In this season of digital services, the Somerset church, in collaboration with Restoration Ministries and the Pembroke and Rockaway churches, presented a timely, thought-provoking, robust evangelism series on the theme “No Fear: The Lord Is My Rock.” For two weeks in November 2020, Rupert Bushner, Jr., co-pastor and evangelist at the Patmos Chapel church in Orlando, Florida, delivered power-packed sermons that encouraged viewers to be faithful to God, “our rock, our fortress, our deliverer, and our strength” (Psalm 18:2).
In the lead-up to the series, as “Super Tuesday” (prayer meeting) viewership increased, excitement built, and listeners were encouraged to invite friends and family to the meetings. But how successful would two weeks and 14 sermons of online evangelism be? Baptisms are high on the list of desired results. So, how do you effectively appeal to people to decide for Christ when there are no physical contacts, and people can hide behind a screen?
Kenneth Manders, Bermuda Conference president, pastor of the Somerset church, and host of “No Fear: The Lord Is My Rock,” said, “I knew the dynamics would be different. Our goal was never reaping, but, rather, interest-gathering. Twenty non-Adventists expressed interest in receiving the free offer of Seventh-day Adventists Believe, the 28 fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. From that 20, six or seven individuals, some from overseas, expressed interest in receiving Bible studies.”
Gina James requested the book. A coworker invited her to the online meeting. “I enjoyed it. Although I would have attended an in-person meeting, I preferred viewing from the privacy of my home, as there were no distractions, and I could focus on what the preacher was saying. I was better able to listen. All of the sermons did something for me, and my faith is getting stronger.”
“The series was a teaching and learning experience for us,” said Sandra Ashe of Port St. Lucie, Florida. Pastor Bushner was informative and inspirational. A sincere man of God, he exuded spirituality through the written word, the precious book, the Holy Bible. We enjoyed all of the pastors. Pastor Michelle is a beautiful prayer warrior, and her prayers left us feeling uplifted every night. We were truly blessed.”
“The results are exciting,” said Manders. “People I don’t know have called me to say they thoroughly enjoyed the meetings. One benefit was that the online platform provided a non-threatening environment for the unchurched. They don’t have to come into a building; they don’t have to show their faces. They’re unidentified, but they’re benefiting from the nightly services. Another is the cost savings. When you factor in airfare, accommodations, food, and honorarium, the savings are in the thousands of dollars.”
However, virtual religion can have its challenges in that “it does not provide opportunities for direct contact,” said Manders. “There is no way of tracking YouTube or Facebook viewers. It isn’t easy to clinch a decision because people are in their homes. It’s easier if the individuals are in the building. Behind a screen, it’s easy to say, ‘not yet!’ I fear this will become the new normal; that people will feel comfortable staying at home, and some may not come to church, preferring the online platform. It’s a learning curve for those of us anxious to see people join the church.”
Damon Hendrickson, co-host of the series and pastor of the Rockaway church and Restoration Ministries, believes that given the season of COVID-19, the online evangelism series presented a tremendous opportunity for innovation. “Normally in evangelistic meetings, what we would count as ‘success’ is the number of baptisms, but I think this was a success in terms of collaboration between three or four churches. I saw us come together and nightly support the meetings, and there were Bible studies that came as a result.
“This virtual ministry has also provided us with another avenue to reach people outside of our borders. If this gospel is to be preached to all the world, and it is, then it’s for the Seventh-day Adventist Church to embrace this technology so that we can share our unique understanding of the Bible and reach out to individuals all across the world.”