Many churches turn to online platforms to pastor their congregants as onsite services and gatherings have been suspended since the Chinese New Year in late January due to a type of pneumonia known as Covid-19.
However, the online ministry is a new and uneasy challenge for some local churches who seldom use cyberspace platforms.
New field in both cognition and skills
Before the coronavirus outbreak in the country, a church in Wenzhou which is acclaimed as China's "Jerusalem" never embarked on online ministries. After fumbling for some time, it eventually started broadcasting services online. Pastor R said the church encouraged believers to lead their families to worship and pray at home as it had guided its congregation to establish family worship altars.
Later, the staff observed that the cohesion of the congregation began to disintegrate without the collective gatherings. So they then tried pastoring the flock by sending audio messages to WeChat groups. However it was hard for the members to focus on listening to them while doing other stuff at home.
Two or three weeks ago, the pastor found live video streaming software. Following its simple instructions, the staff could use it to show a scene. However, after speaking with a technician, they chose to broadcast Sunday services on computers and laptops on which the powerpoint presentation of hymns and sermons could be shown.
Pastor R said, "In ordinary times we hold face-to-face services. It is a new pastoring experience for the church to explore live video streaming during these special circumstances. It requires a new set of skills and understanding on the part of the pastoral staff."
It can evoke the feeling of a presence so that believers can lay down their work and sit down quietly to hear God's word. The number of listerners have been high after some rounds, signifying the gradual entry onto the right track.
The church hosts three online gatherings in a week: a Sunday service, a Bible study, and a fellowship. Before this, some believers had forwarded live streaming messages from unknown sources.
Believers are expected to give feedback through videos, audios, or pictures at WeChat groups regarding their spiritual life. A large percentage of them experience family transformation for which they are grateful.
Soon after the conversion of the husband of Sister W, her family has begun "altar worship", sung hymns and worshipped with WeChat groups. Sister Z has a newly baptized husband and a son who studied in a seminary who went back home to celebrate the Spring Festival. She shared a photo of them collectively praying on their knees.
From live singing to live preaching
After exploring different options, a local church in Huanggang, Hubei found a suitable way to broadcast. For two or three weeks it has adopted the online method to live stream services. Brother Hu, in charge of the church, had a hobby of singing on live platforms before his full-time ministry. Thanks to his experience on some platforms and many friends who are engaged in broadcasting, he is familiar with the software.
He and the co-workers tried to use Tencent Meeting and DingTalk platforms, but the present system can be plugged into through WeChat. That is a big advantage particularly for people over 50.
The church temporarily broadcasts Sunday services and contacts the flock through WeChat and telephone calls.
Brother H has a Christian family and has served the church for two years. From singing live to preaching, his path of servanthood is filled with God's grace.
He survived a big explosion while working in a factory in 2018. Having been injured, he was sent to hospital. The treatment began with a craniotomy followed by chest surgery and a back operation. Many churches prayed and Christians fasted for him. It turned out he had only two surgeries and recovered quickly.
"I despaired for my life. But by God's grace many brothers and sisters prayed for me. God saved my life. All the doctors were amazed," he recalled.
After being discharged from hospital, he confessed, "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." Since then, he stepped on path to full-time service.
It is said that there have not been more new coronavirus cases for days in Huanggang and the infected believers of the church have been discharged.
- Translated by Karen Luo