We are hearing more and more reports of victory and overcoming during the COVID-19 quarantine. Many churches have made exceptional leaps forwards to move their ministry online and are seeing God do great things through new uses of technology.
Our team recently spoke with Derek Miller, the lead pastor of Hope City Dallas in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas, TX. We asked him some questions about his experience, and he was kind enough to share his answers with us.
TFN: What went through your head when you heard that the quarantine was going into effect and that you would have to suspend in-person church services?
I already had a feeling about the ceasing of church services a week before they announced it here. With everything going on with schools – including my kid’s elementary and high schools as well as Christ For The Nations Institute – I thought it was only a matter of time. We had streamed our services for quite a while before the quarantine without showing worship. Because of that, we were a bit ahead of many ministries coming into this trying time. I also began thinking of ways that we could continue to maintain “relationship” with our people, even though we couldn’t see them. We brainstormed ideas about creating special content to post outside of regular service times. That was really one of the main things we wanted to do because we felt that our people would watch weekend services almost in the usual fashion, setting aside Sunday like they were actually going to church.
TFN: How did you arrive at your current online church format?
We did some rapid research and determined that we didn’t want to put out a long service with so much crammed in that people drifted off after 30 minutes or so. We asked our leadership team and watched many other ministries and landed on a 1-hour service (pretty close, at least). We also began to change our language to try to connect with those who didn’t really attend church often or at all. We wanted to explain parts of the service and even rearrange sections so they flowed more smoothly.
Just yesterday, we tried something very new. We added (since quarantine) an orientation video to not only welcome people but to explain how they can connect with our prayer team and get resources if they make a decision to follow Jesus. We also added a preservice Facebook (Zoom call) and Instagram in place of our preservice gathering when we are in the building. We have a host that gives instruction about service, answers questions, and does fun stuff like talk about breakfast, a favorite meal in quarantine, asks about family, etc.
We have mixed prerecorded welcome videos, offering videos, and worship, but we have maintained a live sermon message each week. It gives a different vibe, and we have learned to get used to speaking into the camera in an empty room.
TFN: What are you doing throughout the week to help keep your congregation close and cared for?
We have really branched out with creative content, in my opinion. It has been a great challenge and our team has responded! We usually do:
A Sunday PM Q&A session with someone from the leadership team
30-minute prayer sessions live each night during the week of Easter with scripted points
30-minute “cooking rice crispy treats” session from a leadership couple’s kitchen
30-minute “Saturday morning coffee” with a hip, young couple from church
Then we have also mixed in some leaders just doing “regular old things at home.”
Jen and I sang a song live last night that sparked a very emotional memory for her over the weekend, and our feeds lit up with love! It was so fun!
TFN: If you could do it over again, what would you do differently?
If I could do it over again, I would:
Record every worship set and mix in Logic/ProTools. We have not been very satisfied with our worship sound each week, but we really don’t have a true “sound engineer”…only some excellent volunteers.
Film more content more regularly. I feel we have done a good job so far, but I also want to put out more and more each week!
Prepare an alternate “stage area” to provide a different background. We moved our production out of our sanctuary into a small stage area to make it more personal feeling, but it seems already a bit stale.
I really feel like our team has done an amazing job so far during this stressful time. People here in Dallas are really getting bothered by feeling trapped at home. Businesses are suffering, yet we’re experiencing another surge in COVID cases since last month. I believe this will end soon, but I also believe it has propelled us into a new “version” of our church. We plan on continuing to service a totally different stream audience with messages and content specifically driven to build that audience. In other words, it will be different from the Sunday morning message. We hope to engage those who aren’t really in a church and even our people who might want something more (like on a Sunday PM or some different time that works).
Pastor – Hope City Dallas