A Year with Zoom
This Sunday, it will have been a year since we started meeting online. We never planned on that being the case, and several time along the way, we have considered going back, but other than meeting twice in an outdoor setting, it has been a solid year of meeting on Zoom.
It might be helpful to know why we made that decision, since under other circumstances, I think we might well have chosen a slightly different path. As far as I know, Immanuel is the only church in the IBC to co-own their building, together with a national church. It is a unique situation which works surprisingly well. In addition, we have a Romanian church which has been renting space from us for the last several years. The wonderful thing is that (normally) the space is always being used for Kingdom purposes. But it also reduces the flexibility on when we can meet. Our normal time for worship on Sundays is 12:30, after the German congregation meets and before the Romanian congregation has their service. This also works surprisingly well, even though it is obviously the time when many people would be having their mid-day meal. It is hardest on the younger children, but with all the activity on Sundays, most kids are fine.
As the pandemic hit and we moved online, we made the decision to move our service time to 11:00. While the 12:30 time works when you are doing in–person worship, it is certainly not an ideal time for an online service, especially for smaller kids, who are now wondering why they are home, but lunch must wait.
Ultimately, this became one of the key reasons we remained online. To return to the building, meant returning to the 12:30 time slot. Not only that, but any return, while bearable for adults, would be extremely challenging. There could be no singing and no children’s program or Sunday School. Social distancing was required, and a seating plan was in place that often would not allow for entire families to sit together (Because we had three congregations, a set seating plan with pairs of seats distanced from one another was decided upon).
Still, we might have given it more consideration, had we not discovered some things which made our online worship a significantly more attractive option. In these last 12 months, we have continued to grow — even as we have continued to see people transition away from Wiesbaden. We even have those who are not yet believers find us online and begin to attend the services on a regular basis. They ask questions and have even connected beyond the worship service.
When I consider the reasons why it has worked well for us, I think the best answer I can give is that we have tried very hard to create an atmosphere which helps people connect with what is happening. They are not just observers, but participants.
This may seem a bit counter-intuitive when you find out we use the Zoom Webinar format, which means that only those who are leading the service can be seen and heard, but we work hard to interact with those attending in a personal way. So, for instance, we have a kid’s time in which we might have a live kid’s sermon or show a music video where we encourage the kids to dance with those on the video. In our prayer time, those attending are encouraged to post prayer requests and praises in the chat window. We greet one another via chat as people arrive. The music used is not just the YouTube version of songs, but our own praise team who we recorded singing the songs. We have done the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis and even had a baptism – recorded in advance and then shown on Sunday. We rotate those who participate in the service so that it isn’t always the same people who are seen. We use polls and the chat window so that people can interact, even in the message.
As Germany has spent a good portion of the last several months in a fairly tight lockdown, almost everything has moved onto Zoom, including men’s and women’s ministries, weekly Bible study and even a 21 Days of Prayer emphasis during which we had prayer meetings three times a day. All in all, God has used this gift of technology to minister not only to our church, but to our community and even people around the world who have joined us. That doesn’t mean we don’t look forward to being together in person, but when we do, we plan on bringing Zoom back with us. We could never have imagined living life together on Zoom, now we can’t imagine life without it.
by Nick Howard
Immanuel Baptist Church, Wiesbaden, Germany