How Churches in Oklahoma Are Responding to COVID-19
Many churches worldwide have canceled their in-person services to combat the spread of novel coronavirus, but some are finding new ways to reach congregations.
Over 50 churches throughout Oklahoma are now offering online services.
One of the local churches offering online viewing options for the first time because of COVID-19 is New Hope Church of Christ in Edmond.
“I intensely miss my brothers and sisters in Christ,” said Cody White, NHCC member. “It’s not the same without the fellowship.”
White and his wife, Miranda, have watched their church’s service live on YouTube for the past couple of Sundays. NHCC has also implemented new initiatives since the church’s closing due to the coronavirus, including grocery deliveries and passing out communion to people’s doorsteps.
Also in Edmond, Henderson Hills Baptist Church has offered online services for as long as HHBC member Lance Newbold can remember. Newbold has been attending HHBC since 2007.
However, since the coronavirus pandemic, the past two Sundays HHBC has offered a live church service on its Facebook page for the first time. Newbold said HHBC live streams their worship band, prayers and sermon from the pastor.
The church is also thinking of going live on YouTube soon, according to Newbold.
HHBC is one of many churches in Oklahoma to cancel their normal community groups and other programming in light of social distancing. Newbold said his Sunday school class has moved their meetings for the first time to Zoom, a video communications app.
Their Zoom meetings last for about 30 minutes, with prayers, prayer requests and a study, as opposed to their normal hour-long meetings.
Newbold said they had about 30 of the 40 members on Zoom in their class, which is slightly more than the number of people who show up in-person to his class.
“A lot of times, the folks in our class are serving somewhere else, like the cafeteria or the kids area — without any of those other distractions, I actually saw people on Zoom that I haven’t seen in person in months,” Newbold said.
Despite the free time of some members and the convenience Zoom offers, Newbold’s Sunday school class does have concerns regarding not being able to have in-person fellowship.
“Our concern is people kind of drifting off as people are becoming more and more socially isolated,” Newbold said.
People who suffer from anxiety or depression may need face-to-face interaction, Newbold said, so Zoom meetings or texts and phone calls may not be the relief they need.
“It’s one thing to sit in the worship center and be with your fellow believers, versus sitting in my living room and getting distracted by my phone or what my dogs are doing,” Newbold said. “That’s kind of a challenge that I’ve found myself battling through, staying focused on what’s going on in the screen in front of me.”
Barry Foister, a First Baptist Church of Piedmont member also said, “it’s not the same experience.” His church has always offered online viewing as well.
FBCP is looking at offering a live prayer via Facebook on Wednesdays soon. Foister, who is also an adjunct engineering professor at the University of Central Oklahoma, said FBCP is hoping to open its doors again by Easter.
Since there is more visibility with more churches offering online services, Foister said he hopes people who may be visitors will want to join in fellowship in-person when churches are open again.
Furthermore, Newbold said a common fear of the coronavirus is uncertainty, that “it’s going to get worse before it gets better.” However, HHBC’s pastor John Wohlgemuth has told his congregation that this time is an opportunity to show people that “God is in control.”
Despite some fears surrounding COVID-19, Life.Church has seen an increase in people choosing “to become followers of Christ,” according to Rachel Feuerborn, Life.Church public relations manager.
On March 14 and 15, 947 people became followers and on March 21 and 22, the number rose to 1,410.
“Even with so much uncertainty in the world, it’s been incredible seeing people turn to God for hope,” Feuerborn said.
Life.Church can calculate their YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitch and Church Online (Life.Church’s in-house platform developed in 2006) viewership through analytics included in the apps. Throughout the week, there are 90 digital church services happening.
“Church Online offers the same opportunities as an in-person church experience, including worship, one-on-one prayer, biblical teaching and community through live chat,” Feuerborn said. “Nearly 700 volunteers serve from more than 50 countries to assist with prayer, encouragement and pastoring at each online service.”
Since the closure of all their locations to combat COVID-19, Life.Church has offered Midweek Worship Service on Facebook and YouTube, which is a new way their staff can connect with members.
Additionally, Life.Church allows other churches worldwide to use their Church Online platform. Feuerborn said 15,000 churches have signed up to use their platform in the past few weeks.