How Pastor Hoyt provides spiritual warmth digitally
Editor's Note: The COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed digital discipleship for many churches throughout the Upper New York Conference. The Summer 2020 issue of the Advocate highlights many ways that churches have grown disciples digitally and through other creative ways.The following story about the Rev. Hoyt Brown is one of the stories featured in this Advocate issue.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rev. Hoyt Brown, the pastor at Livonia UMC, wouldn’t consider himself tech-savvy. Learning that churches could not remain open during the pandemic, Pastor Hoyt (as he likes his congregation to refer to him as) decided to learn quickly! Not only did he attend every webinar he could find about how to engage digitally with his congregation, but also, Pastor Hoyt passionately researched what other churches all over the country were doing.
On his Palm Sunday Facebook Live worship service, he told his congregation about a phrase that a church in Oklahoma had been using—"social distancing and spiritual warmth.” Pastor Hoyt then said to his congregation, “that is exactly what we have been doing.”
The platforms Pastor Hoyt learned, the response he got, and his consistent creativity is impressive. Like many churches, Pastor Hoyt made it a point to prerecord a worship service to post every Sunday; he had his small groups meeting on Zoom; and he sent a church update every Wednesday via email. But Pastor Hoyt has done so much more. Here are just a few of the creative ways that Pastor Hoyt engaged with his congregation:
Metimeter Word Clouds
Pastor Hoyt said, “Early on in this crisis, Jason Moore (on a webinar) said a tool like Mentimeter is a fun way to get people involved.” Pastor Hoyt learned how to use the platform and sent out questions for his congregation to answer, such as “What is one thing you miss about attending church?” He would then post a word cloud of the answers on Facebook.
Favorite Bible Verses
To help keep his congregation connected with each other, Pastor Hoyt asked them their favorite Bible verse and why, and then he posted a photo quote daily with a member’s favorite verse. For example, Anabelle Foos’s favorite passages was:
The favorite bible verse posts on Livonia UMC’s Facebook page prompted a lot of “likes,” “loves,” and “shares.”
Praise Band Videos
Pastor Hoyt understands that praise and worship is a favorite part of worship among his members; he said, “I make it a point every Sunday to produce a video separate from Sunday’s message video that is of our Praise Band singing five or six different songs.”
Twice a week, Pastor Hoyt posted a video of himself on Facebook, telling a Bible story; he called these posts “Bible Stories with Pastor Hoyt.” He said, “I saw a pastor somewhere doing one every morning. I thought, ‘I don’t have the energy to do that!’ I did want to give it a try though with the intention of doing one a week. There was so much interest and the interest kept growing so I ended up posting two a week on Wednesdays and Sundays. I kept learning more tools to make these sessions enjoyable for kids like using sound effects with iMovie.”
Pastor Hoyt’s desire to learn how to use technology to keep his congregation connected produced results he could have never imagined. He said, “Our Facebook followers have more than doubled; we are reaching many people from outside of our congregation as well; it’s really been quite amazing!”
As of the writing of this article, Livonia UMC members have started in-person worship following the New York State guidelines, but according to Pastor Hoyt, “the congregation is adamant that online services and engagement need to continue indefinitely.”