Stay the Course

Stay the Course

Sisters and Brothers,

I believe in Jesus.
I believe in science.
I don’t know everything.

That is how I began my first e-note to you regarding the coronavirus and its how I wanted to begin again today. It continues to be an important confession for pastors to make these days.

Our immediate plan is to remain closed to in-person worship through Sunday, May 10th (Mother’s Day)

Our first attempt at some form of in-person worship will possibly be May 17th.

As I’m sure you know Governor Kemp announced “Phase 1” of reopening starts this Friday. We will be looking at this order carefully as well as further orders in the future. It comes with many stipulations…

Regardless, we’ve been urged by our Bishop to remain closed through the second Sunday in May and we will honor this request.

I look at the COVID-19 numbers from the Georgia Department of Heath on a daily basis and sometimes twice a day as it is updated.

I’ve been quite encouraged by what appears to be the effective nature of Catoosa county’s prompt and decisive response, mid March. However, medical experts are continuing to warn that more people could be and probably are infected (even here) than have been tested (in part because of much of the population being asymptomatic, not displaying any signs of being sick). I pray our numbers here in Catoosa continue to be low in the days and weeks ahead regardless of some activities and businesses returning.

I definitely do not want for us to have to repeat in the immediate weeks and months ahead this generalized stay-at-home order and non-essential closures. We have to remain patient and stay the course and realize, as has been our experience in this crisis, that things can change quite suddenly.

It seems caution is warranted. But, as people of faith we understand more than others how to deal with this. We are a people of, “one day at a time,” “one moment at a time,” trusting in God’s grace throughout.

That said, if in fact, we do get to return to an in-person form of worship on the weekend of May 17th, it will need to be different.

We are anticipating a number of requirements as well as common-sense changes to our worship for the immediate weeks that follow May 17th (at least until a full-scale mitigation of COVID-19 has taken place).

What are those things? Well, we’re still working out the details. Your staff are working on potential ideas and creative solutions and I will be having a conversation with our elected church leaders in the days ahead.

**What I do know is that our online presence will continue regardless.** This is for two reasons. One, I want you to have the choice yourself as to when you feel comfortable attending in-person worship. Two, we have and continue to build an online presence/congregation, which includes both our housebound members as well as new people, people in at least seven other states besides Georgia!

I again received word this week reaffirming your witness as a church. Many smaller United Methodist Churches cannot offer online worship at all, let alone the kind and form that we are providing. Through the connections of people from our own congregation folks from other parts of this country and all of over Georgia are “tuning in.”

I know of two pastors specifically (there are probably more) who have recommended to their congregations that they watch Ringgold United Methodist Church on Facebook or YouTube. Which is another reason why we wanted to make it simpler to find us; thus the www.ringgoldumc.tv address.

Going forward, our plan is to move to actual live-streaming at the same time as we go back to in-person worship.

Currently we are pre-recording various parts of worship throughout the week and then “premiering it” on Facebook at 9 and 11 respectively. Again, you can view any of our online worship services going back to March 15 by going to www.ringgoldumc.tv. This web-address will also be the one we’ll use to eventually host our live, in-person streaming service.

As I mentioned last week, we had an estimated 916 people watch our Easter services. How did we arrive at this number? It’s really interesting actually.

We track two sites, Facebook and YouTube. For Facebook, we count only the live viewer count (meaning we don’t add in any who watch the service after it premiers).

We do recognize that people (quite a few at times) watch parts of the service, if not the whole thing after the service premiers. However, beyond it being difficult to get an accurate count, we also recognize not counting this number balances out potential errors in the other direction, our counting people that perhaps really didn’t watch the service or didn’t for very long.

The count we use is the highest number of people who were watching at any one time. For example, on Easter, at one point 70 devices were streaming our Traditional service. In truth not all 70 devices were connected the whole time. But also in truth many more than 70 devices were connected for at least part of the Traditional service. In fact somewhere around 90-100 devices connected in for at least several minutes. That said, we stick with the largest “at one time” count as the most fair number.

On YouTube we stop counting after 7pm on Sunday. Yes, some people watch the service other days of the week but again, as a way of building in a “corrective” we stop counting after 7pm. We also know that 40% of the viewers on YouTube watched the entire or nearly the entire service. The rest were for part of the time. How long? It’s hard to tell, but given the fact that people have to deliberately go to YouTube (either directly or through our web page www.ringgoldumc.tv) the assumption is that people watched for a majority of the time. Why else would they go there and start streaming the service?

That said, we combine these counts of Facebook and YouTube and multiply by a factor of two. You have to remember that these numbers are reporting DEVICES not people. While it is true that some individuals watched on their phone or otherwise live alone, it is also true that we have couples watching on one device and families of 4, 5 and larger, watching on a single smart TV.

Different experts give different calculations (most suggesting a multiplication of 3) but the most scientific explanation I’ve personally seen was a factor of 2.14. Nonetheless, we chose to be even more conservative and stick with a simple multiplication of 2.

In the end, on Easter, for our contemporary and traditional service (we didn’t include Sonrise numbers in the final count again not wanting to arbitrarily balloon our estimate) 458 devices were connected for a large amount or the entire length of one or the other of our services. Multiply that by 2 and you get 916. I think it’s safe to assume 800-900 different persons experienced a large portion of our Easter worship experience.

Some of you probably didn’t care a lick about that but I know others are wondering how we arrive weekly at our “attendance count.” For me, the most important thing is that we are comparing “apples to apples,” using the same calculations each week (whatever they are) to track attendance and measure connection and involvement.

For example our numbers this past Sunday returned to the level they were the Sunday prior to Easter, which both suggests some accuracy to our approach as well as signaling some evangelical gains, as the Sunday after Easter is usually a “low attendance” Sunday.

Please continue to pass on, “WE’RE YOUR ONLINE CHURCH.” Please use this phrase and put it on social media. Ringgold United Methodist is your online church!

Remember also, that this isn’t just about worship. We are now offering a “continuing the sermon” video segment each week and our children’s ministry is also producing video-learning and activity. Find these things and other resources by visiting www.ringgoldumc.org and clicking “ONLINE CHURCH.

I love being your pastor and am glad that in June we’ll be officially starting our third year together. 

Chris

P.S. Hopefully each of you have received your first quarter giving statement either electronically or by regular mail (and with it a brief update on our first quarter financials as a church). Thank you for being faithful in your giving. We are doing well. It appears to me, anecdotally at least, that we have doubled the number of people who are online givers! Thank you!!

Of course, you can still mail in your tithe/offering to P.O. Box 99 Ringgold, Ga 30736.  If you would like to try to give online use that link to go directly to our giving page and if you need help you can contact Ms. Karen, our Office Administrator. Call the church at 770.935.4777 Monday – Thursday 10am-1pm. If she isn’t available when you call, she’ll get back with you.