Ministry during COVID-19: Moving your church’s Missions Sunday online
May 2020

By Josie Oldenburg, SEND Communications — This year, Granada Heights Friends Church in Southern California adopted a new, quarterly approach for engaging the congregation in missions. January’s Missions Sunday was a success. Then COVID-19 hit and, like churches around the world, services moved online. 

What to do? Push pause on the quarterly plan and lose momentum for inspiring the church toward greater missions involvement? Surely it would take a LOT of work to involve people around the world in a Sunday service? 

The church was up to the challenge. “There was never a discussion about postponing Missions Sunday,” said missions coordinator Ben Saucy, who grew up in Ukraine where his parents served with SEND. “If anything, we felt it was needed much more now. We wanted to raise awareness to pray for our missionaries who are struggling just as much as we are, some even more.”

The missions committee came up with creative ways to add a global focus to nearly every element of the service. You can watch the whole service here or by clicking on the embedded video. In case you want to check out a particular element, we’ve included the start times below. 

1. Between-service Zoom call with missionaries 

The church holds “watch parties” of the prerecorded service on Facebook at 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Generally, children’s classes meet virtually between the services, but this week the entire church was invited to a Zoom call with five missionary families. Each missionary gave a short update on how COVID-19 is affecting life and ministry and shared prayer requests. More than 75 church families “attended” the meeting and even the youngest members of the church could hear how God has protected and provided for his people around the world! (This intimate time of sharing was not posted online.)

2. Special guests via video

This Missions Sunday focused on partnerships in Africa, so the church’s missionaries on that continent sent 90-second video updates of their ministries. One of them showed the church a sneak peek of a newly translated New Testament—the fruit of 25 years of labor—that arrived in his Muslim country from China just before lockdown began! (5:13, 17:44) 

3. Prayer 

About two weeks in advance, the missions committee asked all the church’s missionaries to send in a verse that the church could pray over them. For Missions Sunday, people in the church recorded themselves praying each verse. This involved 18 members of the local congregation (including some very darling and dramatic children) in the service. (28:40)

4. Announcements and children’s message  

Rather than having the connections pastor and the children’s director handle these aspects of the service, they were turned over to the missions coordinator and one of the church’s supported missionaries. (Children’s message at 20:25)  

5. Sermon 

A Granada missionary in Africa recorded a sermon in his home. It was edited into the service, and then his daughter sang an original song in English and Swahili. (Sermon at 35:20; song at 1:09:42) 

Tips for moving Missions Sunday online

The service, which was put together over about two weeks, was not without challenges, mostly due to the quick timeline. “It was definitely worth it! We now understand what it takes to put on something like this, and we believe the Lord was glorified in how our congregation continues to uplift our missionaries,” Ben said. 

If your church wants to do an online Missions Sunday, Ben and missions committee co-chair Dave Geis recommend that you:  
  • Consider security, since your service will be posted online for anyone, anywhere to see. The team at Granada communicated directly with the missionaries to confirm that the service didn’t threaten anyone’s ministry or safety.
  • Because creative ideas can quickly balloon, start with your concept, and then figure out how to use the technology to serve the concept. Granada’s overriding concept: Increase missions awareness while including congregational participation. The congregational prayer videos served that concept this month.
  • From the outset, keep videos very short and simple so that they’re doable for the missionaries and the people putting the service together. “Things always get more complicated by the time we hit the service,” Dave said.
  • Even with short videos, understand that this approach will take time. Helping people understand how to record their prayers and send them in to the church involved some extra effort, and the tech team worked for hours to edit the service together.
  • Keep in mind how valuable this service will be both to your congregation AND to your missionaries. “A huge part of our role as a missions committee is to be advocates for our missionaries to the congregation,” Dave said. Granada’s missionaries felt loved and absolutely encouraged! 

“The way we have done missions has, I believe, changed for the good since the onset of COVID-19,” said missions committee co-chair Kirk Stevens. “More use of video and Zoom brings living examples of the missionaries we support into our worship service. I look forward to how the Lord will use this technology in the days ahead.”

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Josie Oldenburg
Josie and her family served for 12 years with SEND in Ukraine. Now she works with SEND’s Communications team. Full disclosure: That’s her doing the children’s message in this service.