“From Christ’s methods of labor we may learn many valuable lessons. He did not follow merely one method; in various ways He sought to gain the attention of the multitude; and then He proclaimed to them the truths of the gospel.” – Ellen White (Evangelism, p. 123)
Adventists have always been open to new methods of reaching people for Christ. Tents pitched on vacant lots, colporteurs, cooking classes, radio and television programs—when it comes to evangelism, we are a creative Church!
We haven’t always been as good at creative discipleship—nurturing people in their walk with Christ and helping them maintain healthy faith communities.
What does discipleship look like now? How can we reach people now? How do we minister to a culture that increasingly looks online to get its needs met—including its relational and spiritual needs?
Two Adventist churches, the Crosswalk Church and The Living Manna Church, are exploring creative ways to address these questions.
The Crosswalk Network of Churches is a multi-site Adventist church—the first in the denomination. The main campus in Redlands, California, draws about 1,000 people each week to its three Sabbath services. But many more join the worship service virtually, watching from Crosswalk’s network of campuses, communities, groups, and online venues.
Timothy Gillespie serves as the lead pastor of both the network and the Redlands campus. “If we do church well, it’s a catalyst for community, for conversation, for commitment,” he said. “So we are going to make sure that no matter where we do church, [we foster] a community of belonging.”
In addition to the main campus, there are four Crosswalk campuses which watch the sermon from Redlands each week. These include Chattanooga, Tennessee—the largest remote campus, attended by 400-500 during the school year; Portland, Oregon; Los Angeles; and Clinton, Massachusetts. Each of these congregations pays tithe to its local conference and organizes church activities like every other congregation (leading music, conducting Sabbath schools, hosting in-person and online fellowship groups, etc.).
The network also includes several Lovewell communities and smaller groups that meet in homes—including groups in Woodland, Texas (attended by about 40 people) and in Sonora and Sacramento, California.
“We’ve got a lot of small groups that started during the pandemic, which I’m hopeful will eventually become churches as we continue to help grow them, facilitate the work that they do, and curate the culture that they have in their homes,” said Gillespie. “Our goal is to simply provide the content and help build the structures for people to build the churches they want to attend.”
Many people view the worship service in Redlands from their own homes, without any formal connection. During the Sabbath morning livestream, online hosts engage with viewers and invite them to online prayer rooms. “We make sure we follow up on every digital connection that we can,” said Gillespie.
Crosswalk leaders work hard to make sure that viewers aren’t merely worship spectators.
A number of small groups, both virtual and in-person, connect members with each other. One online group that began meeting during the pandemic is still meeting more than a year and a half later—even though those involved have never met in person. “If the pandemic taught us anything, it taught us that we can connect virtually, and that it’s meaningful and real,” said Gillespie.
Crosswalk has members of all ages—from young families to age 85. Just before the COVID shutdown, the fastest growing age bracket in the church was 65 and older.
Crosswalk leaders believe that as long as there are unreached people, the Adventist church needs to be open to innovative ways of reaching them. “We have to admit that our traditional expressions of the Adventist message might not be meeting the needs of everyone who is looking for Jesus,” said Gillespie. “With this in mind, we have the opportunity to greatly expand our work in our communities by simply allowing for diversity.”
Find out more: www.crosswalkvillage.com
Living Manna Church
Earlier this year, The Living Manna Seventh-day Adventist Church officially launched as the first online-only Adventist church. Led by Pastor Ivor Myers, the church is part of the Northeastern Conference (NEC).
Although the NEC spans six states in the northeastern United States, the Living Manna church has no physical boundaries. People from all over the world can become members, serve as church officers, connect with fellow believers, and pay tithe (which is sent to the NEC).
The idea for the congregation came as a result of Myers’s experience as he pastored the Campbell, California, church during the pandemic. Although the church had been livestreaming its worship service for a long time, the number of viewers dramatically increased during the shutdown.
Myers believes it was more than just the circumstances. When people watch an online service designed for an in-person congregation, they feel a step removed from the experience. “[During the shutdown], the online audience was no longer the secondary audience looking in,” he said. “We had the ability to interact with people online and respond to comments in real time, which created a real church family feeling.”
He discussed his idea of an online-only church with his wife, Atonte, a marriage and family therapist. Although uncertain at first, she became enthusiastic. He then approached NEC President Abraham Jules, who had baptized him years before. Jules quickly offered his support, and the NEC officially established the church on Feb. 1.
Although all are welcome to join, Living Manna’s primary goal is to interest secular people and Christians who are not Adventists. “We are not trying to build a church by taking members from other Adventist churches,” said Atonte Myers.
Programs throughout the week include Mental Health Mondays; True Health Tuesdays; Freestyle Wednesdays (Bible study); and Science, Philosophy, Metaphysics Thursdays (designed for unbelievers). “We are looking at reaching these different audiences through the different days of the week to move them over to the Sabbath service and then ultimately move them into the truth of the three angels’ messages,” said Myers.
Those interested in learning more about the church will be connected to online Bible workers for personal study. People can chose to become members of a local church or the Living Manna church. “We are good either way,” said Myers. “What we want is for people to be in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”
An important part of church is fellowship, and the Living Manna church uses an app to enable members to pray and interact with each other. “People are sharing their testimonies, praying, crying, telling what the sermon meant to them,” said Atonte Myers. “This is where the connections and community and family feel are found.”
Living Manna church organizers hope to be a model for other conferences to experiment with a similar type of online church. “If every conference would have at least one church like this,” said Myers, “it would be such a powerful means of getting out beyond our borders and reaching into the world.”
Find out more: livingmanna.church
While Crosswalk and Living Manna experiment with ways to minister to people in an Internet culture, across the denomination pastors and members of smaller congregations are facing the same issue. How can local churches—without large reservoirs of money, time, and talent—use technology to reach people for Christ and help them walk with Him?
“The modern marketplace is online, and because it is a marketplace, pastors have to be there—where the people are,” said Ivan Williams, ministerial director of the North American Division.
He encourages people to be patient as their local pastors explore effective methods for hybrid ministry. “Pray for the pastors and give affirming feedback,” he said. “Bring solutions to the table, and have a spirit of optimism.”
As we forge new ways to share the Good News, we would do well to hold onto the values of our original Adventist pioneers, including an open-minded approach to new and creative ideas.
Julie Lorenz works in the human resources department at the Northern California Conference. She lives with her husband and two children in Pleasant Hill, California.