On February 1, 2022, the Executive Committee of the Northeastern Conference (NEC), based in Jamaica, New York, United States, made conference history by establishing its first virtual church. Members voted The Living Manna First Online Seventh-day Adventist Church and announced that Ivor Myers will serve as pastor. Myers previously pastored the Campbell Seventh-day Adventist Church in Campbell, California.
NEC president Abraham Jules is excited about the new endeavor. “The pandemic has taught all of us some lessons, one of them being that we can have church while we are at home. There are many people who we will be reaching through this virtual congregation that we would not reach otherwise,” he said.
During the pandemic, as many churches moved services online, Myers changed the way he did things with the online audience tuning into the Campbell church’s weekly services. As he interacted with viewers online during his live presentations, he noticed a significant increase in the reach and size of his audience. “We were communicating directly with them. We saw their comments come up and responded in real time. That ended up being a real blessing,” he said.
Myers approached the Northeastern Conference with the idea of forming a virtual church. “The difference between streaming services online and forming a virtual church is that the people online are not on the outside looking in; they are not just joining a service; they are the service,” Myers explained. “This is a novel concept,” Jules said. “I have learned in my life and my ministry that you must try some new things so you may meet and reach [other] people for Christ.”
As a virtual church, Living Manna plans to operate much like a traditional church with members occupying a physical building. “The only difference is [the members] will come from around the world,” Jules said. “They will be indoctrinated in the teachings of the Adventist Church, and we will have elections like any other church — all of the typical auxiliaries will be represented in the virtual church.” Living Manna members will utilize Adventist Giving online to return tithe and give offerings. As a virtual church, Living Manna will also operate seven days a week through varied online programming addressing daily living, finances, mental health, and more.
Pastoring an online church also allows Myers and his wife, Atonte, to minister from a different area of the country. While the virtual church falls under the Northeastern Conference in NY, the Myers currently live in Huntsville, Alabama, where their ministry also includes serving at Oakwood University. Atonte is a licensed family therapist and will serve as the school’s licensed mental health therapist, and Myers will serve as head dean for the freshman men’s dormitory.
When asked about possible impacts of members choosing to support a virtual church and abandoning their local church, Jules was not worried. “I’m not concerned about people leaving their brick-and-mortar churches to go to a virtual church,” Jules said. “I have always said that if a pastor is scared about losing members to any other congregation, any other preacher, or any other establishment in town, you should lose them. If you are doing what is right and people still leave, it is a free country. You do your best to minister.”
NEC associate secretary Nicardo Delahaye, agreed. “The online church is catering to a different audience. We are going after two different demographics.” He added, “I don’t think [Living Manna] will be poaching members from our brick-and-mortar churches. If anything, [Myers] may supplement their religious content and religious diet, but I don’t think he will be necessarily detracting from them. I think some of our members in the brick-and-mortar churches appreciate the history of their church, the fellowship, the social structures that connect them to one another. The challenge with the virtual church will be trying to foster the congregation into seeing themselves as a system.”
“Online church isn’t for everybody, but it is for some, and that number of people is pretty big,” Myers said. “There are some people who won’t walk into a church building, but they will watch online. We don’t want to come off as competition or a threat to any church. That’s why our emphasis is not on moving Adventist members into Living Manna but on getting new members who are not already in our churches. Hopefully, we will also help fill other churches.”