Online worship here to stay? Seattle-area pastor notes today's 'radical shift'

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Thursday, May 5, 2022, is the National Day of Prayer, a day typically observed on the first Thursday in May in the U.S. 

Last year, the National Day of Prayer went virtual because of the coronavirus pandemic. This year, even in a largely post-lockdown, post-mask-wearing world, scores of people may be choosing again to observe it remotely in 2022. 

“We are reaching millions outside the building, through all types of online content.”

This would not surprise one Seattle-area pastor, who told Fox News Digital that — however or wherever it is practiced — “prayer is essential as we look back through the history of our country and as we lift our eyes up to God.”

Addressing the topic of online faith connections and resources today, Pastor Jesse Bradley of Auburn, Washington, compared the availability and efficacy of online Bible resources to “the invention of the printing press” when it comes to sharing the Gospel worldwide. 

Pastor Jesse Bradley of Grace Community Church in Auburn, Wash., talked to Fox News Digital about today's online faith services — and more. 

Pastor Jesse Bradley of Grace Community Church in Auburn, Wash., talked to Fox News Digital about today’s online faith services — and more. 
(Pastor Jesse Bradley)

Bible apps, podcasts, streaming content, worship online and more — all are available to those who want these tools.  

“Before COVID-19, the majority of people worshipped inside the church building,” said Bradley, pastor of Grace Community Church near Seattle, to Fox News Digital in a phone interview this week and in several follow-up messages.

The church is reaching many more believers — and potential believers — by sharing biblical content on its website and through online platforms.

“But now, we are reaching millions outside the building, through all types of online content,” he said.

Grace Community Church has about 5,000 faith-based members. While over 1,000 members have returned to their church building post-COVID, Bradley said the church is reaching many more believers — and potential believers — by sharing biblical content on its website and through online faith-focused platforms such as YouVersion, SermonAudio, Glorystone and others.

With today's online resources, people can choose biblical content or faith-based services from the privacy and comfort of their own homes. 

With today’s online resources, people can choose biblical content or faith-based services from the privacy and comfort of their own homes. 
(iStock)

The share of adults watching religious services online or on TV has “plateaued” post-COVID, according to a recent Pew Research survey. 

Yet other faith-focused content such as podcasts, apps and streaming shows readily fill the void, as people continue to customize what they consume — and when. 

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Meanwhile, people have downloaded the biblical app YouVersion more than 260 million times worldwide since its launch in 2008, according to the BBC. In addition, faith-based (mostly Christian) apps attracted $175.3 million in venture funding in 2021, more than tripling the $48.5 million they received in 2020, according to TechCrunch.

Additionally, the streaming Christian television series “The Chosen” — available through its own dedicated app — smashed records as the largest crowdfunded media project ever. 

Jonathan Roumie, center, star of "The Chosen," told Fox News earlier that production on season 2 was taken to the "next level."

Jonathan Roumie, center, star of “The Chosen,” told Fox News earlier that production on season 2 was taken to the “next level.”
(Courtesy of “The Chosen”)

It brought in $10 million for its first season alone, says Crowdfund Insider.

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Pastor Bradley of Grace Community Church said his church recently partnered with Global Media Outreach, an online evangelism network, to offer unique Easter content.

“One million people went through all the content,” said Bradley, and “over 49,000 made the decision to follow Christ,” according to analytics, he said. 

‘Need to be both online and on campus’ 

How do people accept Christ online? Today, it can be with the click of a button. 

“There are two options available online: you can press a button to ‘start a relationship with God,’ or [you can] press another button if you have any questions,” said Bradley.

“The [church] lobby used to be a physical place inside a building, but now the lobby is social media, websites and live-streaming.”

“Realities have changed for churches,” he pointed out. “We found that we needed to be both online and on campus.”

Also, “the [church] lobby has changed,” he said. “The lobby used to be a physical place inside a building, but now the lobby is social media, websites and live-streaming.”

Pastor Bradley described an online viewer who watched services online, "came to know Jesus — and then contacted our church." 

Pastor Bradley described an online viewer who watched services online, “came to know Jesus — and then contacted our church.” 

While online worship and study are convenient for the homebound — as well as for those traveling or for anyone who can’t or won’t make it to the physical church building — there are other benefits to the use of online faith content, including privacy. 

“We reach a lot of people who aren’t ready to come to church,” said Bradley. “They can check things out in the safety of their own home — and turn it off if they don’t like it.”

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Bradley said that his community had one online viewer who watched services online, “came to know Jesus — and then contacted our church. The first time she ever stepped inside our church building was to be baptized.” 

‘Close community’ cannot be overlooked

Bradley also reflected on the potential shortcomings of online worship and study. 

The pastor said he hopes people will “take that next step and come into the building and connect.”

“We are made for relationships. We need each other and we need God,” he said. “It’s easy for some people, if they’re online only, to not have that close community. We need to look at each other in the eyes and pray with one another.”

He added that “it’s really hard to do that when you’re alone in your living room.”

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Calling online worship and study “a great starting point,” he said he hopes people will “take that next step and come into the building and connect. Online can lead to on-campus. It can be part of abiding with Jesus throughout the whole week.” 

‘There’s a hunger for God’

Explaining why online faith activities are surging even as COVID restrictions decline, Bradley said, “There’s a hunger worldwide for God.” 

A woman is shown praying inside a church. Yet plenty of people are staying home to pray and worship — even now, in the spring of 2022. 

A woman is shown praying inside a church. Yet plenty of people are staying home to pray and worship — even now, in the spring of 2022. 
(iStock)

He pointed to recent University of Copenhagen data that revealed that in March 2020, as the coronavirus raged, Google searches for prayer surged to the highest level ever recorded. 

“There’s a spiritual hunger out there,” said Bradley. “People are hungry for God. When you offer a clear biblical message within a safe context, people just devour it.”

Roughly 21 percent of respondents said they are substituting virtual worship for in-person attendance.

By the way, looking at worship services alone — excluding other online content available — the recent Pew Research study of in-person and virtual attendance gave a sense of how many people are watching services online instead of attending in person. 

Friends pray together outside. Today, a portion of the faithful are choosing a hybrid model of participating in prayer and worship services. 

Friends pray together outside. Today, a portion of the faithful are choosing a hybrid model of participating in prayer and worship services. 
(iStock)

It also indicated how many are choosing a hybrid model (meaning they’re watching online as well as attending in person). 

About 21% of respondents said they are substituting virtual worship for in-person attendance. Meanwhile, 36% indicated they have attended both in person and online services within the month they answered the survey. 

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As COVID restrictions ease, 31% say they have attended in person only — not online or on TV — in the last month.

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