Victories. They are important to celebrate, perhaps even more so during a challenging year. As the CMBA approaches the end of a calendar year, and in the midst of the holiday season focused on the birth of our Savior, we celebrate things God has “birthed” through CMBA member and network churches during the last nine months.
It’s been widely reported that many CMBA churches adjusted, and in some cases created, their online presence in response to the unexpected effects of the COVID-related quarantine period in early 2020. Many have continued to see strides in ministry to individuals and families that continue to worship online and some are still reaching a larger virtual audience than they previously had in live worship. A significant number of CMBA leaders report a reassessment of all ministries, taking a closer look at programs and making hard decisions regarding some that may not be in line with where their church is heading in 2021.
Within CMBA during this time, UnThriving churches have continued praying for new vision. One has committed to being a part of the Covenant Congregational Pilgrimage process. Others have followed through with plans to multiply, like City of Refuge Church being planted from CMBA Church Network member Riverside Community Church. Rockton Baptist has recently relocated, opening its new location in a former school building.
CMBA churches have continued to see salvations and professions of faith during the pandemic. As the early weeks of quarantine wore on, questions began to arise about holding baptisms and how this could be safely done. Last fall, Sandy Level Baptist in Blythewood committed to a Saturate Evangelism process offered through the South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC). One of three churches guided in the process, Sandy Level leadership tackled questions about the church’s commitment to evangelism and how it would multiply the number of relationships and gospel conversations in which members and staff could engage.
“We had grown apathetic and stagnant in that area. George Bullard and the evangelism team staff at SCBC came and met at our campus. We looked at our community, determined who we are, where we are and the resources available to us. The experience was not a one-size-fits-all approach to evangelism, which was hugely beneficial,” says Pastor Chris Hanley.
The experience jumpstarted Sandy Level’s evangelistic efforts, which continued to grow through the spring and summer. Hanley reports there have been 10 salvations connected to the ministries of his church, more than doubling the number of baptisms it saw the year before. The church held outdoor worship services for six months and during that time baptisms were held in a horse trough. Hanley says one teenager’s family could not attend her baptism, but she was surrounded by youth leaders and members of the student ministry. Another church member started a new small group for international students during the quarantine and led one member to Christ. Sandy Level also seized the opportunity to renovate some indoor spaces while outdoor services were being held.
“Walking through the pandemic has been daunting for a lot of pastors. I’ve been grateful for George [Bullard] who has offered resources and gathered leaders to share and learn from more experienced folks. We have had to prayerfully take the step God puts in front of us, measuring caution and boldness at the same time,” says Hanley.
SCBC Evangelism Team Leader Lee Clamp has been working with Hanley and says one lesson COVID has taught churches is that they cannot rely on programs for evangelism. When programs disappeared and relational evangelism was all that remained, conversion rates greatly diminished statewide. Clamp affirms Sandy Level’s commitment to having personal conversations about the gospel as opposed to program-driven evangelism.
“In the future, churches that win will drive and train their people to pray for lost people, become their friend and have ongoing gospel conversations,” Clamp says.
Another pandemic victory story involves a determined group of Spring Valley Baptist choir members. Customarily the church choir would have held a special performance in honor of the church’s 40th anniversary this fall but, because of recommended safety guidelines, they could not gather in person and sing. Minister of Music & Worship Rick McCollum “orchestrated” a creative solution to this problem.
Permission was granted for the choir to use and share materials for the anthem “Jerusalem,” and then McCollum invited current and former choir members to participate in a virtual performance. He distributed the music in printed or digital formats and streamed on-campus rehearsals through the choir’s Facebook page. A recording guide was developed to help choir members prepare to record themselves singing with the musical track or McCollum arranged the option for any to individually record themselves at the church. A local media company helped compile and edit the 55 individual recordings into one production. The result was a successful presentation that now has the added benefit of being viewed virtually by an even larger audience. Click here to enjoy the performance.
The Spring Valley choir ministry has had to be creative to maintain connections and find new ways to observe the holidays. According to McCollum, members will “play Secret Santa Singer by anonymously sending Christmas cards with gifts cards to fellow choir members,” and sing for nursing home and retirement center residents through livestreaming events this month.
“Our choir has developed more missional ideas of reaching out to our community, knowing that they are struggling too,” McCollum says.