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Flowery Branch church goes to interactive sermon

High-tech services let users submit live requests

POSTED: September 17, 2011 12:30 a.m.
BRANDEE A. THOMAS/The Times

Media Pastor Ryan Lucia works in the control room where he moderates the online portion of weekly worship services at Covenant Connections Church.

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Not many things are the same as they were 30 years ago. Cars are built differently, clothing styles have changed and nowadays even churches are changing how they reach out to worshippers.

Although many places of worship have begun to stream their services online, Covenant Connections Church in Flowery Branch has taken that a step further with interactive, online church services.

"We will celebrate our one-year church anniversary in December. In that time, we've experienced wonderful growth. We thought, how could we better reach the unchurched people and even some of our own members who are travelling or sick," said David Edmondson, Covenant senior pastor and co-founder.

"We began to stream our services and got a lot of great feedback, but we were still feeling a disconnect from the people who were out there. We wanted them to know we know they're watching," Edmondson said.

To help close the gap between the church and online viewers, staff came up with an idea for a more interactive, online church service.

"We call it ‘live church' because we want them that can't be with us to know they're a part of our church, not just out there in cyberspace somewhere," Edmondson said.

"We have the ability to chat with whoever is online. Whoever is directing (online services) can take prayer requests, praise reports or (other messages). They'll report that to me and a lot of times, we'll pray for them right then if they have a specific prayer request. If it's somebody who's watching for the first time, we'll acknowledge them. We have really had a great response from that."

Ryan Lucia, the church's media pastor, says the idea for real-time interaction was inspired by an online viewer.

"The way this all started was that a prayer request came through the chat (message board) and I thought, ‘Wow, I need to get this to Pastor David because it's pretty important,'" Lucia said.

"We wrote it down and passed the note to him. It got such a great response that we thought, ‘Well maybe we're on to something.' He's very good about engaging the viewers by addressing them. I saw the response of the person and they were like, ‘Wow. I can't believe he just prayed for me in front of everyone.' It was a really big deal for them. I thought, ‘We should do this every week.'"

To draw more people to the online services, church staff optimized the website so that it would be pulled up when people searched for "online church." Currently, the site is among the top 10 search results on Google.

"My background is marketing. (Edmondson) is probably one of the greatest preachers I've heard in my life. I'm very passionate about what he has to say, so I want to share that with as many people as I can," Lucia said.

"The best way I know how to do that is marketing. I take what I know from the business world and apply that to the church industry. While doing that, I noticed there's a bunch of other churches doing the same thing, so you have to distinguish yourself from all the others.

"In doing that, hopefully more people will come into the doors and get involved. Ultimately, that's what we really want - people to change their lives and become Christians."

While some people may find it unusual that Covenant has an active marketing campaign and online services, Edmondson says it's an obvious progression as church membership grows beyond the traditional, neighborhood confines.

"The fact is, we have a product. Our product is Jesus Christ. Our product is salvation. We have to market that product because I guarantee you other religions and other groups are marketing theirs," Edmondson said.

"We've got the best product out there. We've got the only real, true, life-giving product there is. Why not market it? I'm not concerned about marketing me or even our church, but we have to in order to market our church.

"In the end, what's in our heart is spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ and being the hands and feet. Put some touch to people. We can do that in our service, but what about the people at home?

"We've had people watch from all over the world. They may never come back to our website — I think most of the time they will — but if they don't, I've got that moment, to look in that camera and tell them there's hope."



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