The COVID-19 pandemic has forced countless businesses and organizations to rethink their approach to every day operations. Some of the hardest hit groups include restaurants, musicians, performing arts, and tourism. But what about churches and places of worship?
In Ladysmith, the Oceanview Community Church has found a way to continue service via live-streaming. Pastor Darin Phillips recalls the feeling among church leaders in mid-March when the COVID-19 guidelines were first put in place.
“People were freaked out from everything they were seeing,” Phillips said.
Phillips spoke with other pastors in neighbouring communities about their approach to hosting services in the pandemic. Some chose to completely pre-record sermons, while others chose to livestream Sunday services from church. Some churches chose to deliver sermons without music, however Phillips and the leadership team at Oceanview chose to do service as normal with their band.
“Having the full band right from the get-go seemed to resonate with people more,” Phillips said. “Everything is live, basically the same, people just aren’t here.”
Services are streamed every Sunday through Facebook and YouTube. Since live-streamed service is now the norm for Oceanview, the team has progressively improved the live-stream experience. Phillips said that the team tries to improve the experience each week. Oceanview church member, Jason Hicks has spent hours working on the tech side of the experience.
“He was working at it so hard every week. You can really see it improve over time,” Phillips said. “If there’s a bit of a silver lining to this, it’s that the pandemic has really forced us to improve our online presence.”
Without the pressure of the pandemic, Phillips said it would have taken Oceanview at least a year to develop their online presence to the level it’s currently at.
Another unexpected benefit of the increased online presence is that viewership of Oceanview services has grown. Fire code for the building allows a maximum of 225 people inside the building. Live-streamed services are seeing combined viewership totals of around 300 or more across Facebook and YouTube – with some viewers tuning in from as far away as Toronto.
Since B.C. entered Phase 3 of the provincial reopening plan, Oceanview has allowed a limited number of worshippers into the church on Sundays. Preference is given to seniors, and people who may not have at-home internet access.
“It’s nice to have an audience there. Now when I crack a joke at least those in the audience will laugh,” Phillips said. “Before it was the weirdest thing. I started saying things like, ‘if you thought that was funny give me a sympathy laugh in the comments’.”
When the pandemic abates, and church services can resume to what was normal before COVID-19, Phillips said that Oceanview will continue live-streaming their services.
“We’ll totally keep it going. We’ll mount the camera somewhere different, but we’ll keep doing it because the reach has extended. Even here in town, people who wouldn’t normally come to church have been watching,” he said.
Despite the success of Oceanview’s new online presence, Phillips said the most important thing is that Oceanview has been able to continue sending financial support to charities and organizations around the world.
“$21,000 of our yearly budget is all for global initiatives,” Phillips said. “My great fear was that donations here would stop. It would break my heart to pull the funding from those kind of things. I’ve been so thankful, it’s been amazing. We’re totally fine.”
“We’re down a little bit from last year, but our expenses plummeted. So we’ve been able to keep sending cheques to those organizations doing great things all around the world… Ministry hasn’t stopped, serving hasn’t stopped. I’m very thankful for people being so faithful.”