By Drew Bergman
This article is part of an ongoing series in the Lake Cumberland Current about how churches in the Russell County area are adapting to the social distancing restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
While several churches across the commonwealth and across the nation are making news for refusing to abide by gathering restrictions put in place for the health and safety of their congregations, so many more are taking this as an opportunity to find new ways to serve their communities.
As Brother Ryan Coffey of Russell Springs First Baptist Church says, “Our normal activities and services are closed until further notice but just because our doors are closed does not mean the ministry grinds to a halt.”
Russell Springs First Baptist Church had something of a head start in remote ministries. Their outreach already included a robust online infrastructure and weekly broadcast of services on DUO2, DUO’s local broadcasting channel, as well as a YouTube page they began six months ago. With the technology in place, they were able to adapt fairly quickly.
“We had already had plans to move in this direction,” Brother Ryan said of the remote ministries. And with the shutdown came not only a sense of urgency about converting over, but also a quick realization as to the yearning from people for this kind of access to their church community. “Moments into this our staff and volunteers looked at each other and decided that this was something that has to continue long beyond coronavirus.”
While broadcasting services for DUO2 had given the people of First Baptist the experience to run their production, that doesn’t mean that these first weeks haven’t been noticeably different. “We had essential staff and musicians, just a handful of people in the sanctuary,” Brother Ryan said. “It was a difficult moment to preach to such a large empty room, but at the same time, it was very encouraging to know that people were going connect on the fly. I had a lot of people praying for me and we got through it.”
As with other pastors in the area, Brother Ryan noticed the biggest swing in the online engagement coming through Facebook Live. “We had a great response from that. The video has reached about tenfold what we reach on any given Sunday.”
People have also reached back out with their appreciation for the work done by their churches working on remote. “The response has been through the roof not just from church members who enjoyed that time together being able to see who was logged in with them but also being able to connect with people we don’t normally connect with.”
The global nature of their online work has allowed the message to travel far outside the bounds of Russell County. “Within hours we’d already had a response indicating that people from ten states were viewing. We promoted it as a way for people to stay connected and experience community. Even though it was virtual it was still community. [Online outreach] is not meant to replace the church in the long haul but in the short term, it’s a great way to connect.”
The outreach extends beyond regular Sunday services as First Baptist’s weekly groups are also transitioning to digital spaces for the time being. They are sharing videos and other resources throughout the week which is providing their community “other options for discipleship and Bible study. We’ve got a couple of Sunday school classes that will be using Zoom to meet. Basically, we’ve moved fully online for all of our communities and it has been a crash course this week to how to do that but really has been very effective.”