Gathering together is a tenet of most of the world’s religions, but with COVID-19 precautions requiring people to avoid groups of 10 or more, churches are turning to technology to keep their congregants connected — from the safety of their home.
Of the dozens of churches in New Braunfels, many already offered some form of remote access to Sunday services prior to the coronavirus’ arrival in the U.S. Since that time, most have expanded their offerings in a variety of ways.
Church at home
“We are not letting this season shake our determination to reach, grow and move the people in our community and surrounding areas,” said Rebecca Foster, executive assistant at Redemptive Grace Ministries. “We want to share the joy of the Lord as well as follow all guidelines that are given for safety. We do not operate in fear, but we do want to use wisdom that we have been given.”
Redemptive Grace live streams several of its services: 10:30 a.m. Sunday services,
7:30 p.m. Friday worship and 6:45 p.m. Wednesday midweek service.
But the church has expanded its online presence in other ways to connect its members, including a night of prayer broadcast to a closed group to adhere to respect the medical privacy of individuals.
“However, anyone can send in their prayer requests to our prayer hotline at 830-822-2913,” Foster said. “The staff member will submit them to the prayer ministers and we’ll stand in agreement during our prayer service.”
Additionally, the church’s children’s ministry leaders are sharing materials with parents and its student ministry is doing a Zoom call Bible study in the book of Mark starting next week.
Similarly, Tree of Life Church live streams its 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Sunday services, along with 12:30 p.m. prayer and worship Monday through Friday and 8 p.m. “encouraging words” — short snippets aiming to help people feel like they’re not alone.
Don Duncan, senior pastor of Tree of Life Church, which has about 1,600 members, said the demographics of a church’s congregation have a big impact on how readily its members accept the new modes of communication.
“There’s a learning curve with an older audience,” Duncan said. “The younger people, the Millennials, are more tech savvy.”
Prior to social distancing precautions, church volunteers and employees often gave members face-to-face assistance with technology questions, but in an effort to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, they are relying on an older, more accessible type of equipment: phones.
“We’re reorganizing volunteers and employees to give phone calls, see where people are on technology, what are their capabilities, assess how we can help them,” Duncan said. “We try to help them see that it’s not so difficult; they just need a coach.”
Additionally, the church has videos available on how to email, join online groups and make donations — another struggle for people with limited online experience.
“Some people still want to drop off donations in person or take a check to the post office,” Duncan said. “They don’t always understand why that isn’t safe.”
Reaching out to touch someone
Beyond virtual group connection, churches are working to connect to congregants on an individual level, and there, too, phones have become the technology of choice for many.
“People are craving voice contact now,” Duncan said. “At a smaller church, it might be easier to have that personal voice contact. Bigger churches may have more access to technology, but not everyone in our congregation can access technology.”
At Redemptive Grace, a call tree reaches out to congregants and other contacts on a regular basis to meet the needs of the people, Foster said, such as groceries, a spiritual need like a prayer request or just someone to talk to.
Staff and volunteers from Tree of Life also use phone time to check in on the physical and emotional well-being of members, paying special attention to the senior congregants — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people 65 and older are at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
“We see where they are emotionally, pray with them, ask if they need food or for someone to bring them something from the store,” Duncan said.
Meanwhile, churches are leaning on each other for support.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie between churches,” Duncan said. “The larger churches are reaching out to the smaller churches, and they’re helping each other out. It’s created a greater sense of unity between the churches. We’re trying to be spiritually responsible — praying for the people of the community, our leaders, trusting God and encouraging hope.”
For more information about Redemptive Grace Ministries, go to redemptivegrace.org or call 830-624-7223.
For more information about Tree of Life Church, go to treeoflifechurch.org or call 830-625-6375.