Manna From the Web

How one conference’s first completely digital church is accomplishing the Great Commission.

Wilona Karimabadi
Manna From the Web
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That first Sabbath at home came as a welcome change of pace three years ago—true rest from the busyness of the week. As the world rolled into lockdown in 2020, transitioning work, education, and worship to home quickly became the norm for many.

But here we are three years later, most of us back in our weekly congregations on Sabbath, and church life has resumed as normal. Lessons were learned and new horizons opened during those months of mandated stay-at-home life. And what initially looked like a giant setback actually pushed the church forward into the future of digital ministry whose entire existence is made possible by online technology.

“Living Manna online church is the first Adventist church [in the Northeastern Conference] to be organized as a fully digital church,” says its pastor, Ivor Myers. In fact, his official installation as full-time shepherd of this innovative congregation took place recently—this past January. While Living Manna is officially part of the Northeastern Conference, which is based in New York, Myers lives—and broadcasts—from Alabama.


Myers’ road to digital pastoring was unconventional. It started with a New York-based nineties hip-hop group called the Boogie Monsters. Myers, known then as “Yodared,” was part of this four-man group that included his brother and two friends. “We had a million-dollar contract with EMI records, and [there was] Soul Train, MTV, BET, the whole thing,” he says.

One night there was a gathering at the band’s New York house that included all the things—alcohol, marijuana, meeting and greeting. “A friend of ours invited a friend of his that night, and we had all kinds of people coming and going,” recalls Myers. “It was just before our album had been released. There was buzz, and people were coming and meeting us and everything. We were all roughly around 19 or 20 years old at the time. Then there was this guy hanging out with us whom we didn’t know was Seventh-day Adventist.”

The group began talking about the New World Order while really having no idea what they were talking about. “Out of the blue this guy asked us what day we thought was the Sabbath. We just looked at him like, ‘What a stupid question—we’re here having serious discussions about the New World Order,’ which was a popular topic in hip-hop at the time,” Myers remembers.

“ ‘Sunday. Everyone knows it’s Sunday.’ The guy told us to think again. We looked at our friend to say, ‘Man, who did you bring here?’ And then he said, ‘What’s the seventh day of the week?’ We were like, Sunday . . . Wait a minute! What did you just do?”

That night an out-of-the-blue question turned into a four-hour Bible study.

And so the boys of Boogie Monsters and many of their friends at the party embarked on a trip into the Word of God having no idea that such a thing as Adventism even existed. But as they searched the Scriptures with their new friend, they soon found themselves at Sabbath services at a small church in Queens, New York—all 20 to 30 of them. Almost the whole band and crew were eventually baptized, and in another eight months Myers and his brother left the Boogie Monsters life for good.

While discovering there was an entire world associated with his newfound set of beliefs, Myers learned of Oakwood University and soon enrolled. He studied there for one year, met and married his wife, and began ministering in California right away. As the Lord opened doors leading to his ordination in the Central California Conference, Myers began moving forward in a pastoral ministry career that would quickly make inroads into the digital world.


By early spring 2020 most churches worldwide were affected by lockdown mandates. Congregations from all religions found themselves taking to the Internet to keep going. At the time, Myers was pastoring in the Bay Area of northern California, and his church followed suit with great success. Once services could resume safely in person, many churches embraced a hybrid method of doing things—a congregation that met regularly in person with meetings and activities centered on a brick-and-mortar church structure with streaming capabilities. Myers’ congregation of a few hundred soon found an online viewership of 500 with the capacity to reach thousands, if not more.

Thus for Myers and his congregation, reentry into normalcy came with a profound switch. “When COVID hit and we went strictly online, it was just a stark difference between [online viewers] being the secondary audience and [those viewers] being the primary audience,” he says. And then they knew they were onto something. Leadership at Northeastern Conference caught the vision, and Myers was invited to grow this digital church concept fully online. So Living Manna online church was born.

Myers and his wife, Atonté, moved to Oakwood University, where their daughters are enrolled as students. He is also working on a master’s degree in urban ministry there. But as many a remote worker will tell you, the beauty of that arrangement is that a job can be done from anywhere in the world. And though Living Manna is a fully recognized Northeastern Conference congregation, its members are served by a pastor in the South, a clerk in Pennsylvania, and guest teachers and Bible workers from all over as well.

“I came to Living Manna at the invitation of Pastor Myers, who reached out to me because I was a follower,” says church clerk Patrice DeLisser. “One of the things I think is very important to the vision of Living Manna, particularly with Pastor Myers, is not looking to [“poach”] people who are already members of a Seventh-day Adventist church. Rather, Living Manna is predominantly tailored to people who don’t have access to an Adventist church at all, or one that is not as welcoming.”

Part of DeLisser’s job as clerk is to respond to all emails and messages, requests for the pastor, prayer needs, etc. She also processes membership requests—a task that currently takes a lot of time to accomplish, given the church’s unique situation. DeLisser also plays a part in helping to organize activities and events for the congregation—that’s right, activities and events for an online congregation! Even an in-person Living Manna convocation is in the works.


How does this all work? You start at Living Manna’s website (see the QR code on p. 23). You will notice a bar at the top of the page: “Register for Live Church.” Once you click, you will be directed to a page within the Altar Live platform (also available as an app). Once you create a login and set up a profile, confirm your account through the email address you provide, and you will be directed back to find your community. Click on “Living Manna First Online Church of Northeastern Conference.” As of this writing, there are 1,504 members of this online community. If that doesn’t seem like anything to take a second look at, imagine 1,504 people sitting in your local church building.

All services can be livestreamed through the website, which carries a link to a platform called StreamYard, as well as through YouTube, where previous sermons are housed (search Living Manna SDA Church). But here is where Living Manna takes things a step further.

“The overall picture is that we operate like a regular church,” says Myers. “Financially, offerings stay for the church and tithe goes to the conference. We have a board and a treasurer, and everything is accounted for like a normal church. The blessing of this is that when it comes to offering, we’re not spending it on carpets or the typical things churches have to allot their budget toward.” Living Manna community members send their tithes and offerings through regular mail, Cash App, and Adventist Giving online.

What this means is that there are more resources available for ministry and the very element that powers this church: technology. Because while there are currently 80 members on the books, Myers reports that there are between 400 and 600 worshippers viewing live every Sabbath—from Jamaica, Trinidad, all over the U.S., India, Canada, Europe, etc. Do these viewers stop in just for a great sermon and move on? That’s where the tech takes things to another level. Through Altar Live’s app, once you are admitted into the live service, you find a virtual seat in a virtual row to occupy with others in that same row with you.

“After church, we have our Altar Live meeting. During this meeting everybody communes together,” says Myers. “We talk about Sabbath School, church service, what people learned, and that is where community forms. Right now, if you were to talk to these people you would think they all live in the same town. People from different sides of the globe, different sides of America, are forming bonds.”

The Altar Live breakout room link (for your row) is sent to everyone registered during the Sabbath School or sermon portion to facilitate their convening together immediately after the service—much like the in-person chitchatting that occurs in the foyers or pews before the sanctuary empties for the day.

“Now you get to see each other, carry on with each other. You hear people sharing their stories, praying for one another,” says DeLisser. “You would think we’ve known each other for years, and yet people have met each other only once or twice and only through technology. But that coat of love and nonjudgment and welcoming spirit—it is palpable even through the screen of a laptop.”


Most of us know at least one person in their social or professional circles whom you can’t picture setting foot in your local congregation. This is a person who either has no spiritual belief system and is adamant about not needing one or for various reasons does not find the sanctuary of a local Adventist church a comfortable environment. While sad, this is reality. But as there is such a thing as “cyber-courage,” doing church in an online environment lessens the fear factor for a great many who would never consider a faith community otherwise.

Not only does the online environment of Living Manna provide a safe space to test the waters of Adventism and Christianity as a whole, but the entire ministry is also geared toward those especially searching for that. “Our goal is to reach people who have never set foot in a church, or who would never set foot in a church. Everything we’re doing is geared toward a non-Adventist audience,” says Myers. Sabbath School programming does not follow the typical quarterly lesson, but is rather conducted in a panel/interview format with different guests coming on to address specific topics. During sermon time Pastor Myers tackles tenets of Adventist belief through multiple series on different topics, such as the sanctuary and marriage.

Churches wanting to make an impact strive to meet their community in more ways than Sabbath services. Usually that involves various ministries and perhaps a Wednesday night prayer meeting or Friday evening vespers. Living Manna, however, provides something for its community nearly every day. Wednesday prayer meeting, for example, is done entirely on Altar Live, allowing virtual attendees to personally connect and fellowship. Then there are such nights as Mental Health Mondays, True Health Tuesdays, and a Thursday night meet-up specifically for anyone who just doesn’t believe anything at all, or is doubting and struggling.

“The success of this is being able to reach people who were not reachable before. People who sometimes have had church hurt—not just in Adventist churches, but other denominations as well. But this success is God’s success,” DeLisser says.


A key function of a pastor’s job description is caring for the congregation—ministering to spiritual needs and helping with life’s challenges. It’s a part of the job traditionally accomplished through face-to-face visitations at home or meeting up for lunch, or just a quick chat when running into a member at the local Target. How then is that type of connection accomplished in an entirely digital context?

Providing community in as many ways as possible is key, and for Living Manna the Altar Live platform facilitates that. “We are actually in the process of implementing small groups now. We’ve been talking about it forever, but to create ministry-oriented groups in which we are encouraging people to form digital ministries through TikTok, Facebook, YouTube, etc. This is one way that we foster community,” says Myers.  “As far as access to myself, members have my personal contact so they can call their pastor. But it’s clearly a little different in terms of visitations.”

Baptism is also a regular function of church life that a digital congregation has to find innovative ways to accomplish. But as with most things, “where there is a will, there is a way.” If an interested viewer wants to learn more, they are connected with a dedicated Bible worker who will study with them. Then, if baptism is requested, Myers will fly to that person to do so. If there is a local congregation and that person would like to join, Myers is happy about that. If that person wants to be a full-fledged Living Manna member, that’s wonderful too. He will try to connect with the pastor of the local church (if any) for use of their baptismal facilities and if there are other interested candidates who are in the area or who would be willing to make the trip, several people can be baptized that Sabbath, with their membership going wherever they would like it to go.

While children’s programming isn’t available currently, there are certainly children participating with their families. But Living Manna is eager to move in the direction of providing all that is needed to all who want it. “The nice thing about this is we have so many people volunteering. It’s really neat because people say, ‘Hey, I did this many years of children’s ministry; are you open to looking at forming something?’ And I’m a visionary. I like it when people bring ideas and are capable of running with them,” Myers says.

The community-building aspect of Living Manna also serves to make members feel well cared for, as any congregation should. Patrice DeLisser recalls a trip to Atlanta this past summer, just a few months after Living Manna officially formed in the spring of 2022. “That Sabbath weekend I went to a local church, just making sure I stayed in the fellowship, and when I walked in, someone said, ‘Hey, Patrice!’ ”

“I said, ‘Happy Sabbath; nice to meet you!’ but [this woman] knew me from Living Manna. So now you take that to the next level, where people are seeing you on Altar Live, and you’ve got people from all around the world calling your name and you’ve never met them in person. It’s a welcoming feeling.”

From that feeling of belonging to a welcoming community where you could bump into a fellow online brother or sister anywhere in the world, there comes a galvanizing of a strong flock of believers. And while technology is a key component, it’s really about the precious task of gathering God’s people together—regardless of where they come from. “Every single one of us is Living Manna church, because we carry God’s Word—the manna within our hearts,” says DeLisser.


Groundbreaking endeavors usually have their share of hiccups, and for a digital church, technology issues are an important one. Myers preaches from a garage studio set up in his home. His Oakwood University son provided initial tech support, but that is an ongoing need. For any of us who have transitioned to Zoom work environments or streamed church services from around the world, we know how unintentional tech malfunctions can easily derail a good presentation. And yet Living Manna continues to grow and reach a world in need of the gospel—currently without a dedicated technical team. To Pastor Myers, churches of this nature existing in every conference are a no-brainer, as there is so much potential for soul winning to be harnessed. In the end, churches forming entirely online is not only an option in the future but will meet a real and palp­able need—something that has to happen if the Great Commission is to be fulfilled. Going into all the world? It’s happening right now—on the web. “I have members of Living Manna who say they have never experienced fellowship in any of the churches they’ve been to,” says Myers. “I think there is a place for both models—[in-person and online]. But there are so many people we’ve talked to who say ‘I’m so glad you are online; I’m sick and shut in’ or ‘I had this bad experience in a church, and my kids refuse to go.’ So many people have been in one way or the other cast out from other churches who are not even Adventist, and they say, ‘You know what? I’m not going to church. It’s just me and God.’ But then they find us.”

Wilona Karimabadi

Wilona Karimabadi is an assistant editor for Adventist Review.