Some Calgary churches are choosing to keep online worship accessible to their congregations, even as restrictions for in-person gatherings have long been lifted.
“I just want to help maintain what we are doing online and not lose track of how far we have come,” said Cory Harasym, online campus pastor of First Alliance Church (FAC) in Calgary.
Like many religious groups, FAC adopted livestreaming during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Livestreaming allowed people to keep their rhythms,” Harasym said.
FAC’s livestreams occur through Zoom, so they can engage and reach out to people watching online.
“Being able to still attend church and still get fed spiritually—we really value engagement for our church online,” said Harasym. “We want people to message. We want people to engage with us because rather than feeling like you’re watching church alone, you’re actually now connecting with community and myself, and then get to do life together.”
While the initial goal of online church was to protect congregations—especially seniors who may have pre-existing illnesses—during the pandemic, it has evolved to meet a variety of needs.
“Using the online livestream now that we can meet in person is not forgetting about those people who are sick, who have social anxiety, or are immunocompromised and cannot leave their house,” Harasym said.
According to Trevor Berry, associate pastor of McKenzie Towne Church, people stream and watch church online while on vacation.
“They will be driving out to B.C., and somebody in the car might be streaming, or they are at a campsite, and they are able to join in,” Berry said. “People are not restricted by needing to be close to the church, so it’s really removed some barriers that way, and people can still gather with us.”
Although FAC offers in-person services for seniors, some older churchgoers have adapted very well to online church.
“We have more senior people that do join us online regularly, as they have become more accustomed to church online,” Harasym said. “They have been forced to kind of adapt and figure out how to use technology, especially if some of them were sick and in hospital, or they cannot leave [their] senior’s home or do not have transportation.”
According to Harasym, his role as an online campus pastor focuses on people who cannot connect in person.
“Our goal for church online is to offer the service in its fullest form as best as we can, and everyone will engage differently as far as they like and what they want to experience,” he said.
“We have four cameras and some that are on sliders to offer alternative shots,” said Berry. “This is because we want to make it as much of a great experience, so people feel they can be a part of our church family.”
For Berry, community plays a big part. “Our ideal is for people to join us in person—we always want to create space and opportunities for that. But if you cannot [join us] on Sundays, we do have other options.”
The McKenzie church has observed an increase in attendance since they started livestreaming services.
“Our online community has grown quite a bit. We are reaching people online, and [some] have signed up for mid-week ministries, but they have never stepped into our church before,” Berry said.
Thanks to these churches’ initiative and passion for connecting and engaging their communities, worshippers can get the full experience of God’s presence, even through technology.
“When we run a service, we match the in-person service so that whether you attend in person or online, you still have the FAC experience,” said Harasym. “It feels familiar. It feels like you’re at home.”