The Importance of Online Ministry
The Importance of Online Ministry (and the Blessing Provided by It)
Written by Reverend Robert W. Rice
Pastor, Muncy Baptist Church
Regional Ministry Associate for Leadership Learning Communities
December 4, 2020
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle speaks a great deal of the freedom that he has been given in Christ. While Paul has certain responsibilities given to him by God, “he belongs to no one.” (1 Corinthians 9:19a). Paul is not forced to submit to any particular customs, mandates or governing bodies. Much like an American Baptist pastor, he can do ministry how he chooses. This freedom could be used as an excuse to live life his way and stay in his comfort zone, but Paul doesn’t see it as such. He chooses to submit himself to others, so he might “win as many as possible.” (1 Corinthians 9:19b). Paul talks a great deal about how he willingly submits himself and becomes like the people he is ministering to in the next several verses, and his conclusion drives home the key reason he is committed to ministering in this way: “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:23)
As a pastor, the model that Paul puts forth in these verses is a model that I seek to use in my ministry. I want to meet people where they are in their faith. I want to be the pastor that they need me to be at that moment. This certainly doesn’t mean that I will compromise the Gospel or not be true to who I am, but it does mean that like Paul, sometimes I will get pushed out of my comfort zone and into new adventures.
One of those new adventures this year has been online ministry. In March, all of us were forced into doing some form of streaming of our services, and we had to get up and running quickly. Like most churches, we started off pretty humbly, using a Mevo camera and setting up a makeshift studio in our fellowship room to get started. But over the course of time, even as we moved into the sanctuary and started to see people back, we continue to lean into online ministry, devoting much of our time and financial resources to improving the experience, and interacting with the people who choose to view our services online.
We do that for the sake of the Gospel. God has shown us that by online ministry, we can reach people for Christ and help connect people in our area to the family of God where they can receive prayer and support from a local church community. I wanted to share just a few stories about how this has happened over the past several months.
Earlier this year, I received a message on Facebook from a woman, who I had only met briefly at a baby dedication that our church had a few years earlier. She was a relative of someone who attended our church, mainly for special occasions. The message was asking for prayer for one of her relatives. I prayed and shared my prayer over Facebook messenger, and then added the prayer request to our email prayer chain. Several months later, I received a note in the mail along with an offering from this same woman: “I would like to talk with you about joining the church.” After a conversation, I found out that this woman had been watching our services throughout the pandemic, as someone from the congregation had encouraged her to do so. She hadn’t been part of a church for several years, and her husband had recently died. That simple invitation caused her to watch the service online (she wouldn’t have come to church because she cares for her elderly mother) and reach out to me. We talked about church membership, what it means to be part of a church, and she shared that she really needed a church family to support her. Being part of a small community, it turns out that she already knows many people in our church, and she will be received into membership this Sunday! Had we not been active in online ministry, had we not reached out in prayer, we might have never been able to reach her with the Gospel.
Just two weeks ago, another woman commented on our Facebook stream that she needed prayers for her son. I was amazed to see how quickly other members of our church commented and shared that they would be praying for her. She too, has been watching us online because of a few earlier connections, and is longing for the support of a church family to help her, even as she will be traveling to Pittsburgh to seek treatment for her young adult son. God has allowed us to meet a need and I will be sharing in some prayer and conversation with her again next week.
It’s amazing how our online ministry has become an entry point for us, but I do want to temper this with an important reminder. We have not simply relied on online ministry. I don’t think you can simply put the service out there and expect people to just flock to it. It’s also not enough to be content with a significant uptick in views (or eyeballs on Facebook). Ministry still requires a personal touch and it is still done by people. People have found us online through the work of our congregation. People have shared about our online services and studies with their Facebook friends, family and contacts. It’s been a great joy to hear about a man in our church (who I have been praying for to come to faith...a longer story about how God is at work), sharing our services with his family. That makes it clear that God is doing something that is far bigger than I could even imagine.
I view our online services not as the end all be all, but instead as an entry point to a greater relationship with the church family. Sometimes that relationship translates to in-person attendance, but not always. But in many ways, we have used our online ministry to share the hope of the Gospel, and have watched God bless us by growing our family, by providing for our financial needs, and most of all by receiving glory for Himself as our praise is shared in a new and exciting way. It may have taken a push from God to get us to this place, but I thank God we have the opportunity to stay in this space, and I look forward to the many ways God will use this avenue and use us to see His Kingdom grow.