The Unseen Congregation

The Unseen Congregation

by John Partridge

You might have noticed that I’ve been trying something new.  It’s not totally new, but I’ve been trying to do it more consistently.  What is it?  I’m trying to remember that our entire congregation isn’t sitting in the sanctuary but is gathered, collectively, online as well as in the pews.  I read an article recently that resonated with me when it said that those of us who were livestreaming should address those online as if they were present.  The goal is for us to make those on-line feel as if they are included as participants in worship and valued members of the congregation and not just watching church on television.

For most of us, the online part of our ministry is invisible and that’s why I have sometimes given a statistical summary at the beginning of the year.  With all the busy-ness of Covid I didn’t do that last year, but I think that it’s still an important reminder that our ministry is larger, and spread wider, than just the people that we see in church on Sunday morning.  That has been true since I first started posting sermons online in 2008 or 2009, has been growing in importance ever since, and grew even more as everyone went online during this pandemic.  Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

In January of 2018, Christ Church had 172 “followers” on Facebook.  By 2021 it was 228, and this past year it grew to 248.  By internet standards this is still a small circle of influence, but it reminds us that whenever we post sermons, or announcements, news, photos, or anything else about our church, there are more people watching than we might think.

The same is true of our Sunday morning messages.  As I mentioned, I have been posting the text of those messages since 2008 or so, and tracking subscribers since 2009.  In October of 2009 a 3 (three) people downloaded a Sunday sermon, but today that number has grown to almost 700 per month.  Subscriptions to those messages have grown from 333 in December of 2019 to 411 today.

And that brings us to our YouTube livestream.  When COVID-19 started, we were dumped headfirst into the world of online worship.  We didn’t have time to prepare, and we all thought, at the time, that it would all be over in a few months.  For both of those reasons, we didn’t take the time to launch a new YouTube channel for Christ Church, but instead just used the one that I already had.  We “launched” online worship with the six (yes, 6) subscribers that my channel already had for my random rocket, railroad, and travel videos.  Since that launch, I almost never use my channel for anything other than videos for Christ Church, and our subscribers have grown from 6 to 86.  Over the course of 2021, more than 1300 computers watched videos on our channel and the people sitting at those computers watched a total of 857 hours of video. 

It’s clear that there are a great many “invisible” people behind computer screens who are increasingly connected to Christ Church.  Statistically, visitors will connect with a church online before they even consider stepping foot in the door physically, and some of those online visitors do indeed come inside.  We’ve already brought some of them into membership.  But our reach goes beyond Alliance, Ohio.  We know that some of those who watch our services on YouTube are shut-ins, medically fragile, Covid cautious, former members, family members, and others out of town, and out of state that want to stay connected.  But a measurable percentage of visitors to our YouTube channel were from India, and the people reading those sermon texts this past year were from the United States, Canada, India, Ireland, Philippines, Australia, Ghana, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Pakistan, China, Slovakia, United Kingdom, Kenya, and 37 other countries.

I have often explained that posting sermons online was entirely accidental.  I started copying, and eventually posting, sermons because I type a manuscript rather than trying to preach from a handful of bullet points on a three by five card.  I do that because I’m a better writer than I am a preacher, and because I’ve never had the confidence to preach from a handful of notes.  I have never taken credit for whatever success (however limited) we have had online.  The credit has, and should, always be given to God.  In Isaiah 55:10-11, God says:

10 As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

That is exactly what we are seeing as we continue to grow our presence online.  God is at work, through us, spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ in Alliance, Ohio, and around the world.  I hope that all of us will be mindful that there is an “unseen congregation” worshiping with us each week.  Our worship, and our ministry, reaches far beyond those of us who sit in the sanctuary.

Isn’t God awesome?

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Christmas after Lockdown

Christmas After Lockdown

The last year and nine months has been, and continues to be, a long, strange, whirlwind of constant changes, news stories, changes, adaptations, and continued hope for a return to something approaching the “normal” that we remember.  Because of the threat of the coronavirus, and the statewide lockdown, we were unable to meet in person for Christmas Eve and so we did the best that we could to “meet” one another virtually.  Due to the hard work of our church staff and volunteers, and the amazing video editing of Bob Wallace, we produced a Christmas Eve video that I think surpassed almost any other similar attempt.

But as good as it was, it just wasn’t the same.

No matter how well we celebrated the arrival of the Christ child individually, there was still something missing.  Christmas wasn’t the same without being together.

Families are like that.  When we are apart, we can mail our gifts to one another, but it isn’t the same as being together.  In fact, for many of us, giving and receiving gifts has lost the urgency and the sparkle that it had when we were children.  What’s important, and treasured, now is just being together, seeing one another, sharing our stories and our lives, and just spending time together.

And Christmas Eve is all of that, and more.  Because the Spirit of God dwells within each one of us as the followers of Jesus, when we are together, we feel the presence, not only of other people, but also the presence of God himself.  That’s true every Sunday, and any time that we meet in groups that are large or small, but if you are like me, we feel that sensation of closeness to God most keenly only a few times each year and one of those times is on Christmas Eve.

This year, many of us will, once again, meet together, in person, for Christmas Eve, but we will also be livestreaming that worship service for anyone who is unable to attend or who still feels uncomfortable being around a crowd of people.  Rest assured, however, that we continue to encourage mask wear for everyone in attendance and remember that there is ample room to find seats with plenty of “social distance” between you and others.  In fact, if this year looks like others in recent history, you can probably have the balcony all to yourself.

But, whichever, option you choose, I hope that you will join us.  Moreover, I hope that each one of you will invite at least five others to join us.  Christmas Eve is easily one of the most attended worship services of the year in almost every church in North America and, for that reason, is a time when friends are most willing to accept an invitation to attend. 

Christmas Eve and Christmas are a time when we draw close to one another, and draw close to God, in a way that is both special and memorable not just because of the people, but because it is a time when we encounter the Spirit of God in a special way.  Of course, we will share the extraordinary experience of hearing our choirs, bell choirs, pipe organ, and singing traditional and meaningful carols of Christmas together.  But most importantly, we will remember the story of God’s invasion of the earth and the arrival of the Christ child, who would become the rescuer and redeemer of all humanity.

I hope that you will join us as we draw closer one another, and closer to God, together.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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