Digital discipleship catalyzes positive trends in UNY
When COVID-19 swept the world in March 2020, we were forced to change the way we connect with God, the way we worship, and the way we serve. The Rev. Joungjae Jee, pastor at Jonesville UMC in the Albany District, said, “The pandemic mandated us to move our services online.” Interestingly, digital discipleship provided a silver lining during a devastating global pandemic—worship attendance increased for many churches worldwide. And this trend was true for the Upper New York (UNY) Conference.
Churches and pastors who had no experience with technology courageously stepped out of their comfort zones to learn whatever they could to reach people digitally. Bath Centenary UMC in the Mountain View District is just one example.
Bath Centenary pastor, the Rev. Leanne Zeck said, “We’re a small church. Our online ministry that we put together during the pandemic is very bare bones.”
Bath Centenary had an antiquated website, no equipment, and little experience in the digital world. Rev. Zeck said, “We had no knowledge of technology beyond PowerPoint slides.”
Yet, Rev. Zeck and her leadership team took a literal leap of faith into digital ministry to stay connected with their church during the pandemic.
Bath Centenary has two services on Sunday mornings—an 8:30 a.m. traditional service and a 10:50 a.m. contemporary service. A generous parishioner donated a video camera to the church and Rev. Zeck pre-recorded her traditional services and posted them on her personal YouTube page.
She and her praise and worship team used Facebook Live for their contemporary services using whosever cellphone had the best signal and the best charge in the sanctuary on any given Sunday.
Rev. Zeck said, “Right now, our internet issue is still bad—it’s only good in our Sunday School area…for Facebook Live, we have to find whose cellphone is working best in the sanctuary—or who has the fullest charge. We are learning that we will need a second router at minimum.”
Even with Bath Centenary’s basic, nonprofessional digital services, their attendance has grown exponentially. Before the pandemic, their average worship attendance across both services was 90. During the pandemic, they had over 900 people watching some of the initial services.
Rev. Zeck said, “Not only were our church members watching the service, but a lot of people who used to be a part of the church and moved out of Bath to places like Tennessee and Florida, began watching our online services.”
Bath Centenary’s congregation is older and Rev. Zeck thinks digital discipleship has been a great skill for them to learn.
She said, “The church really opened their eyes to doing stuff online…they were hesitant before…We are all getting older…we can’t go backwards; when we get older and become shut-ins or move in with our kids out of town, we can still attend church.”
Even though Bath Centenary has returned to in-person services, they plan to continue the digital offerings indefinitely. Currently, they have between 200-400 people watching the online services and about 60 people attending in-person services.
The church members are becoming more comfortable with technology every day.
Rev. Zeck said, “My SPRC members are hounding my trustees, asking things like, ‘When are we getting this mike?’ or, ‘When are we going to have better internet access in the sanctuary?’”
Rev. Zeck continued, “I have an older congregation who first kind of dragged their feet…I’ve never seen the church get excited about technology. But they are now!”
Digital discipleship not only helped churches across the Conference increase attendance, but also, it provided a platform for giving and the growth of outreach ministries.
Jonesville UMC’s attendance prior to the pandemic was about 150 and the church’s Facebook services have had up to 600-700 viewers per service since the pandemic,” explained. Jones UMC pastor, Rev. Jee.
Rev. Jee said, “We not only attend service together, but we share the news and announcements about the church…so people donate through those announcements to the mission or missions of the month. Each month we have an average donation of about $1,500 to organizations like City Mission of Schenectady, Red Bird Mission, Helping Hands Food Pantry, Emmaus UMC, and over 15 more. Since the pandemic, the announcement heard by the people has increased and participation has increased a lot.”
Jones UMC also plans to continue its digital discipleship platforms indefinitely.
Is your church interested in increasing your church’s digital discipleship? Click here to view the UNY Conference’s website digital discipleship resource section that has a plethora of helpful guides and webinars to support you with everything from creating a website and conducting Facebook Live worship services to creating online giving platforms and video conferencing through Zoom.
Has your church experienced growth in one area or another due to digital discipleship? We’d love to hear your stories. Send them along to email@example.com.
Rev. Zeck wants to encourage people to give technology a try. She said, “Anybody can do it—there are no excuses; just have someone show you how to do it and you’ll see that it’s simpler than you can imagine.”