Churches across Tellico Village have shut their doors over the last month but will look to soon reopen following Gov. Bill Lee’s decision to end a statewide safer-at-home order.
First Baptist Church in Tellico Village held its last live worship service March 15 and has since utilized online streaming to stay connected.
“We’re coming up on six, seven weeks now, and actually, the response has been very good,” the Rev. Charlie Barnard, FBC pastor, said. “My previous churches in South Carolina were not doing online at the beginning, so a lot of my former people in South Carolina were listening to me as well. My daughter put me on Facebook and had quite a few people coming that way. We have had lots of church members put us out to family ... so I’ve gotten emails from Iowa, Kansas, New Jersey, different people that are listening to us online that would have never heard me without this, so the response has been pleasantly good and kind of unique.”
Churches that utilize Facebook Live and other streaming services can track the amount of time someone watches a service.
Barnard said the majority of his viewers on average remain online throughout the entire service. The response has been so positive that FBC will now offer livestreaming for every service from now on.
“You can track how long they stay with you, especially on Facebook, so about 60 percent of the people are staying with us all the way to the end, and I had over 2,000 hits,” he said. “Even when I’m live, I doubt I keep 60 percent of the people all the way to the end, so you know it’s interesting having that tracking available. A lot of people have been saying, ‘Hey, can we keep doing this after we back to live service,’ and we’ve said, ‘Yes, we’re making that commitment to continue this.’ We’ve got people that go off to Florida or Costa Rica or somewhere, and it gives them an opportunity to stay connected with us.”
Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church and Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church have used online streaming as well.
“We were not previously set up to livestream or any type of recorded service or anything,” the Rev. Ingrid Schalk, Shepherd of the Lake pastor, said. “We recorded sermons on our website, but we were up and running, we were livestreaming within a week.”
“We haven’t had church services ... we’re not real high tech, but we’ve been doing services online, and we’ve been doing a drive-through communion every Sunday, so that’s gone over well,” the Rev. Brian Truog, Christ Our Savior senior pastor, added.
Schalk believes online streaming has been a welcomed approach for many church members.
“Our congregation was so appreciative that that gave them some normalcy at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning. They could tune in and we went through the process, ‘What is better, Facebook or Youtube?’” she said. “We chose the Youtube livestreaming, and that automatically records it and they can go back and watch it if they want to. Some members, like their spouse has dementia, they can’t be at worship by 9 o’clock on Sunday mornings, so they can then watch the same worship service that we’ve conducted just later in the day when it’s convenient for them, so that’s been a real eye opener how helpful it’s been to some we were missing.”
First Baptist plans to hold its first live worship service May 17 barring setbacks. Members and staff will continue to abide by federal guidelines to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
“We are doing it in phases with worship only to begin with,” Barnard said. “Our sanctuary seats 435, we have marked it off and in marking it off, we have determined we can seat 170 and still be 6 feet apart, and that’s our plan since we already have two services anyway. We encourage people to stay home if they’re not comfortable, if they’re high risk and so forth because we’re still going to livestream and video.”
Shepherd of the Lake will continue online streaming through May and will evaluate opening its doors in June.
“We’re not saying we’re reopening in the beginning of June, (but) we’re going to remain closed through May and then discern because there’s so many variables, and our council met just this past week, and my gut was saying we need to remain closed for the next four weeks and continue our online presence,” Schalk said. “Because of the nature of our community, we are all high risk. ... We’re going to keep our people safe, that’s just the right thing to do.”
While many questions and uncertainties abound, pastors are still reaching out and encouraging members to keep the faith during this difficult season.
“Our elders and our pastors have been trying to be consistent with phone calls and trying to see what people are doing and making sure they have everything,” Truog said. “We have some people who are willing to make grocery runs or drug store runs if they didn’t feel comfortable going out, just a few things like that. Of course, the sermon messages are connected to what we’re going through as well and trying to encourage people that God is in control and we’ll get through this.”