July 12, 2020

Church After COVID-19: What Will It Look Like?

Rachel Aitken, Adventist Record, and Adventist Review

Is your church’s online experience intentional and impactful?

This is the question the Adventist Church Online Network (ACON) team in New Zealand is posing to attendees of its upcoming five-week event, beginning July 18, 2020.

In addition, ACON is providing a forum for the question many have been wrestling with: “What does church look like going forward?”

This event’s momentum was driven by a need identified by Victor Kulakov, Discipleship Ministries leader of the New Zealand Pacific Union Conference (NZPUC). The need was for churches to continue ministering in the digital space even if COVID-19 restrictions no longer demanded it.

In August 2019, NZPUC hosted the first Digital Discipleship Conference outside Australia (and the fifth conference for the Digital Discipleship ministry). At the time of the conference, Kulakov said he could see the importance of digital ministry. After the disruption of COVID-19, the lockdown, and subsequent re-opening of New Zealand, however, Kulakov said he was more convinced than ever of the need for churches to minister in the digital space. “Now, you’d have to convince me not to encourage churches to minister online,” he said.

Since Kulakov aired his initial idea, leaders, pastors, and lay members from NZPUC, the Australian Union Conference, Papua New Guinea Union Mission, and Trans-Pacific Union Mission have come together along with the Digital Discipleship Ministry of Adventist Media in the South Pacific Division to develop a free five-week event called the Adventist Church Online Conference.

One of the planning team members, Joshua Stothers, pastor of Hamilton Central Seventh-day Adventist Church in New Zealand, knows the issues being faced by churches firsthand.

“At the end of 2019,” Stothers said, “we were praying about the next steps for our church. We felt impressed after attending past Digital Discipleship conferences that we needed to have someone [at our church] with the skills to do digital. We felt like God was pulling us into that space to do ministry on social media and use the wonderful world of the internet.”

In their planning, Hamilton Central members identified their vision: to be a major Christian influence in Hamilton. From there, they identified four impact areas: connect people with Christ; love people; serve others; and build leaders.

After completing their vision planning, however, the Hamilton group was faced with the disruption of COVID-19. As a team, they felt derailed.

But because they were impressed God had given them the vision, they decided to use the digital space to fulfilltheir vision rather than to simply advertise it, and this has resulted in a journey to intentionally use their social media accounts, livestreams, and website to carry out their initial plans. The Hamilton members have found that even in a less restricted post-COVID physical environment, they still have an online community that worships with them alongside their in-person congregation.

ACON is asking every church member and church the same question Hamilton Central Seventh-day Adventist Church had to ask itself: How can your church use the digital space to fulfill the vision God has given you? During five weeks in July and August 2020, ACON makes an effort to answer this question.

The organization planned to cover the following topics:

July 18: What Does the Church Look Like Going Forward?

This session challenges one’s thinking about the power of a church’s online presence and its impact. It explores the benefits and challenges of live and recorded services.

July 25: How to Set Up a Team for Your Digital Church

The session teaches who to include on a team for churches with a lot of volunteers and those with just a few. Also, it teaches ways to engage members in the church’s digital evangelism.

August 8: Gain Technical Expertise for Your Digital Church

This session is about equipment and understanding the best equipment to buy for different budgets. It helps churches to understand the technicalities of livestreaming, podcasting, and other types of online ministry.

August 15: What’s the Journey for People Visiting Your Digital Church?

The session teaches members how to think through the steps a person takes when they visit a church’s online presence. It shows steps in what you want them to do next and develop an intentional journey for them.

August 22: Learn the Different Models of Digital Churches

The final session teaches the different ways a church can minister in the digital space, both when serving online is the only option and when it becomes a part of the church’s ministries as it returns to in-person meetings.

During the one-hour gatherings, ACON will feature testimonials from various churches, interviews with digital church leaders, consultations, and giveaways. Following the weekly gathering, they planned to hold half-hour sessions for workshopping and questions.

Additional resources and training were to become available within the ACON Facebook group and on the Adventist Church Online website, as well as on the Union and Digital Discipleship Ministry websites and social media platforms.

The ACON team is working to support the work of the individual union regions in the digital space while also highlighting one of the four focus areas of the Digital Discipleship Ministry.

The original version of this story was posted by Adventist Record.