19.
“They’re on ‘lockdown’ as well so I did a Skype call for their Wednesday night service,” Arnould said.
Good News Church now provides an on-line “live stream” of its Sunday morning and Wednesday night services. Pastor Arnold estimated that more than 95 percent of his congregation connected when this option debuted March 22 across three separate platforms.
“It was very effective,” he said. “We had a lot of good feedback Sunday and we plan to continue doing it on Wednesdays. With the youth, we’re looking at a live stream main event and then a ‘Zoom’ (video conferencing app) for the smaller discipleship group options.”
UP TO THE CHALLENGE
Bethel Community Church, 4901 N Sara Road, also has stopped any “in-person” gatherings and moved all services and groups online.
“We’re trying to leverage technology,” Pastor Ray Rhoton said. “But with the variety of members now – babies all the way up to senior adults – it’s been challenging. We’re using the Zoom app for a lot of our community groups and calls.”
Besides e-mails and texts, Bethel Community Church is communicating with members several ways while the physical doors are temporarily closed.
“We’re using Vimeo, You-Tube, Facebook Live, and our website for Sunday services,” Pastor Rhoton said. “We’re also doing an old-school, dial-in conference call for seniors who have no ‘tech’ so we can still connect with them.”
Bethel’s leader believes some people are getting “connected” more now than when church members met in person.
Meanwhile, Bethel staff members are writing and recording motivational “encouragement” videos on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays posted to the church’s Facebook page. Youth pastors also are reading bedtime stories and providing lessons on the kids’ Facebook page.
Trinity Baptist Church, 620 N Cemetery Road, also is live-streaming Sunday services online.
With the guidelines implemented by Gov. Kevin Stitt due to the coronavirus, Trinity is providing online worship services through its website while posting encouraging messages three times weekly.
Pastors and members are utilizing the Zoom video conferencing app for small group meetings. All Trinity church leaders and staff are encouraged to check on members each week.
Pastor Brian Mills emphasized the importance of church leaders and staff staying connected with members during this period when congregating in groups of 10 or more is forbidden.
“The church is not a building,” Mills said. “It is people.”
The current restrictions that keep services and groups from meeting at the church have left Trinity in “uncharted waters,” he added.
With church leaders having to adapt to the changes, Mills said they are using what the Lord has given them to “breathe life” into people across the United States.
The live online services and video messages have allowed churches to reach more people – but church leaders and members alike miss being around each other.
“The churches’ response all through the community is really strong,” Pastor Mills said.
“But there’s nothing like worshipping together. … You can’t replace that.”
A new Facebook group, Pray 8:35, was launched this week to rousing success. Led by several Yukon church pastors, the prayer group is spreading quickly – even across borders.
Pray 8:35 is based on Romans 8:35: “What can separate us from the love of Christ? Nothing can.”
“We’re calling people to pray at 8:35 in the morning and 8:35 in the night,” Pastor Rhoton said. “At 8:35, no matter where you are, set an alarm and pray. We’re trying to get the community together to pray.”
Pastors Woody Burpo, Chad Penner, Mark Borseth, and Rhoton are going live for two to three minutes every time the clock strikes 8:35 to pray with people.
“That’s been a cool thing to draw our community together and pray,” Pastor Rhoton said. “I’m really hoping that Yukon can be a driving force to get people to pray, get on their knees and humble themselves before God. That’s the motivation behind it.”
Yukon church leaders are trying to make the best of the current situation with members not being able to meet in groups.
“A pastor separated from the people is pretty terrible and it’s pretty discouraging,” Pastor Rhoton said. “Our goal is to slow down, take a breath and connect with people differently than we ever have before.”
Church members are looking for hope and re-connection.
“Sometimes, in distress, is when we draw close to someone,” Rhoton said. “I think God is allowing this to happen for us to draw close to Him.”
Meanwhile, Trinity Baptist Church will host a live online community prayer gathering Sunday night, April 5, to begin Holy Week.
Pastor Mills is inviting local pastors to participate in what he called a “unified effort” among Yukon-area churches. These church leaders will take turns leading the community wide prayer effort.