TOCCOA, Ga. (BP)–Like every Southerner, Andy Childs was thrilled with the Christmas Day snow. Like every pastor, however, he kept an eye on road conditions and the possibility of cancelling services the next day at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Toccoa, Ga.
“Most of the day we watched weather reports, deciding to take a wait-and-see approach,” Childs said. Around 8 p.m. he phoned worship/media leader Caleb Jones on whether to cancel the church’s Dec. 26 activities. Jones had just gone by Ebenezer and reported that the parking lot had ice in it.
An hour and a half later, Childs and Jones had a plan to go ahead with worship — though not at Ebenezer.
Using the social media site Ustream, Childs was able to broadcast from his home while church members logged in online for the 10:30 a.m. service. Jones created a link to Ustream from Ebenezer’s website to simplify the process. “He’s the tech guy; I’m just the dreamer,” Childs, 39, said. “I wanted it to be from our home page and made simple to use.”
Childs’ idea came from using Skype, a free online software application that allows users to make video phone calls. Childs and his wife had used Skype to call her family in Arizona for Christmas. In planning an alternative to meeting at the church building, Childs looked at taping a message versus a live broadcast. Ustream provided the option for the webcast, while 40-50 local churches ultimately cancelled their services.
Church members were notified of the broadcast through the church’s website, Facebook page and e-mails. After a 30-second commercial (required for the free Ustream account), Childs appeared on viewers’ screens with his family’s Christmas tree in the background.
After a brief welcome, the pastor read through Luke 2 in completing a series — “The Gift of Hope.”
“I thought about having my wife sing Christmas carols,” he said, “but she had the flu.”
By Childs’ and Jones’ estimate, more than 280 viewers logged on to participate in Ebenezer’s service, including church members visiting family in California and North Carolina.
What began as a quick fix has opened up ministry ideas, Childs said.
“It’s created a lot of buzz. When we broke down the facts among viewers, we found a lot of senior adults had watched. They were excited about being able to be with the church and worship together even if we couldn’t be at the same building,” Childs noted.
“This has inspired more conversations about how to use technology for ministry,” added Childs, whose church also has a podcast and regularly uploads mission trip updates to YouTube. “We were forced to go on our maiden voyage [with the snow and ice], but it’s steered us into being more intentional on how to use social media to spread the Gospel.”
Scott Barkley is production editor of The Christian Index (www.christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.