Andover Baptist Church is composed of around 200 members. Before the pandemic, we experienced an average attendance of 300 people (including children and youth) across two Sunday morning services each week. Keeping connected as a community of faith has been challenging during this time as physical gatherings for worship have not been possible. Consequently, we have transferred our Sunday services online using YouTube as a live stream platform. We have also created an interactive online community group on Facebook and used Zoom to facilitate our small groups and prayer gatherings in addition to regular meetings. The new initiative we have begun is producing daily devotional videos each week using YouTube as the primary platform for broadcast. Each week of devotions (Monday to Friday) is written and filmed by a single person – either a minister, staff member, leader, or member of the congregation. During the Advent and Easter Seasons, we invited other people from our community to each lead a devotion as we explored the Christmas and Easter stories together. This enabled around 50 different people to be involved.
While our Sunday live stream services on YouTube have been reaching far more people than we ever imagined (in the thousands and other countries), this is fast becoming a place of invitation and exploration for people both inside and outside of our church community. Our daily devotional videos have therefore provided a primary means of communal worship for our more local and integral church community. We have been encouraged to see that, on average, 155 people watch our daily devotional videos on YouTube each day. Viewing figures have ranged between 100 and 517, with higher numbers experienced in the first few weeks.
We found these videos to be effective and powerful ways of keeping our community spiritually “gathered” whilst physically “scattered.” They have also provided a space for a shared experience of daily worship together, and this has instigated a shift away from Sunday services as the sole vehicle for communal worship and spiritual growth. As a result, we have been able to involve a wider variety of people in leading worship and exploring their gifts, particularly the gift of teaching. We feel encouraged that this is a healthier reflection of the priesthood of all believers for our church. Our daily devotional videos have also proved to be a useful evangelistic tool. Using additional social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to share the videos, we have noticed that people who might not have any experience with church or faith have watched the videos and been encouraged by their content.
After more than a year of producing daily devotional videos, we are sensing a spiritual shift within our church community: during this season of isolation and struggle, people are feeling closer to God and connected with each other in a new way. We have also observed this shift in the prayer life of the church, with positive attendance at regular online prayer gatherings. Conclusively, we believe that our daily devotional videos are providing a shared experience of communing with God that is positively impacting personal discipleship and spiritual growth within our community as well as increasing our hunger for prayer and intimacy with God.
Whilst it is evident that the daily devotional videos provide an experience of shared spirituality, they do not fit the mold of a daily office in a traditional way. In order to explore the impact of our daily devotional videos, it is necessary to theologically reflect on the practice of the daily office in a contemporary setting – the digital world.
The Digital Space
As Heidi Campbell identifies, churches that have made a transition to the online domain have employed one of three key strategies. The most common strategy is the “transferring” of an experience of worship or church activity. The next most common approach uses a “translation strategy,” which serves to “mirror or modify specific aspects of normal worship practices.” A rarer strategy is that of a “transformed” experience which abandons familiar aspects of a particular activity in favor of more bespoke formats suitable to the digital space being used.
Our use of video media to produce and broadcast daily devotional videos represents a translated experience of worship. We have taken elements common to a daily devotional time (selected Scripture, a reflection on the text, and a time of prayer) and presented them in a way that effectively translates it across to the digital realm. We found the use of a video format was particularly successful in engaging people of all ages and also in establishing a connection between the person leading the devotion and those participating.
The Daily Office
Using the digital space for our daily devotions has enabled us to set a new rhythm of spirituality for our church community during this time of being physically scattered. The daily devotional videos have created a shared experience which does not require people to be in the same physical space. This has been particularly important as isolation and loneliness have been a primary concern. It has also encouraged individuals and families to set aside time each day to draw closer to God and listen to the Word, knowing that others in the community are doing likewise.
While daily offices traditionally adhere to specific timings, our daily devotional videos permit a more flexible approach. The videos are broadcast around 8:00 a.m. on YouTube and then subsequently posted on social media forums (Facebook and Instagram), which means that they are available to watch at any time. This flexibility enables more people to engage and form their own pattern of personal daily worship. In this way, our devotional videos are providing a daily office for our community that has been translated into a contemporary setting. Just as the daily offices of the monastic period were seen as “an important framework for the development of personal and corporate spirituality,” we are finding that daily devotional videos are having a similar impact for our community during this time.
As a church belonging to the Baptist tradition, we do not have any inherited fixed models for daily liturgy and prayer, such as The Book of Common Prayer (1662) or Common Worship (2000) which are widely used across the Anglican Communion today. This affords us a flexibility and creativity in the way that we construct our acts of worship and prayer, both corporately and individually. The idea of modernizing the daily office does not, therefore, dismiss the value of more traditional models. Instead, it seeks to embrace change and agility in order to speak into a contemporary culture while maintaining that “the only absolute rule is to live a life of communion with God.” This continues to be the focus of our personal and communal times of worship.
Loving God, please continue to show us new ways to reach people using your word and truth. Help us to cultivate healthy communities of faith where people grow spiritually in their relationship with you and in community with others. Amen.
 The Daily Devotions playlist can be found on the Andover Baptist Church YouTube page here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnAeNvu198uAFyk-q5mVNeA.
 Heidi Campbell, The Distanced Church: Reflections on Doing Church Online (Digital Religion Publications, 2020), 51-2.
 Alister McGrath, Christian Spirituality (Oxford, Blackwell Publishing,1999), 129.
 Paul Bradshaw, Reconstructing Early Christian Worship (London, SPCK, 2009), 131.
For Reflection and Discussion
Following our observations over the past year and in light of theological reflection, some key takeaways can be drawn and questions raised.
- Shared Experience of Worship. Using video media and the digital domain has enabled us to create a shared experience of worship that extends beyond a Sunday service. It has also enabled our community to gather spiritually, and this has encouraged more people to engage in worship.
How does a church producing their own daily devotional resources create a gathered and shared experience that is different from other formats? How does this encourage more people to engage (particularly younger generations) and allow us to speak into people’s lives on a more regular basis?
- Engaging with God. The daily devotional videos have not only helped our community to stay connected with God on a personal level but also corporately through the variety of individuals who have contributed.
How can we continue to encourage this corporate engagement with God as we move forward? Are there other ways to produce daily devotions or a daily office that could do this?
- Spiritual Growth. Daily devotional time is one tool amongst many that promotes spiritual growth. By inviting more people to contribute, we are able to experience the priesthood of all believers in a richer way. Encouraging people to use their gifts to build up the church is really important.
How does this new format for daily devotions allow for more people to use their gifts and insight? How can we further cultivate opportunities where the priesthood of all believers can flourish?