We never imagined that in March of this year, our churches would be shut down. The shelter-at-home orders due to Covid-19 have changed our lives in many ways, even our ability to attend church together. In the attempt to meet the spiritual needs of members, local leadership and pastoral couples united to create home studios where church services and other programs could be taped or live-streamed.
Pastor Jorge Mata (Grand Rapids area), with the help of his son and wife, Cindy, taped programs for members on Facebook. His members, in turn, posted services on their Facebook pages. Shortly after, Pastor Mata began ministering to more than just church members. They watched as people from other states and countries (Panama & Costa Rica) tuned in, especially for their prayer times.
Pastor Mata tapes a program each day and offers prayer time. Cindy states, "A guest asked for prayer for a man who suffered a serious stroke. In a short time, the man recovered enough to be moved from ICU." Another woman was "suffering from breathing problems. She felt so much better after the prayer and stated, "I plan never to miss any of your online meetings."
Elder Tony and Kibsa Ludwig (Marquette, L'Anse & Munising churches) taped church services and Sabbath School programs and posted them on Facebook. He also organized a phone tree and reached out to all members to begin watching them. Not only did members watch but also non-members who had not attended church for over 10 years. Some told members, "Thanks for reaching out to us," and "We are watching each week now."
Reflecting on the first service, Pastor Tony stated: "We were all together, and everyone saw each other's faces, [and] people got quiet, and choked [up] with emotion." "They were touched [that] they could be all together again, even if virtually." When a particular Walmart cashier joined them for programming, members recognized her, and they made it a point to get in her check-out line at Walmart to greet her. The cashier was so happy to meet them and peppered them with questions about terms she heard like "Pathfinders," "vespers," and, of course, members were delighted to explain. Pastor Tony finds that his members are inviting their friends to the programs, and viewers are increasing each week.
Pastor Donald Sparks (Gladwin, Estey, & Marion churches) understands that people are searching during this time, so he began taping programs and posted them on Facebook. He also hand-delivered copies to members without internet service. After seeing his numbers increase, he decided to adopt a different strategy to reach visitors. Some members reported that even unchurched family members were enjoying the programs. Pastor Sparks said, "They might never have come to church but are now watching it in their living room, and some say they want to come to church now."
Elder Roy Castelbuono (Fil-Am & St. Joseph churches) started using Zoom and Facebook-Live. He said more people are joining Sabbath School discussions than ever before, and viewers have grown by almost 40% each week. "The most exciting thing is that there are no walls to reaching out to anyone who desires to come to church and participate.," says Castelbuono. He encouraged his members to keep inviting friends and co-workers. He added a Saturday night vespers seminar hosted by his members, and these have been successful with guests joining in from out-of-state. "I've been using Zoom for my committees and board meetings, and they are more well-attended than when they were previously in the church building," says Castelbuono.
Our buildings may be closed right now, but worship is being redefined. Worshipping God in Michigan is at an all-time high with these virtual endeavors. Pastor Mata states, "I think of how I cancelled meetings in the past because of the weather when I could have conducted them online. I am so blessed to find a new way to reach out to my members and others."