On Mission During the Storm
By Mark Youngman
Storms hit us when we least expect them. On March 2, 2020, our entire team arrived in Orlando for a few days of worship, learning, and dreaming together about God’s calling for the church we love. We arrived with a lot of enthusiasm. Each of us sensed that we were on the verge of an even deeper level of connection. We’ve seen God do many big things and we were eager to see what was next. It turned out that the next big thing wasn’t to be a conference in Orlando. It was going to be our response to a tornado that struck our town in the early morning hours of March 3, destroying hundreds of homes, two schools, many businesses, and killing three people. By the end of that day, all twenty of us were back in our hometown in Tennessee. Called to action.
Within that next week, it became clear that the tornado was going to be followed by yet another storm— one that we are still in the midst of today: the coronavirus. The whiplash effect of going from deep team experience to weekly video calls from home is one we are still processing. So much has changed in the last several weeks, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is our common mission. Our church and team – laity and clergy – have been formed around the idea that people who feel disconnected from God and the church can find hope, healing, and wholeness in Jesus.
[T]he one thing that hasn’t changed is our common mission. Our church and team – laity and clergy – have been formed around the idea that people who feel disconnected from God and the church can find hope, healing, and wholeness in Jesus.
Hunker Down or Hustle On?
The temptation during this season might be to hunker down, lick our wounds, and hold on. Instead, we find the mission of the church driving us to keep going—to keep pursuing God’s dream. In times of great turmoil and uncertainty, the mission of the church shines like a light on a hill. The mission field just expanded beyond anything we were dreaming of in early March. Moving our worship services online has led to more people connecting with the church of Jesus Christ.
We are more aware than ever of the need for deeper engagement for our online worshipers. To stay on mission while moving to 100 percent online worship, we had to enhance the experience. Prior to this season, our livestream was strictly a video feed. Those seeking to engage would need to send a message through one of our other means of communication. To stay focused on disconnected people, we moved to a new platform* that allows for live chat, prayer, and timely prompts to respond (including guest registration, giving, and response to Jesus). We consistently ask guests to let us know that they are worshiping with us. When they do, they are entered into our existing follow-up strategy toward connection. Ideally, many of the pieces being added now will be a part of an ongoing strategy to reach online guests that will outlast the pandemic.
To stay focused on disconnected people, we moved to a new platform that allows for live chat, prayer, and timely prompts to respond (including guest registration, giving, and response to Jesus).
Telling Stories Is the New/Old Measuring Stick
How do we know people are truly connecting right now? How do we measure connection in a time of isolation? Our answer has been a return to story. Can you really measure online attendance? There is no one answer to that question. It’s not as simple as counting clicks because buffering, disconnection, multiple devices, and multiple people watching the same device throw off the metrics. Story was the original measure of connection and dedication to the mission. So, sharing story today involves asking questions such as, “How can online worshipers in other states live out the mission from a distance?” In our context that means, worship, welcoming people, growing in Christ, and serving God and others. It turns out that it is entirely possible. We ask for the same holy habit of regularly worshiping with us, welcoming other people to the online experience, joining a small group or study online or in their own community, and serving both through the church and in their local community.
How do we measure connection in a time of isolation? Our answer has been in a return to story.
Telling the story under social distancing involves celebrating the ways we are able to continue to be the church: children and families receiving food and learning supplies through a school and church partnership; tornado and COVID-19 victims receiving emotional, physical, spiritual, and financial support through coordinated community efforts; pen pals writing to children who won’t be able to attend a reading program this summer. When we worship and tell these stories, our living rooms become the church, and the church remains on mission—and the kingdom of heaven takes shape on earth.
*See platforms such as Church Online and Text-in-Church, that help faith communities engage worshipers across platforms.
Mark Youngman is the Pastor of Discipleship at Providence Church in Mt. Juliet. TN.