One of the biggest questions hanging over churches post COVID-19 is how to stay connected while intentionally remaining socially distanced from one another.
When this topic came up recently in the Digital Discipleship Facebook group, Pr. Alexander Voigt of LifeSpring Adventist Church in Florida shared how his church is re-imagining community. Most excitingly, some of the ideas LifeSpring is using calls upon our heritage as Christians while also leveraging technology.
We were able to ask Pr. Alexander a few questions to learn more about the two-pronged model his church is using that involves
- Cell Groups and
- Screenings or what we typically call live streams
For us, the experience begins when someone visits the LifeSpring website because it starts a conversation about our present situation.
In explaining the reasoning behind the shift towards this new model, their website says,
“We’re living in a new world. COVID-19 has confronted us with a challenge we haven’t met in our lifetimes.
How do we, as a church, “not forsake the gathering” (Heb 10:25) without physically gathering as a church? How do we “preach the gospel to all creation” (Mar 16:15) without gathering to listen to a sermon?
How do we “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thes 5:11) without our typical “Hi, how are you?” we ask once a week at church?
How do we “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19) without being surrounded by disciples? How was it that, historically, the church thrived when banned from even existing? Let’s try returning to the essentials of the movement.”
Join us for our conversation with Pr. Alexander Voigt of LifeSpring Adventist Church
What is a cell?
Digital Discipleship: Can you help us understand what a cell is within LifeSpring Church?
Pr. Alexander: A cell is a missional community. Each cell will recapture mission. Mission is more than conveying doctrinal truth. Mission is both proclamation of the Gospel by inviting your neighbors, your co-workers, and your family into your discipleship cell, and it is also the demonstration of the gospel.
In the coming days (and as we’re already witnessing), people will lose jobs, quarantined families will be unable to visit the grocery store, and some will be without basic needs such as food and toilet paper. We’ll soon see these stressors break up families and cause people to turn to destructive addictions. Each cell will demonstrate the gospel by serving the very real needs both inside, and outside, of the cell
Each cell will express love in ways we haven’t experienced before. We’ll pray together, text each other, and encourage an openness and vulnerability rarely experienced in church. Cells will share in one group call per week.
Each cell will be infected with the gospel. Church manuals, traditions, and former ideas aren’t our driving motivation. An apostolic recapturing of “the church,” is. Cells will share together in a shared study, Letters to the Church.
Rethinking the structure of church during COVID-19
Digital Discipleship:What drove your church to re-structure in this way after social distancing was put into place?
Pr. Alexander:I am working on my DMin in Discipleship and our church has been on a path of trying to deconstruct our attractional attitudes and prioritizing qualitative growth instead of quantitative.
We’ve done things like change our worship and small groups times from the normal Sabbath School-then-worship model, knowing we’d lose some attendance in corporate worship, but we still did it because we want to see our numbers grow in discipleship groups.
Prior to COVID, we were praying through how to continue to get more people meeting in small groups, and how to get those groups out of the church and into homes, and this provided the perfect opportunity.
We jumped on it quickly so we wouldn’t waste any precious minute to do so.
Process for Assigning People to Cells
Digital Discipleship: How do you assign people to cells?
Pr. Alexander:To assign people to cells, myself and a my pastoral assistant went through our church family in a Google Sheet and divided people up based on a number of factors (age, language, common interests, etc.).
We weren’t locking anyone to any particular group, but wanted to ensure that everyone is at least contacted and invited.
Results of the Cell Groups + Screenings Model
Digital Discipleship: What have you seen as a result?
Pr. Alexander: Recently, we checked in and got numbers from all our cells of how many are actively engaged (joining the group calls, texts) and with one response remaining, we’re at 98 active participants.
Prior to COVID, we had about 45 who attended Saturday morning small groups. So, for us, doubling those engaged in meaningful community is a great success.
But numbers don’t tell the story. I know more about my members now than I did before. People actually know what’s going on in people’s lives. I get long texts with everyone’s prayer requests and updates to major prayers.
Church Member Engagement
Digital Discipleship:How have you created engagement with your live streamed church service or “screenings” as you call them?
Pr. Alexander: We canceled church before most because we’re viewed as a hospital church (AdventHealth), and our leadership team was counseled to do so.
Knowing that everyone would be suddenly doing live-streams and knowing that you’re missing the real community of church on a livestream, we wanted to have high engagement.
We use online.church + Zoom and gear our service towards engagement. On FB Live, we have an average view time of 44 seconds, but around 30 minutes on http://lifespringadventist.online.church
Cells & Screenings
Digital Discipleship: How do the cells and screenings work together? And do church members get the opportunity to engage with people outside of their cells?
Pr. Alexander:On Saturday during our screenings, we invite the cells to share what’s going on or do contests (like, share the best meal nominated from your cell), but we’re starting Zoom lifegroups this week after worship so there should be cross-cell interactions.
Digital Discipleship:Are the Zoom life groups different from the cells?
Pr. Alexander:Yeah. LifeGroups were our former study small groups, but cells are a new name we used so the old baggage of LifeGroups wouldn’t make people think they’re just study groups.
Cells are intentional missional communities.
While LifeGroups range from about 6-20 people, cells are viable with 4 people, and cap around 12. I’d say that 7 is the average. We didn’t want to make cells very large so people could really keep up with each other
The Future of the Church after COVID-19
Digital Discipleship:What do you think the future of the church is after COVID-19?
Pr. Alexander:I know many think when this is over that we’re going to have some semblance of normal.
I believe that there will be a new normal where we’ll have to maintain an online presence alongside our smaller in-person presence. Until a vaccine is available (1-2 years), we’ll be having more outbreaks and might even go on localized lockdowns, so for anyone thinking that they just need to get through this, please adjust now because you’re missing precious time to adapt.
Here are some photos from the cells. People like sending in screenshots of the fun they’re having and we give them ideas to engage in their cells, such as this food contest.
Digital Discipleship: Thank you for chatting with us! We believe there are many things we can learn from the cell + screening model, especially as it relates to helping our members grow in discipleship and creating connection in this time of social isolation and distancing.
How are you creating connections during this time?
This blog post about small groups at churches was originally published on the Digital Discipleship Website on 28 April 2020.