On March 22, First Baptist Church in tiny Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, jumped into live streaming for the first time. Typically, First Baptist pastor Cory Dahl would preach to about 140 people in the church’s sanctuary on Sundays. It’s safe to assume those 140 people loved and appreciated hearing God’s word through pastor Dahl’s sermon. It’s a shame they were the only people who experienced them.
But something changed near the end of March. Within a week of live streaming its worship service and posting the video for others to watch later, the service had been viewed more than 5800 times. People from all over the world watched it.
“We know there were viewers from the Philippines and Thailand,” Dahl said, before rattling off a roll call of states represented by the viewership. “Alaska, Arizona, Alabama, Nevada, Massachusetts, California, Texas and all over Minnesota and Wisconsin. Probably many other states, as well.” Pretty impressive reach for a church of 140 located in a remote town sitting on a peninsula in Lake Michigan 45 miles northeast of Green Bay.
That first service was pretty minimal, with a flute, some kids’ songs with a single guitar, preaching and Scripture reading. The following weeks saw First Baptist’s services grow in both presentation and viewership. Necessity forced the church to adapt to new methods, and because it did, First Baptist is reaching more people in more places with the gospel.
Finding a silver lining in the storm cloud that is COVID-19 isn’t always easy. But as you read through this issue of Point, you’ll see how Converge churches like First Baptist Church Sturgeon Bay not only are adapting but thriving through the uncertainty.
Learning to adapt
Learning to adapt is something we’ve all had to do. No doubt your daily routine has changed. But you’ve managed. You’ve learned to communicate in new ways. You’ve figured out how to entertain yourself and your family when your favorite spots were closed. You’ve made a way to accomplish work and education responsibilities.
I can empathize. I wasn’t thrilled about moving from my workstation at Converge’s office to a small desk in my kitchen three feet from my family’s primary garbage can, while being distracted by my wife and kids (who were also forced to figure out how to live, work and attend school in a new way). But that was the best option. So, I started taking out the trash more often, found a good set of earbuds for background music and continued to do what I do in a different way.
Do you know what happened? I found the way I now do some things works better than the way I did them before. Like First Baptist Sturgeon Bay’s foray into live streaming, adapting methods has led to new opportunities in supporting our unchanging mission.
Putting the mission ahead of the methods
There’s a leadership adage you may have heard. If you’re a ministry leader, you've probably used it yourself once or a thousand times:
Date the method. Marry the mission.
In Hudson, Wisconsin, Faith Community Church faced a similar situation as First Baptist Sturgeon Bay when leaders determined it couldn’t meet as usual due to COVID-19. Faith’s pastor, Tim Porter, and his team had not considered the opportunity to reach people through live, online services until they were forced to do so.
"Now, we're not planning to stop, even as we are planning to gather again in person," Porter said. "Navigating COVID-19 has been difficult, but God has opened new opportunities for us."
Faith Community Church put its mission ahead of its methods. Doing so enabled it to reach its people (and likely others who hadn’t previously been to the church) with the gospel.
Our mission at Converge is to help people meet, know and follow Jesus. We do this by starting and strengthening churches together worldwide. For decades, Point (in various iterations) has assisted in that by presenting the power of the gospel clearly through inspiring stories of God transforming lives.
We’re married to our mission. For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, we will start and strengthen churches together worldwide, and Point will tell stories of how God is using his people to do it. Until death do us part.
Theologically sound. Culturally astute.
Like First Baptist Sturgeon Bay, Faith Community Church in Hudson and about 1400 other Converge churches, Converge leaders had to make difficult decisions when COVID-19 forced us out of our routine. We postponed the planned May issue of Point, already deep into its production phase. Instead, we created an issue devoted wholly to the pandemic’s effects on our churches, our people and our future. It was a significant undertaking that required us to quickly change course and rely on teammates from across the Converge movement. Every person we asked to contribute to this issue not only agreed to do so, but did so swiftly and enthusiastically.
We also knew we wouldn’t be able to print this issue of Point as we usually do. To get it to you on time, producing a digital-only publication was the only way to make it happen.
Our method had to change. And that’s OK. Printing a magazine is not our mission. It’s one of our methods. This pandemic has forced us to examine those methods.
A digital Point was not entirely new to us. Since early 2019, Point has been available in an excellent digital format. If you’re not experiencing it, you really are missing out. Subscribers to the online version immediately receive it in their email inbox upon release. Wherever they are and on any device they choose (phone, tablet and computer), they get an attractively designed issue of Point that is easy to read and share.
If you now have a print Point subscription, you can experience the same convenience as online subscribers by switching to a digital subscription. Just as First Baptist Church Sturgeon Bay discovered with its online worship services, you’ll find that a digital issue of Point will greatly widen your reach. By sharing it with everyone in your network, wherever they are, you can more effectively share the gospel and stories of God’s love.
One other obvious by-product of a digital-only format is the elimination of significant printing and postage costs. These financial savings will help Converge continue to fund vital ministries and global missions so that more people can meet, know and follow Jesus. There’s that mission statement again. It's a part of everything we do.
As Converge president Scott Ridout says, we need to be “theologically sound, but culturally astute.” We will not compromise our theology. We’re married to our God-given mission.
On the other hand, our methods are tools that need to be updated over time. As the world moves more of its life online, we are increasing our focus on our digital magazine. Will you join us by switching your print subscription to a digital subscription. And, if you haven’t yet subscribed, make sure to get your free subscription today.
Thank you for joining Converge in our mission, which will not change even as we examine our methods. We look forward to sharing the inspiring stories of God working in and through his people for years to come.
Mickey Seward, Contributing writer
Mickey Seward is a freelance writer and editor. He served as Converge's director of communications from 2017-23.