By Patrick Martin
Over the past few weeks it has been strangely encouraging to watch so many local churches adapt to a new “normal” in a world that has zero sense of normalcy.
Churches that have never embraced technology or social media are now live-streaming services on multiple social media outlets. Churches are even continuing to observe New Testament ordinances via virtual baptisms and Lord’s Supper at home! Jesus said in 1 Corinthians 11:26 (ESV), “for as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Jesus hasn’t come back yet, so we continue to observe and proclaim, even if it’s with pieces of an everything bagel and a cup of grape-flavored Gatorade!
At Russell Baptist Church, we have been forced to learn on the fly in a number of areas: Sunday worship, Wednesday night discipleship opportunities, stewardship, and small groups have all had to undergo significant transition to continue to function in a manner that ministers to our flock.
Here are some of the changes we’ve made at Russell and some of the victories we are celebrating at this time…
Worship – While some churches have gone to a drive-in format for church gatherings or are live-streaming their services, we have chosen to pre-record our services and premiere them on Sunday mornings. We chose this route because the opportunity to do post-production work on the video allows us to add technological components to the service (sermon notes and graphics) that improve the overall experience for those watching at home.
Wednesday Night Discipleship Opportunities – We have gone completely virtual on Wednesdays as well. Every activity our church typically offers on campus on Wednesday is now meeting virtually.
Online Giving – We’ve also seen our online and text-driven giving increase at Russell by roughly 450 percent! That has been a huge blessing that allows us to continue to minister during this time. We still have church members mailing in their tithes and offerings, but our little church in the country has really embraced technology, especially when it comes to stewardship.
Increased Connectivity and Ministry – COVID-19 also has challenged some of our longstanding ecclesiological ideals, specifically those outside of Scripture. Where it was once widely accepted that church only happened in the “church house,” we now know the body can, in fact, gather in a multitude of ways. As I watch Sunday school classes of all ages meeting via Zoom, and I hear of church members taking the elderly or immuno-compromised groceries, prescriptions, or even the elusive 8-pack of toilet paper, I see a church living as the Acts 2 body that Jesus intended to build in His disciples before his Ascension.
We have learned that Russell Baptist Church is not a collection of buildings at 2299 Sandridge Road. Those buildings merely house the church for corporate worship gatherings and for discipleship. Russell Baptist Church may be scattered, but we’re not closed! Honestly, we may have never be more open for business than we are at this very moment!
It may not be 1741 (and I’m no Jonathan Edwards), but the same gospel that was preached in that famous sermon, “Sinners In The Hands of An Angry God” is still being preached today. Edwards actually preached that sermon on more than one occasion, but when he preached it at the God appointed time and seeds were planted in a God-prepared soil, it resulted in The Great Awakening.
Who knows? Perhaps God is preparing us for another awakening.
Keep doing what you’re doing, churches. It’s working.
Patrick Martin is the Senior Pastor at Russell Baptist Church in Green Cove Springs, FL.