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How one church turns virtual worshipers into members


Finding creative ways to engage remote churchgoers into the life of the church

By Donna Frischknecht Jackson | Presbyterians Today

Photo of church members gathering remotely

Chris Montgomery/Unsplash

Since the advent of virtual worship, the question on the minds of session members across the country is how to welcome online viewers as full-fledged members. For the Rev. Monica Thompson Smith, stated supply pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Luling, Texas, a small church whose dwindling numbers have slowly been reversing thanks to Zoom worship, the answer is easy: Welcome virtual members the same as you would any other member.

First Presbyterian of Luling recently welcomed two new members — both of whom the pastor and elders had not met in person. “One is local, but health concerns mean they can’t get out much. The other is out of state,” said Thompson Smith. As far as process, she says, it wasn’t that different from any other new member. “They met with the session by Zoom, the session examined them and voted to accept each by reaffirmation of faith.”

Even as the church has moved to hybrid worship, the virtual members have continued to be faithful in their Zoom participation. “When a new virtual member says of a funeral of someone they have never met in person, ‘I wouldn’t have missed it. We’ve prayed for him so often,’ well, that warms a pastor’s heart,” said Thompson Smith.

First Presbyterian of Luling’s session is now working on ways to incorporate the virtual members into the life of the church. Among the ideas, Thompson Smith says, is giving an out-of-state member the ministry of sending out birthday cards.

“The Book of Order is pretty clear that the only reason you can deny membership is lack of faith in Jesus (G-1.0302),” said Thompson Smith. “It’s the opinion of my session that the responsibilities of membership can be carried out from afar and virtually.”

Donna Frischknecht Jackson is editor of Presbyterians Today.

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