Rethinking What It Means “To Gather” the Congregation

Rethinking What It Means “To Gather” the Congregation

At the South Yarra Community Baptist Church (SYCBaps) in Melbourne, Australia, moving worship and congregational life online during our city’s four-month hard lockdown proved so successful that there is now a serious conversation about the possibility of continuing it and not returning to physically gathered worship. This is particularly surprising for us because our worship over the last two decades has been richly sensory and sacramental with a strong commitment to embodiment. We did not anticipate it adapting well to an online format. 

What people say they value most about our worship is its radically participatory congregational style. Every regular participant has parts of the Sunday service that they lead, usually from where they are sitting. For most of a pre-COVID worship service, there was no one up front. Everything happened from within the circle, and everyone had a part to play. This meant that when we went online, the common practice of pre-recording or live-streaming footage of a few key leaders conducting a service from the church would have been a big turn-off for our people. It simply would not be “our” worship. We needed to find a way to “gather” the congregation online for a real-time, live, participatory event in which everyone could contribute to making the worship happen. We knew we would have to give up some things, but the congregational participation level was non-negotiable. 

Gathering on the Zoom platform and screen-sharing slides with texts, music, and visual imagery enabled this for us. Using Zoom’s side-by-side mode allowed people to see both the slides and most of the congregation at the same time. The texts of the prayers and songs that people usually had in a booklet now appeared on the slides. Each person knew which numbered slides were theirs to lead and could unmute themselves to do so. To our amazement, this replicated our previous experience remarkably well.

Some things had to be adapted more than others, and some adaptations had surprising consequences. For example, it had been our practice to follow a general confession of sin with an individual absolution in which each person turned to the next, marking the sign of the cross on the neighbor’s forehead and telling them by name, “Your sins are forgiven. Be at peace.” Thus, the absolution was passed right around the room to each person in turn. How could we replicate anything like this online? Our solution was to use Zoom’s spotlight feature to highlight each attendee in turn, so that the rest of the congregation could, in unison, tell that person that their sins were forgiven. It lacks the dimension of touch, but people can mark themselves with the baptismal sign of the cross as they are told of their forgiveness, and those gathered in small household groups can still mark one another. 

What we slowly realized was how important this component of our worship was for achieving a sense of being truly gathered in one another’s presence. One of the problems with online worship for many churches is that since most worshippers are only the receivers of streamed footage that they can watch at different times, it is difficult for them to avoid engaging simply as consumers or spectators. There is a legitimate question about whether going online hasn’t so much caused this as simply exacerbated and exposed something that was already happening in our church buildings. But certainly online, as a viewer, you know that the leaders are not aware of your individual presence, and your absence would make no difference to what happens. But for SYCBaps, in our online gatherings, even if you are a first-time visitor and do not have any parts to lead, when your image is spotlighted and you are addressed by name by the whole congregation, assuring you that you personally are forgiven by God, you are also receiving an unmistakable assurance that your presence is noticed and honored as important.

In the first few weeks when I was frantically busy trying to prepare all our worship materials for this new format, I freed myself from sermon preparation by inviting a few visiting preachers online. We quickly realized that this opened up the opportunity to have visiting preachers from all over the world without having to wait for them to visit our shores in the flesh. Not only has this enabled us to build stronger connections with other churches around the world, but we have been able to hear firsthand reports of how the pandemic was impacting other countries and how the churches in those places were adapting.

Zoom also gave us the means to gather people during the week for prayer and mutual support, something that was obviously going to be more important than ever during months of enforced physical isolation. With our congregation scattered across a large metropolitan area, we had not previously been able to gather people regularly for daily prayer. Lockdown intensified the need and Zoom provided the means. Within a few weeks, in addition to our main Sunday service, we had another 18 short prayer gatherings a week – morning, late afternoon, and nighttime, six days a week. 

At the time of writing, we have been out of lockdown and mostly COVID-19 free here in Australia for three months, but attendance at these daily prayer gatherings has not waned. About half the congregation attends at least once a day, and about three quarters at least once a week. Not only is that a lot more gathered prayer than was going on before, but after each of these gatherings, most people stay and chat with one another. Much of the congregation is spending far more time in one another’s company than ever before, sharing both small-talk and deep concerns. Paradoxically, the physical isolation of lockdown actually brought us closer together! A number of people have said that these daily gatherings saved their sanity during the months of lockdown.

As the months went by, more unexpected benefits began to emerge from this new manner of gathering, and this is where our story begins to move from one about the church’s worship, fellowship, and spiritual formation to one about new possibilities in mission. 

The first thing we noticed was that the numbers at worship were up. The long-term regulars became more regular. Some of this was just that during lockdown, people felt their need for connection more, and there were few competing activities and not much else to do. But it wasn’t only that. There were people whose increasing age and declining mobility had been making it more and more difficult to get themselves to church each week and who found the online worship far more accessible. Suddenly they were there every week again. Others who had moved away permanently or temporarily began rejoining us again because distance was no obstacle. In one amusing case, a young woman who had moved overseas for twelve months and was a bit anxious about missing her church for so long actually only missed one Sunday before we had to move online and she was able to rejoin us from the other side of the world!

Over time we have identified five distinct groups of people who have been significantly advantaged by our move online (in ways that are not specific to lockdown), all of whom have not previously found church working well for them:

  1. People whose mobility is diminished by age or disability. This includes many who are confined to long term care facilities.
  2. People with disabilities that limit their ability to connect in the physical environment. For example, one long-term member has impaired vision and hearing. In the church building, when everyone is leading prayers from different parts of the room without microphones, he cannot hear very much. Online, he can turn up the sound as much as he likes and can magnify parts of the screen when he needs to.
  3. People who live in remote localities that may not have access to a church.
  4. People whose lifestyle means that they are often in different places from week to week.
  5. People who are living interstate or overseas who want to worship with us. 

There are, of course, people for whom the online worship is more difficult, and who hunger for a return to physically gathered worship. Most notable among those are people who spend too much time on Zoom for work, and those with young children who particularly miss the physical activity and physical interaction that cannot be replicated online. 

But we are now facing a dilemma. Attendance from the five categories above has grown through the year so that now if we terminate the online gatherings, we will be casting adrift nearly half the congregation. And although our unique style of worship adapted surprising well to the online environment, it would be very difficult to make it work with a hybrid of the online and physically gathered. For both technical reasons (such as needing to make every person in the church building audible to those online) and liturgical reasons, there is a very real danger that trying to create a hybrid will significantly diminish both versions of the experience and simply create the worst of both worlds. 

So the pressing question is: Is there a new call of God emerging in our recognition of these five people groups who are benefitting from our online worship and congregational life? Knowing that it is not possible for any congregation to be all things to all people, is God calling us to accept the cost and refocus our ministry and mission toward these identifiable groups of people who have not found church sufficiently accessible in the past? We’re not yet sure, and the conversation has a long way to go. 

For Reflection and Discussion

  1. Taking worship online inevitably involves change, and some things have to be sacrificed. Given the longstanding Baptist commitment to the congregational nature of church life, how could we reshape our online worship service so that it encourages the active participation of the congregation?
  2. In some churches, people said their ongoing engagement in congregational life and worship was the thing that got them through the crisis of lockdown. Other churches are beginning to fear that many people will not return because when they most needed their church, it was not there for them. What could be some of the contributing factors for these two divergent phenomena, and what could your church learn from it?
  3. Has your church noticed there are some groups of people whose engagement with the life, prayer, and ministry of the church has increased or been enhanced by the new patterns that have emerged during the pandemic? Are they similar to the groups named in this article? Or could you name other such groups?
  4. SYCBaps Church featured in this article is actively trying to discern God’s calling to them regarding which people group they should focus their future ministry on. Has your church engaged in an active discernment process before? Or during the pandemic? 
United in Christ: The Power of Praying Together

United in Christ: The Power of Praying Together

“… then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”
Philippians 2:2 (NIV)

There is unquestionable strength in numbers, but that strength becomes supernatural when people align around a common mission. In a world that all too frequently seeks to show what divides us, the last year has also revealed what can happen when we allow love to unite us. 

Unity in Action

On March 6, 2020, I boarded a flight in Washington, D.C. It would be my last for the year. A week later, the United States government declared a national emergency, and sobering reports of the rapid spread of the coronavirus began to pour in from Baptist sisters and brothers around the world. Our team at the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) scrambled to respond to the crisis, but it was unlike any we had witnessed in our lifetime. For a ministry whose mission is to network Baptists to impact the world for Christ, how could we effectively do so at a time when the world was forcibly isolated?

When the best step to take is unclear, the best choice to make is draw near.  

Physical distance mandates had separated humanity, but there was no need to socially distance from our Savior. The best choice was to pray. Our team got to work planning a global prayer call that would feature brief interview segments with ministry leaders from an array of institutions ranging from healthcare to higher education. The call would serve as a kickoff to a 24-hour prayer marathon with an invitation for people to intercede in one-hour time slots. More than 600 people from 44 countries joined the initiative, which led to the formation of a global prayer team and intercession for thousands of prayer requests in the months that followed. 

There are few things that can unite the people of God more effectively than praying together. This is the basis for our Baptists One in Prayer resource, a weekly email that highlights several countries each week and how to specifically pray for God’s work in those areas. Over the course of the year, recipients have the opportunity to pray for every nation in the world as well as for specific needs that arise when disasters strike or religious freedom is threatened. Using the One in Prayer email as our guide, the BWA team gathers each Wednesday for a strategic time of prayer for the world and for one another. 

At a time when international travel is limited, you have the opportunity to bring the world to your people. 

  1. Invite your community to sign up for the weekly One in Prayer email at
  2. Set aside a time for a global prayer focus within your worship services, Sunday School classes, and Bible study gatherings.
  3. Seek out and share firsthand prayers from ministry leaders serving in other parts of the world. The BWA shares such prayers in both video and written formats throughout the year. 
  4. Consider placing a map in a prominent place in your home as both a reminder to pray for the world but also as a teaching tool to encourage children / grandchildren to become global prayer warriors.

While we long for the day when Gospel witness can again take place face-to-face, we must make certain we are ready for the doors God will open. We have long prayed for the Spirit to ready the hearts of the lost, but we will have missed the mark if do not seize this time to ready ours. The challenges of this pandemic have prepared the way, softening what was once hard soil into fertile ground awaiting harvest. 

  • Write down the names of five people in your life who are in need of Christ’s love.
  • Ask God to open doors for you to be a source of encouragement and hope in their lives and for the Spirit to bring Colossians 4:6 (NIV) to bear so that “your conversation [may] be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

I wholeheartedly believe praying people are powerful people. Imagine the revival that might await if believers around the world are united in prayer in the pursuit of our shared mission. 

But may we never forget the object of our pursuit is a Person. A post-pandemic world without our ever-present Savior is a sad world indeed, so let us pray together as Moses did: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here” (Exodus 33:15, NIV). Lead us on, Lord.

For Reflection and Discussion

  1. Why do you think prayer is often perceived as the last resort rather than the first step?
  2. In your spiritual life, has prayer felt more like a passive step or an active one?
  3. What steps can you take to incorporate a global prayer focus into your daily life? Into your community? 
  4. What lessons have you learned during this season that you can share as part of your Gospel witness with those seeking answers? 
  5. What steps can and will you take in your community to ensure no one loses sight of our shared mission?
Dios no está en Crisis

Dios no está en Crisis

Aunque ande en valle de sombra de muerte, no temeré mal alguno, porque tú estarás conmigo; Tu vara y tu cayado me infundirán aliento.

Salmos 23:4 (RVR1960)

A veces con frío, a veces con un poco de sol, a veces con mucha interrupción de los sonidos de nuestro alrededor, distracciones e incluso con sillas no tan cómodas, a veces con muchos espectadores que hasta sin silla quedábamos algunos de pie. En otras ocasiones compartiendo folletos evangelísticos a los que pasaban o llevaban a sus hijos o perritos al parque, y también a todo pulmón predicando a Jesús a través de un megáfono tratando de alcanzar el oído de quienes estaban en casa o en los alrededores del parque, incluso, a través de nuestras mascarillas, distanciamiento y alcohol antibacterial queríamos hacerles saber a todos que hay una esperanza en tiempo de crisis, que hay un Dios que está vivo y obrando en medio de tan escalofriante escenario mundial. Este es el pequeño escenario que te puedo describir, para que conozcas un poco de como ha sido el trabajo misionero y por supuesto eclesiástico de la Misión Bautista Gracia y Verdad, en Villa Victoria, Lima, Perú en un pequeño parque del mismo sector, en este contexto de pandemia. Y te preguntarás; ¿por qué se reúnen en un parque? Porque las iglesias están cerradas.

Si bien es claro, el mundo atraviesa un tiempo de “crisis integral”, y cuándo me refiero a integral, estoy queriendo comunicar que es una crisis en todo sentido, no nada más en la  parte de salud, sino también esta crisis ha llegado abarcar la parte espiritual, emocional, mental, social, familiar y sentimental de cadaindividuo. Más, sin embargo, y a pesar de ello:

¿Qué está haciendo la iglesia de Dios frente a dicha crisis?, Por nuestra parte como misión y junto a nuestros líderes Deiser Campos y Josemir de Campos e hijos y demás miembros, hemos estado implementando una labor para Él Señor de comunión y formación espiritual entre los miembros de dicha iglesia, también, con valentía y disposición se ha estado realizando discipulado en algunos casos con precaución de manera personal y por llamada telefónica, también evangelismo de impacto o de persona a persona como un signo de compasión hacia aquellos que no conocen al Señor en este contexto de crisis.

Simplemente hemos decidido, que sí Dios no está en crisis, nosotros tampoco deberíamos de estarlo. Todo lo contrario, es nuestro deber propagar y reflejar a Nuestro Señor Jesucristo en esperanza, confianza, fe, valentía y fuerza que sólo Él puede dar y que es lo que el mundo necesita. No somos una iglesia que retrocede ante la crisis, no somos una misión que se calla o sigue siendo parte del problema espiritual en este contexto de pandemia. Hemos decidido creerle al Señor y confiar en Él, para transmitir esa fortaleza y fe que el mundo necesita, tenemos la confianza en que: “Grandes cosas han hecho Jehová con nosotros; estaremos alegres. Salmos 126:3 RVR1960” Oh si, Dios ha hecho y hará grandes cosas con aquellos hijos e hijas que se atreven en este contexto de crisis. No somos como los incrédulos y aunque somos humanos y capaces de sentir el estruendo de la crisis en el mundo, por encima de eso, estamos llamados a ser Luz:

Vosotros sois la luz del mundo; una ciudad asentada sobre un monte no se puede esconder.
Mateo 5:14 (RV1960)

La luz en las tinieblas resplandece, y las tinieblas no prevalecieron contra ella.
Juan 1:5 (RV1960)

Porque así nos ha mandado el Señor, diciendo: Te he puesto para luz de los gentiles, A fin de que seas para salvación hasta lo último de la tierra.
Hechos 13:47 (RV1960)

Así alumbre vuestra luz delante de los hombres, para que vean vuestras buenas obras, y glorifiquen a vuestro Padre que está en los cielos.
Mateo 5:16 (RV1960)

Estamos dispuestos a morir a nosotros mismos con tal de dar cumplimiento con prudencia a la Voluntad de Nuestro Dios. Nuestro vivir en Cristo, no nos hace una iglesia perezosa, negligente o descuidada, sino que, por el contrario, nos despierta, nos exhorta y nos hace activos para vivir vidas justas y hacer el bien. Quiero poder finalizar comunicándoles, que estamos gozosos, por la manera en cómo Dios se sigue manifestando a través de los nuevos y antiguos creyentes dentro de la misión, es una bendición seguir creciendo en tiempo de crisis. Lo cierto de todo, es que, sino servimos hoy en las condiciones que tenemos, lamentablemente y quizá tampoco lo haremos cuando todo esto pase. El problema no es la condición actual, el problema es nuestra falta de disposición para servir con obediencia, precaución y mucha cautela en este tiempo. Sí Dios no está quieto ni callado ahora, nosotros tampoco deberíamos de estarlo.

Dios bendiga, ilumine y guíe sus vidas.

Les amamos en Él Señor.

For Reflection and Discussion

  1. ¿Qué pasos pueden tomar usted y su comunidad para ser una iglesia que no retrocede en una crisis?
  2. ¿Qué crees que significa ser la “luz” en medio de estos tiempos oscuros?
Projeto Cuidar

Projeto Cuidar

A pandemia trouxe para igreja étnica nos EUA, ao mesmo tempo apreensões, incertezas, medos e expectativas. O primeiro choque foi a necessidade de “manter” a igreja sem a possibilidade dela reunir-se presencialmente. Isso trouxe o desafio de encarar com seriedade e determinação o uso da tecnologia e o necessário investimento de tempo, recursos e treinamento, numa urgente imersão nas avenidas virtuais e seus naturais dedobramentos, que fariam sugir a igreja online, presente junto aos que não podiam mais estar presentes. Os primeiros mêses foram de tentativas, estudos, frustrações, descobertas e aprendizado. Depois a igreja foi se encontrando e entendendo melhor como deveria se mover em meio às turbulências da crise pandêmica. 

A Family Church (Igreja da Família) em Windermere, fica na chamada Grande Orlando, na região central do Estado da Florida, nos EUA. Ela é uma igreja de 54 anos de vida, que há 6 anos fez um “merge”  com a CBBO – Comunidade Batista Brasileira de Orlando e, há 3 anos iniciou um ministéiro com hispanos. Hojé é uma igreja com 12 cultos dominicais, relizados em 5 campus, em 3 línguas (8 cultos em Inglês, 3 cultos em Português e 1 culto em  Espanhol). Cada comunidade (americana, brasileira e hispana) precisou buscar alternativas e encontrar caminhos para alcançar pessoas e ministrar a elas a graça de Deus. 

A comunidade brasileria da igreja logo percebeu que alcançaria melhor as pessoas de fala portuguesa através das plataformas digitais. Os brasileiros não reagiram positivamente à transmissão de cultos em tempo real, tampouco gravados. Descobrimos a plataformna Webex da Cisco, e a usamos tanto para a realização de cultos interativos quanto para os encontros dos pequenos grupos que precisamos organizar, para cuidar das pessoas. Durante a pandemia a igreja recebeu novos membros, realizou batismos, iniciou novos pequenos grupos online, os pastores e diáconos realizaram visitas virtuais e até uma conferências jovem – AWAKE 2020 –  totalmente online, foi realizada com inscrições de mais de 7 mil jovens de cerca de 22 países! 

Assim aprendemos na prática o que em muitas partes do mundo, onde os cristãos não podem se reunir em templos, já sabiam: Igreja não é prédio! A igreja de verdade somos nós, espalhados pela cidade, vivendo o Evangelho de Jesus Cristo. Durante o ano 2020, Deus nos permitiu assimiliar esta verdade na nossa praxis de igreja. Até que as reuniões presenciais começaram a ser possiveis, com as devidas restrições e protocolos de segurança. A igreja começou, aos poucos, a reunir-se presencialmente novamente. 

Pessoas dos chamados grupos de riscos, anciãos, pais com filhos récem nascidos e as que nutrem ainda receio de se expor a ambientes com mais pessoas, retardam, naturalmente, a retomada de sua frequência. Os cultos são transmitidos  em tempo real pelos canais da igreja nas redes sociais e também pelo website. Não há pressão nem obstinação para que todos voltem a reunirem-se presencialmente, mesmo estando hoje vivendo na Florida uma realidade bem mais amena, com boa parte da população já vacinada e a curva de contaminados e mortos por COVID-19 em decréscimo. Tudo segue com tranquilidade e a igreja muito zelosa com observância constante dos protocolos de segurança, colocando sempre a segurança de todos em primeiro lugar. Graças a Deus, no entando, nos últimos mêses os cultos seguem regularmente, presencialmente e online, e verificamos cada vez mais pessoas vindo às reuniões presenciais. 

No início do ano realizamos mais uma mini-vigília interativa pela plataforma virtual. Foi uma grande bênção. Durante os momentos de reflexão bíblica, Deus tocou muito em meu coração, mostrando-me que a igreja não poderia de conformar com o papel de trabalhar para se proteger do vírus, de ficar numa posição de retaguarda, reativa às notícias e alerta às orientações das autoridade, ao tempo em que tentava ampliar seu alcanse de vidas pela Internet, analisando métricas e criando formas de estar mais e mais presente online. Isso estava sendo pouco demais… 

A pergunta com a qual Deus sacudiu meu coração foi: Como nós, como Igreja, podemos ajudar os brasileiros que vivem na Grande Orlando durante esta pandemia? Responder a esta pergunta implicava em mudar radicalmente a nossa perspectiva da crise, saindo da condição de meramente vítimas para a de agentes de mudança. Só esta sacudida do Espírito Santo já nos abençoou grandemente. 

Veio logo ao meu coração os brasileros em quarentena. Como ajudá-los? Como demonstrar amor a eles? Como chegar junto com carinho e solidariedade? Não era o caso, necessariamente, de auxílio com comida etc, pois a quarentena não visitava apenas pessoas materialmente carentes. Surgiu o PROJETO CUIDAR

Nos propusemos a identificar famílias brasileiras em quarentena por conta da COVID-19 na Grande Orlando. A ideia era encontrar brasileiros em quarentena, levar a eles o que batizamos de ‘cesta de carinho’, com bolachas, bolos, pães, queijos, sucos, requeijão, chás; também máscaras, alcool em gel e outros mimos. Juntos colocamos uma cartinha demostrando a solidariedade da igreja e também um exemplar da Bíblia Sagrada. 

Formamos as equeipes: Logística, Captação de famílias, Doações e Compras, Organização das bolsas e Entrega. Logo vários irmãos se voluntariaram! Lançamos o projeto, as equipes começaram trabalhar, começaram as doações, os brasileiros em quarentenas começaram ser identificados etc. No primeiro Sábado de manhã, lá estavam as bolsas prontas e a equipe de entrega a postos para a primeira ação de carinho aos brasileiros em quarentena! 

Desde então, cada Sábado, uma equipe sai da igreja com as bolsas, às vezes poucas famílias, às vezes mais. O PROJETO CUIDAR foi uma resposta da Igreja da Família à crise, olhando-a agora como oportunidade para servir e demonstrar o amor de Cristo. Incrivel como esta mudança de perspectiva abençoou e edificou a igreja? 

Logo começaram chegar os testemunhos. Gente emocionada recebendo o nosso gesto como um abraço de Deus em suas vidas. Pessoas escrevendo agradecendo. Sorrisos largos de gente sendo surpreendida com o carinho recebido. Abrir a porta de casa olhar e ver um linda cesta com tanta coisa boa, apenas para dizer: Você não está sozinho! Começou ser uma experiência boa demais para muitos brasileiros. 

Enquanto eu escrevo este texto o PROJETO CUIDAR já havia contabilizado 61 famílias abençoadas! Não é maravilhoso? Já fizemos diferença na vida de 61 familias de brasileros em Orlando, enquando elas vivenciavam a quarentena! Deus seja louvado por esta mudança de perspectiva em nossa igreja! Deus seja louvado por voluntários que abraçaram a visão! Deus seja louvado por nos permitir chegar em 61 famílias até agora, apenas para demostrar o amor de Cristo! 

Na verdade todos podemos fazer algo para ajudar e servir durante a crise. Mas para que isso aconteça, é necessário mudar a perspectiva. Precisamos entender que não somos meramente vítimas de uma pandemia, antes somos chamados por Deus para sermos, como igreja, agentes de mudança. Isso, a igreja é a maior agência de transformação de vidas e de realidades do mundo! 

Realidade não é destino! A igreja, com sua visão sarada e de posse de uma perspectiva transformadora da crise, muda a realidade! 



Lord, we ask for your mercy in all the places where the pandemic is causing the death of so many people. We ask for your comfort for the families who now suffer the pain of the loss of their loved ones. Finally, we ask that you wake up your Church to adopt a different, liberating, peacemaking, and transforming perspective. We pray that the world may believe that you have sent us at this time to activate a true and profound project of change in the world, beginning with ourselves. In Jesus’s name, Amen. 

Para Reflexão e Discussão

  1. Qual tem sido a perspectiva da sua igreja neste tempo de pandemia? 
  2. Será que definir se vai ou não suspender os cultos presenciais é única decisão que sua igreja precisa tomar neste tempo de crise? 
  3. Olhando para a crise como ambiência geradora de oportunidades, quais seriam as oportunidades que Deus tem colocado diante da sua igreja? 
  4. Onde está o foco da liderança da sua igreja, ainda na grande comissão ou alimentando a vitimização? 
  5. Em que o PROJETO CUIDAR encoraja e desafia sua igreja a fazer diferença neste tempo de morte, tristeza e solidão?