Social distancing guidelines have been in place for awhile now. In order to slow the spread of COVID-19, schools, businesses, churches and more have been faced with the challenge of getting used to a new normal.
For churches, who aren’t currently allowed to meet for Sunday services or other gatherings over 10 people, this has meant a shift to online ministry. Most area churches are now offering live streamed services online, including Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Fontanelle.
Pastor Steven Broers celebrates a decade serving the Fontanelle church this week. It is the second church he’s served since his ordination.
Broers said ELC has in its mission statement that they will bring people in to send them out. But with the virus spreading and one of the main ways to combat it being social distancing, bringing people in is a concept Emmanuel Lutheran and other churches have had to reconsider.
A statistic Broers saw once said that about 80% of people nowadays have a social media account. Also, Broers has observed that the term “regular attender” for church-goers once meant you attend church weekly. Now that might mean you only attend a couple of times a month.
Putting those two factors together, Broers helped lead Emmanuel last summer farther into the digital age. They’ve had a website and Facebook page for some time, but they began using them to live stream services in August. A way for congregants to give financially online was also started up. Since then, Broers has begun a couple of different weekly devotionals or Bible studies that he broadcasts live. Funerals are broadcasted live only if the family consents to it.
Little did Broers know, Emmanuel would benefit from its already established online presence when a pandemic like COVID-19 came about, allowing them to reach much farther than the average of 140 attendees they would usually have at Sunday services.
“At the time I just thought it was an additional ministry or an additional outreach,” Broers said of starting these online formats for ministry. “Now I’m so glad God was thinking ahead.”
In this season the world is in, Broers has received phone calls or messages from other clergy in the area wanting guidance from him of how to start an online ministry of their own.
For the time being, ELC’s weekly services generally have under five people in attendance who make Facebook Live broadcasts happen. Instead of a praise team leading the music at the Sunday contemporary service, Broers leads the singing with Kellie Mangels playing piano and her son, Matt, playing drums.
To have these systems in place has lessened the stress of this situation on the church, Broers said.
Broers is sad that Emmanuel and other chuches won’t be able to celebrate Easter together in person Sunday but he’s glad his community will be able to be together at least digitally on the day Christians worldwide yearly celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
There will be no Easter lillies, trumpets, shirts and ties or dresses, but they will still have each other. Broers sees the church not meeting in person as a way they can love their community.
“We will miss the community, it’s a celebration,” Broers said. “Loving our neighbor means we care for our community as well. That means we don’t want to get people sick just because we want to worship in person. We can still worship God from our homes, that’s what’s so great about technology.”