McALLEN (BP)—Instead of being slowed down by limitations from the COVID-19 pandemic, BT.Church in McAllen instead experienced an increased revival in part due to a revamping of its online ministry.
In the early part of 2020, BT (Baptist Temple) already was experiencing God moving among its four campus locations, congregational leaders said. More than 200 people made professions of faith in Christ, and 80 were baptized in the first eight weeks of the year. From March to September last year, BT.Church moved to a completely online format—and used it as an opportunity to refocus its ministry.
Senior Pastor Chris Dupree said the church’s approach was to make its online audience feel like they were not just watching a program, but literally having church inside their own home.
“One of the things we did is stayed committed to trying to offer the same level of service and hope for the same level of engagement,” Dupree said. “We’re using our online ministry to encourage people to take steps of being a healthy church member such as completing membership classes, pursuing baptism, serving and belonging to a small group.
“It’s dangerous when we as church leaders start to assume that people who are far from God or new to their faith intrinsically know what the next step is. We’ve got to be intentional to help them take those steps forward in their faith.”
BT.Church hired a pastor to work specifically with the online ministry. It expanded to two streamed Sunday services at 9:30 and 11 a.m., using a new technology studio. Each service included a salvation invitation with clear next steps.
From March to September 2020, while the church’s services were offered exclusively in an online format, the ministry’s reach expanded far beyond its campus locations in the Rio Grande Valley, drawing viewers from places like Brooklyn, N.Y., and Bangalore, India. Dupree said about 200 people accepted Christ, including some from those and other far-flung locations. Anyone who made a decision while watching a service was instructed to send a text message to the church; the online pastor followed up with next steps.
One example of remote online connection was a woman named Karen from Spokane, Wash. Karen began watching services at BT.Church because she was looking for a church to connect with, and her son was a member at one of BT’s campuses. She began inviting friends over to her house to watch the online services together. She is now in the process of starting a church community group in her home after completing BT’s membership class.
Launching house churches
Dupree said remote watchers are encouraged to either begin steps to form a house church where they are or connect with another local church body near them.
Sign up for our weekly email newsletter.
“We’re really encouraging them to come back to church now, but if they don’t live near any one of our campuses, then we’re using our online ministry to serve as a somewhat of a hybrid church-planting resource,” Dupree said.
“If people can find a healthy local church to attend in person near them, we encourage them to do so, but this online model is a way for us to faithfully extend our ministry boundaries through both a multi-site model and a church planting effort. A phrase we use is we encourage people to connect digitally and grow spiritually.”
An additional surprising development has been a small group of people in Corpus Christi who began meeting to watch the church’s online services together. Corpus Christi is 45 miles from the closest BT.Church campus location and a more than two-hour drive from McAllen. Because of the in-person group, Dupree hopes to open a fifth campus location there.
While the church has resumed in-person gatherings, Dupree said online services have not decreased in viewership, representing a new level of growth for the church. In total, 665 people have made decisions for Christ at BT.Church since Jan. 2020; nearly 200 have been baptized.
The necessity of having to hold online services has proved to be a blessing in disguise for the church, he added.
“I feel safe in saying there are literally probably a few hundred people that have come to saving knowledge in Jesus Christ through our online ministry that don’t live close to our church,” Dupree said. “And that probably never would have happened had COVID-19 not happened because we wouldn’t have put the effort, energy and resources to try to extend our online reach.
“Our God does big things. We should never doubt that God is able to do these types of things whenever individuals, families and churches are willing to be committed to the gospel.”