GREAT FALLS — Churches across the country look different this weekend.
On Palm Sunday, and next weekend on Easter, the pews might be empty, but the chatrooms won’t be. For one Great Falls Church, the transition is easy because online services are nothing new. Harvest Springs Community Church has been streaming their services live online for eight years. That made the change to online-only services during the Coronavirus pandemic much easier than it was for some other churches and organizations.
For Palm Sunday and Easter in April, the church made a few adjustments in order to allow for a seamless, easy streaming experience for their viewers.
“We went exclusively to a prerecorded, pre-developed service this week,” said Lead Pastor Cory Engel. “That was a first for us, just to make sure that as more and more people are engaging, that we were making sure that they had access to the content. It also helped us to make sure that the content that people were connecting to was as good a quality as we could possibly offer.”
The online streams used to be a live feed of a church filled with attendees, almost making viewers feel as if they were actually there. Now, things are a bit different. Cory speaks directly to the camera. With no live audience, more emphasis is put on the online product. That means all hands on deck for the church as they work to keep viewership and engagement up.
“We made sure that all the technical stuff wasn’t going to get in the way, and then we really made sure that our staff was available to interact with people, to kind of say hello in chatrooms, deal with any technical problems people were having,” said Engel. “The whole aspect of Facebook and Facebook Live naturally lends itself to people’s interaction. We’re starting to see now, more and more in the church online platform, which is our specific church-hosting platform because we stream in both places, but we’re starting to see people interact much more in that arena as well.”
Engel says that they must take care not to lose the sense of community provided by church during these strange times. Social media provides a strong connection for many people, but not everyone utilizes it. Church may not be for everyone, either, but for those that it is, it could be the support group that they need right now.
“One of the things we’re utilizing is things like this, we’re utilizing Zoom, we’re pushing small groups and bible studies and classes,” Engel explained. “They’re still meeting, they’re just happening in this context. Those things are happening, and people are starting to embrace that unique dynamic knowing that that’s the only way that we can really connect at this time. It’s been a nice little bridge that’s helped us maintain some of those connections and maintain community, even though we haven’t been able to meet personally and publicly together.”