Local Waco churches maintain community through alternative digital worship options

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By Alyssa Foy | Reporter

Now weeks into stay-in-place orders from both the City of Waco and State of Texas in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, local Waco churches have implemented and adapted to this new online meeting reality.

Churches all around the Waco area have taken different steps to continue to engage their communities in a time in which they cannot physically meet.

First Woodway Baptist Church had already made some livestream content available prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ronny Higgins, young adult minister at First Woodway, said the church has improved and added to the number of resources available. It has made use of programs like Zoom to help churchgoers continue meeting with their life groups and ministries.

Higgins said the church had previously offered a form of live-streaming, some church members already had some experience with the technology and were accustomed to using it.

“People need that community and churches are doing everything they can to provide it through digital means, which is helpful, but is still really difficult,” Higgins said. “An online community can only do so much.”

Similarly, Lake Shore Baptist Church has been using Facebook Live to stream services for their congregation, in addition to virtual meetings for mid-week children’s time and small groups.

Transition pastor Charles Fuller said that Lake Shore is also relying on some effective “old school” methods to remain in contact with their community.

“Our deacons are working hard to keep our people connected and help our people know that our church is still available to them through phone calls and emails. Sometimes cards and letters,” Fuller said. “Loneliness is a core theological issue that the church has always been called to address. We’re all doing the best we can.”

Drake Osborn, pastor of teaching and liturgy at Grace Church, said he was concerned about a livestream format, but ultimately said that church leadership decided to suspend in-person services and instead move online and have members’ connect in life groups via Zoom.

“We have a strong understanding in wanting to hold the gathering of the body in really high regards,” Osborn said. “We realize it’s not the same … but we are glad we can do something to be able to connect in some way and still worship and hear the preached word.”

Despite the uncertainties of new worship requirements, Fuller said he sees the situation as new opportunities both for increasing membership and collaborating in innovative ways. He said there may be more curiosity about church, and that Lake Shore has utilized collaboration efforts with their sister churches (Calvary Baptist Church, Dayspring, 7th & James, and University B.C.) which has provided unique worship opportunities to the churches.

“It’s the kind of creative experimentation that can be unleashed during this time where everyone is trying new things,” Fuller said.

With community being such a central aspect to the church experience, each of the church leaders expressed a strong desire to maintain a sense of community during uncertain times, but look forward to the day they will be able to return and meet in person with their congregations.

“When this is over, every church will be reassessing not only what is essential to be church, but also what it actually means to be church – whether it’s a season of pandemic or not,” Fuller said.