By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
ALEXANDRIA, La. (LBM)–Louisiana Baptists continued to adapt, March 22, to the statewide public gathering restrictions resulting from the worldwide coronavirus crisis, again using new or expanded ways to worship corporately, although for some this meant being together, remotely.
Some smaller congregations met in their regular worship centers, given the 50-person public gathering limit was still in effect Sunday morning.
Some took novel approaches, while depending more heavily on their social media presence than before.
Tioga First Baptist Church hosted a drive-in service, with nearly 50 members parked in their cars or sitting in lawn chairs — six feet apart — with the singing led by Molly Johnson and the preaching by Pastor Tim Hisaw amplified by a portable sound system.
The usual “amens” were replaced by car horns in unison.
But the congregation also broadcasted the service live through its Facebook page.
“The drive-in church exceeded my expectations,” Hisaw told the Baptist Message. “It was good to see everyone’s face, even if we couldn’t shake hands or hug necks. Like the Marines, the church will improvise, adapt and overcome.”
Alto Baptist Church saw a 50 percent increase in attendance through its drive-in church service.
Pastor Alan Miller said the Richland Parish Sheriff’s Department helped direct traffic, which seldom occurs in the community.
“It was a spirit-filled service of hope and encouragement with people worshiping in their vehicles that seldom ever, or never, have attended,” Miller said. “Our church family is very close and it was important for us to worship together and remain compliant to federal and state coronavirus mandates. Drive-in church, similar to the old fashioned drive-in theater, was one of our best ministry opportunities to reach our rural community with the Gospel. Our church is growing and we believe this will give us even more growth. I love my congregation and it was such a blessing for us to be together today.”
Western Hills Baptist Church in Shreveport reported a high-energy drive-in service, which moved some to exit their cars and briefly stand within the recommended distance of six feet apart from one another during the worship.
“Several said they couldn’t just sit in the car; they had to stand and praise,” Pastor Joey Ketchum said. “It took a lot of work to make it happen and it was so rewarding to see our people praising God in our drive-in worship service.
“Satan worked overtime trying to keep this from happening,” he said. “We had everything setup, trying to get it all dialed in, and the radio feed to broadcast the service to the cars was buzzing! I scratched my head, and went to work isolating the issue. Once I got that figured out, my keyboard kept giving an error message. Once I got that figured out, the Internet stopped.
“Through it all, God was magnified,” he continued. “The end result was so worth it! It is hard at times to wear all the hats, but seeing folks catch the vision and thinking outside the box was so amazing.”
The Westside Emmanuel Baptist Church in Bogalusa also held a drive-in service. But it experienced a particular blessing online, logging more than 3,000 views for its first ever Facebook Live worship service.
“While only some of the worship team was able to participate due to current restrictions, those in attendance participated with honks and flashing lights as the name of the Lord Jesus was proclaimed,” said Pastor Marcus Rosa.
During the invitation, Rosa asked for responses by text message as the worship team played “Cornerstone.” Rosa said numerous prayer requests and personal ministry needs were shared.
Grace Community Baptist Church in Iota drew 30 people for its drive-in service, but reached more than 800 through its Facebook Live stream.
“I could feel the presence of the Lord in a way I’ve never experienced before,” Pastor Kevin Colson said. “It wasn’t about the turn out, it wasn’t about the results, and it wasn’t about the offering. It was about meeting the needs of the people. People needed to feel some sort of normalcy and we as the church was able to provide them with that.”
First Baptist Church in Pollock had 19 people (who sat six feet part from one another on the pews) attend its service inside the worship center. Pastor Brian Gunter said 60 viewers tuned into the church’s Facebook Live stream at 11 a.m., but that number increased to 2,000 by 8 p.m. Sunday.
He plans to hold an online only service this Sunday and share an online devotion nightly on ways to seek revival in the nation.
“This was the hardest sermon I ever preached in my life,” he said. “I believe God is using our present crisis to humble us. I preached that we need to repent our sins and plead for God to have mercy on our nation by turning us back to him.”
First Baptist Church in Vidalia utilized multiple digital tools to reach its audience.
Since keeping the small group connection was essential, the church leadership created a Facebook group for every Sunday school class to use and maintain a connection throughout the week beyond Sunday mornings. Lessons were taught through Facebook Live or Zoom.
During the week, Children’s Minister Carrie Vest will use Zoom to engage children by equipping their parents with games and Scripture throughout the week.
The worship services were broadcast simultaneously on YouTube and Facebook through the program Castr. Pastor Wes Faulk said the live stream had more than 3000 views, well beyond its weekly average of 400 worshipers on campus.
“Reflecting back on [March 22], digital small groups nor services are a replacement for real person to person fellowship,” Faulk said. “That said, we are using those means to encourage our people to reach out and be the body through the week. We challenged our young adult to serve our over 60s, and communicates the need for all to minister and encourage our widows in this season.”
365 Church in Keithville reported that its digital service on Facebook and Instagram drew 80 viewers, double the number of persons who worship on campus on a Sunday morning.
Pastor Mike Welch said they plan to have a virtual high attendance day next Sunday.
“It was really cool to see our people not only watching the stream but sharing and hosting watch parties on Facebook,” Welch said. “We even made some contacts with folks in our community that don’t attend church anywhere and we will visit with them when all this coronavirus stuff ends. It’s a good way to reach out in a difficult time.”
First Baptist Church in Haughton reported more than 450 views during the Facebook Live stream of its worship service. The church also employed its website to broadcast the service. Sunday school classes met through Facebook Live or Zoom.
“We have been overwhelmed by the response from our service,” Spinney said. “We are praying God sends revival through this rather unique time of ministry.”
Satsuma Baptist Church in Livingston reported 149 views for the worship service on its YouTube channel, compared to 100 people who typically attend services on Sundays.
Pastor Brad Delaughter led a church-wide Sunday school class through the GoToMeeting app, and next Sunday each individual class will meet using various online methods. Deacons in the church were assigned to connect with members and prospects each week, Delaughter added.
“Even during this time the church is responsive and positive,” Delaughter said. “We are making group chats and the church is staying connected.”
Delaughter said God is opening the door for ministry like never before.
“God is using this crisis to grow His church,” Delaughter said. “Throughout history God has used times of crisis to stretch his church’s faith and provide her opportunities to show the love of God to the world.”
First Baptist Church in Bossier City, which usually averages 1,700 people for its services, had 2,000 tune into its Facebook Live stream, and by 8 p.m. that number had increased to 4,000. The church also broadcast the service through its website.
Pastor Brad Jurkovich said the church has experienced adversity before and is confident they will rise to the challenge again. The campus facilities were heavily damaged a large part of the congregation’s facilities Dec. 10, 2018, but on Sept. 29, 2019, they broke ground on a $20 million rebuild project.
“After our church experienced a dramatic fire across our campus we had to affirm in a very important way that stuff doesn’t ultimately matter and the Jesus truly does,” Jurkovich said. “He is our identity and hope.
“It was no different today,” he continued. “This crisis is affecting all of us. Material stuff ultimately gives no peace or real hope. But Jesus can and does! I am thankful that through technology we can offer the hope of God’s Son to this generation at such a time of crisis.”