Online worship here to stay? Seattle-area pastor notes today’s ‘radical change’

Thursday, May 5, 2022 is the National Day of Prayer, a day generally observed on the first Thursday in May in the United States.

Last year, the National Day of Prayer went virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic. This year, even in a largely post-lockdown, post-mask-wearing world, dozens of people could again choose to observe it from a distance in 2022.

That wouldn’t surprise a Seattle-area pastor, who told Fox News Digital that – no matter how it’s practiced – “prayer is essential as we look back through our country’s history. and look up to God”.

Addressing the topic of online religious connections and resources today, Pastor Jesse Bradley of Auburn, Washington, compared the availability and effectiveness of online Bible resources to “the invention of the printing press” when it’s about sharing the gospel around the world.

Bible apps, podcasts, streaming content, online worship and more – all are available for those who want these tools.

“Before COVID-19, the majority of people worshiped inside the church building,” Bradley, pastor of Grace Community Church near Seattle, told Fox News Digital in a phone interview this week and in several follow-up messages.

“But now we’re reaching millions of people outside of the building, through all types of online content,” he said.

Grace Community Church has approximately 5,000 denominational members. As more than 1,000 members have returned to their church post-COVID, Bradley said the church is reaching many more believers — and potential believers – by sharing Bible content on its website and through faith-based online platforms such as YouVersion, SermonAudio, Glorystone and others.

The share of adults watching religious services online or on TV has “plateaued” after COVID, according to a recent Pew Research survey.

Yet other faith-based content, such as podcasts, apps, and streaming shows, easily fills the void as people continue to personalize what they consume — and when.

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Meanwhile, people have downloaded the Bible app YouVersion more than 260 million times worldwide since its launch in 2008, according to the BBC. Additionally, faith-based (mostly Christian) apps attracted $175.3 million in venture funding in 2021, more than triple the $48.5 million they received in 2020, according to TechCrunch.

Additionally, the streaming Christian TV series “The Chosen” – available through its own dedicated app – broke records as the biggest crowd-funded media project ever.

It grossed $10 million for its first season alone, says Crowdfund Insider.

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Pastor Bradley of Grace Community Church said his church recently partnered with Global Media Outreach, an online evangelistic network, to offer unique Easter content.

“A million people have browsed through all the content,” Bradley said, and “more than 49,000 have made the decision to follow Christ,” according to analytics, he said.

How do people accept Christ online? Today, it is possible in one click.

“There are two options available online: you can press a button to ‘start a relationship with God’ or [you can] press another button if you have any questions,” Bradley said.

“Realities have changed for churches,” he said. “We found that we needed to be both online and on campus.”

Also [church] The lobby has changed,” he said. “The lobby used to be a physical place inside a building, but now the lobby is made up of social media, websites and live streaming. “

While online worship and study is convenient for people confined to their homes — as well as those who travel or anyone who can’t or doesn’t want to come to the physical church building — there are other benefits of using religious content online, including privacy.

“We’re reaching a lot of people who aren’t ready to come to church,” Bradley said. “They can check things out from the safety of their own home – and turn it off if they don’t like it.”

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Bradley said her community had an online viewer who watched the services online, “knew about Jesus – then contacted our church. The first time she came into our church was to be baptized” .

Bradley also reflected on the potential shortcomings of online worship and study.

“We are made for relationships. We need each other and we need God,” he said. “It’s easy for some people, if they’re online only, not to have that close community. We need to look each other in the eye and pray with each other.”

He added that “it’s really hard to do that when you’re alone in your living room”.

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Calling online worship and study “a great place to start,” he said he hopes people “take that next step and get into the building and get connected. Online can lead to on campus. It can be part of staying with Jesus throughout the week.”

Explaining why online religious activity is increasing even as COVID restrictions ease, Bradley said, “There is a hunger for God around the world.”

He pointed to recent data from the University of Copenhagen which revealed that in March 2020, as the coronavirus raged, Google searches for prayer hit an all-time high.

“There’s a spiritual hunger out there,” Bradley said. “People are hungry for God. When you offer a clear biblical message in a safe context, people devour it.”

By the way, looking only at worship services – excluding other available online content – Pew Research’s recent study of in-person and virtual attendance gave an idea of ​​how many people watch the services. in line Instead to attend in person.

He also indicated how many choose a hybrid model (meaning they watch online and attend in person).

About 21% of respondents said they were substituting virtual worship for in-person attendance. Meanwhile, 36% said they attended both in person and online services in the month they responded to the survey.

As COVID restrictions ease, 31% say they’ve attended in person only — not online or on TV — in the past month.