Evangelical church congregations are usually very robust, buoyant, and physical in their worship. Raising hands, shaking hands, kissing and hugging each other is normal behaviour amongst the brethren. But now with the COVID19 lockdown, all this must stop - even the weekly gathering for Sunday services which is an important weekly event for most Christians. For evangelical churches especially, the Sunday gathering is an explosion of emotional expression, meeting, greeting and singing with gusto the upbeat worship songs.
But now that it has all come to a halt, churches have to settle for the next best thing - praise, worship and instruction via the internet. One church that has gone beyond just pastoring its congregation online is the ‘The Colombo Gospel Tabernacle’ (CGT), led by Senior Pastor Roger Koelmeyer. This church has taken online praise and worship to another level. While it all began with some simple daily messages and the regular Sunday service (online), their latest endeavour to get the congregation more involved in the service was a phenomenal success.
The CGT released a special video on their social media pages (scroll down to view video), which was a worship song put together with most of the members of their congregation joining in from remote locations. The song was a compilation of videos sent in by members of the TAB family (as the church refers to their congregation), recorded in their homes during the lockdown. While it was the same song, it was sung and recorded in multiple locations with different families adding their own colour to it. The church put together all the little clips and the result was a glorious coming together of people, creating a collage of images and voices singing in unison.
The CGT visuals and online ministry leader says that with everyone scattered and unable to meet, the church wanted to find a special way to bring its family together. “We wanted to give everyone a sense of belonging and make the family understand that all of us were in this together. The song was part of our Sunday service, and we asked everyone’s participation. We even reached out to our members who are now overseas.”
The Worship Coordinator at Gospel Tabernacle, says, “Every week we try to get the worship team involved, but all this time it was only the worship team. This time we wanted to rope everyone in so that we could all worship together even though we were in our separate homes. For a first time initiative, it was great, over 50 families joined in, sending us their mini video clips.”
The CGT visuals and online ministry leader says doing church on-line has been a learning curve for everyone, from the pastors who have to record their sermons without a responsive congregation to the choir who sing from multiple locations to be synchronised for the service every Sunday.
In the physical church, people sit upfront and they are a captive audience, whereas online audiences can just leave if they don't like what they are viewing, so a different method of engagement is required. The production team has worked to make the services and all online material of CGT appear as seamless and as interesting as possible.
They had to figure out how to record good audio and understand how to use echo and create the proper ambience, proper lighting, etc. The CGT Production team says the YouTube tutorial videos have helped them a lot in understanding the different aspects of creating an effective video, and they try to incorporate the new things they learn into the content they produce every week.
For the community-based music video that was released, an audio file of the song ‘Praises to our God’ was sent through WhatsApp with instructions on how to create the video clip, given by the worship team coordinator, and once they got the mini clips from the members of their congregation, it was synthesized and put together.
According to the CGT production team, the advantage of the online church is that it has no boundaries in terms of reach, which is much greater than the physical church. However, they also have to look at different mechanisms and creative ways to make it sustainable. “We have to constantly improve, and cannot have the same format throughout. We have to find unique ways to make every week relevant. But as a church, we are very adaptive and committed. We prevail and we do it not for subscriptions or likes on social media, but to share God’s word, and bring hope to as many people as we can during these hard times.”
“While across the globe tens of thousands of churches remains closed, the doors of our sanctuaries remain closed, yet our hearts remain open because the church is not a building! It’s a community, it’s a family, we are the church. While we can no longer meet in one physical location, it has not stalled the movement of the church, instead it has strengthened further where every home of believing families gathering have become a church: a beautiful picture of the church advancing and taking on new ground, digitally to share the hope we have in Jesus Christ with everyone. The Bible tells us in the Gospel of John 20:19 “Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” After all, Jesus Christ is the Risen Savior who meets us even behind the safety of closed doors in times of fear and distress, to bring the peace that only He alone can bring to the human heart. This is our heart in being the church online in a digital world,“ says Pastor Sean Rajapaksa, the deputy pastor of the English congregation.