Online ministry strategy helps church bridge social distance

  |  Source: Woman's Missionary Union

Crosspoint Church’s innovative Family Missions night is an intergenerational missions discipleship emphasis launched last year. Prior to sheltering in place and social distancing, families gathered each Wednesday evening in the church’s fellowship hall. Since mid-March, the churchwide missions focus has shifted to a weekly Zoom video call. (WMU Photo by Pam Henderson)

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RICHMOND, Ind.—It wasn’t quite the celebration Dan and Chris Conrades had in mind as Crosspoint Church marked its fourth anniversary as a vibrant, growing church replant in Richmond, Ind.

But they still were determined to make the best of a challenging situation as church members sheltered at home and gathered online to mark the congregation’s ministry milestone.

“I cannot believe that today is Crosspoint Church’s 4th birthday!” Chris, the church’s praise team leader, posted on her Facebook page May 1. “Four years ago today we officially opened our doors and began our ministry here in Richmond.

“Today, I wish we were gathering at the church for a big party or cookout,” she wrote. “I miss my church family. But I am celebrating all that I am seeing God doing even during this quarantine to grow our church’s faith and to give them a deeper love for each other.”

Declaring that “I can only imagine what God is going to do in this upcoming year,” she added, “I will warn you now that there WILL be a party as soon as this is all over.”

Pandemic creates ministry challenges, opportunities

In the meantime, the Conrades posted a video on Facebook highlighting church activities and achievements over the past year.

Chris Conrades teaches preschool Sunday School at Crosspoint Church in Richmond, Indiana. Noting that she has missed her 3- and 4-year-old “little people” amid the coronavirus crisis, she hosted a Zoom video call so the preschoolers could visit and play together online. (WMU Photo by Pam Henderson)

They also secretly installed yard signs on church members’ front lawns with the message, “We are praying for you!—Crosspoint Church.”

Several families responded on social media with notes such as: “I absolutely love my church! I mean, what other pastoral families would sneak into my yard late at night to leave an encouraging little gift for my family to wake up to?”

As church replanters, being flexible isn’t anything new for Dan and Chris Conrades. They quickly discovered, however, that the coronavirus crisis created a slew of new ministry challenges and opportunities.

“March 15 was the last day we were all together,” explained Dan, who serves as Crosspoint’s lead pastor. “That same week was when Indiana started shutting everything down. We’ve had to figure out creative ways to keep our people engaged.”

Since mid-March, they have turned to Facebook, Zoom and YouTube to stay connected with church members and the community. A typical week for the Conrades includes live streaming a Sunday morning sermon on YouTube, a women’s video conference call and 16-year-old daughter Ellie leading a Monday Zoom call for Crosspoint’s children and youth.

Chris, who also teaches preschool Sunday School, even hosted a Zoom call with her 3- and 4-year-old “little people,” an entertaining online experience she described as “a little bit crazy.”

Intergenerational missions focus

The Conrades also are coordinating a churchwide family missions night via Zoom each Wednesday evening. It has become the online version of an innovative missions program they launched last year to merge Crosspoint’s missions discipleship efforts into one intergenerational gathering.

Before social distancing kicked in, the basic premise was that “everyone is together in one room and we are using our Woman’s Missionary Union curriculum to pray together, do crafts and Bible studies,” Chris noted. She said a key attraction of the study is the congregation learning about missionaries and missions discipleship as an interactive group ranging from preschoolers to adults.

“One of the greatest impacts that I’ve seen is that people are just assuming that we are going to be doing missions,” she pointed out. “It’s not a question in their mind. It’s a given that that’s just a part of who we are.”

As sheltering restrictions gradually are lifted, the Conrades are committed to continuing some version of Crosspoint’s family missions emphasis, including Zoom gatherings and a Parking Lot Prayer Night.

Their family missions focus “is a resource that helps our people learn how valuable missions is,” Dan said. “One of my heartbeats as a pastor is to get our people on mission.”

Missions journey led to replanting

The Conrades’ mission journey to Crosspoint started several years ago when they began sensing God’s call to serve as church planters. As natives of Baltimore who were serving at a church in southern Indiana, they anticipated that God might call them to the Northeast with the bonus of moving back near extended family.

Dan Conrades has served since 2016 as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church in Richmond, Indiana. Partnering with the North American Mission Board as a church replanter, Dan said, “Our vision was to really build a healthy church that was focused on getting the gospel out to people but also was very focused on discipleship.” (WMU Photo by Pam Henderson)

Instead, God led them just a few hours across the state to a small, struggling congregation in east central Indiana. It had dwindled over the years from 200-plus members to a remnant of only 12 active members and was on the verge of closing its doors.

When they met with the small group of core members, “we just fell in love with them and the fact that they were ready for God to do something in this building because they believed God was not done with this place,” Dan said.

The Conrades became church replanters in partnership with the North American Mission Board and moved with their four children to Richmond, a county seat town with a population of 35,000. They helped Central Baptist Church officially conclude its ministry and then reconstituted in the same facility as Crosspoint Church.

Linda Leas, one of the few remaining members at Central Baptist, said, “We were coming to the point where we were putting our church on the altar and offering it to God, and he has returned it to us with more than we could have asked for.”

“Our vision was to really build a healthy church that was focused on getting the gospel out to people but also was very focused on discipleship,” Dan said. He and Chris also share a strong heart for missions, nurtured in part by Chris’ strong background in WMU organizations from Mission Friends, Girls in Action and Acteens to WMU involvement on the associational, state and national levels.

“Even though I grew up in Baltimore where there’s not a lot of Southern Baptist churches, I always was a part of a church that had a very strong WMU presence,” Chris explained. As an Acteen, she attended the National Acteens Convention in Birmingham, Ala,, in 1994 “and that is where God called me to vocational ministry.”

“WMU has always just been exciting for me,” she shared. “I know if it were not for WMU, I would not be who I am today.”

Even as a young church replant, Crosspoint has established an international missions partnership with a small congregation in Colina, Chile. “Our church has just seen the value of missions and they’re seeing what God is doing in a context that’s outside of Richmond, Indiana,” Dan said. “They’re seeing that God is the God of the nations.”

‘God designed us for fellowship’

After two months of worshipping together online, Crosspoint is preparing to move back to in-person church services and activities as social distancing guidelines allow. But there still are lots of questions about what gatherings will look like in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

Chris Conrades serves alongside her husband, Dan, as church replanters in Richmond, Indiana. Also active in Woman’s Missionary Union, Chris serves as associational WMU director, first vice president for Indiana WMU and as a curriculum writer for national WMU. “If it were not for WMU, I would not be who I am today,” she noted. (WMU Photo by Pam Henderson)

As churches navigate life and ministry amid the pandemic’s ongoing impact, “I think one of the things a lot of pastors are worried about through this whole thing is people will get comfortable in their homes,” Dan acknowledged. “It’s easy to wake up on Sunday, stay in your pajamas, watch the livestream.”

By contrast, he said he hopes people will view sheltering in place and social distancing as “a reminder that God designed us for fellowship, for unity. We see that in the Trinity between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that perfect unity.

“Zoom calls are fun but they don’t take the place of being together in person, they just don’t,” he emphasized. “We need one another. We need to speak into one another’s lives.”

“This humungous unknown that has just been thrown at us has caused so many people to stop and think, ‘Do I really trust God? Do I believe what I’ve said I believed about him?’” Chris reflected. “My prayer is that our people will come to the right conclusion that God is trustworthy, that he is exactly who he has always said he is, and we don’t have to be afraid. We can walk in confidence.

“God is just whispering to our hearts that ‘you can trust me no matter what the outcome is,’” she concluded. “No matter what the story gets written like, you can trust him.”

To view a related video, click here.



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