By Sam Pierce
Amboy United Methodist Church in North Little Rock was searching for a way to reach its Hispanic community. The Rev. Candace Barron, who is also the senior pastor at Gardner Memorial United Methodist Church, said in November they came up with the idea for broadcasting their sermons through Facebook.
“We started to reach the Hispanic community, people we haven’t actually seen here for church services,” Barron said.
Stephen Copley, the executive director of Interfaith Arkansas and one of the pastors at Amboy, said Facebook might reach those who aren’t coming into the building.
“We thought it might be a good way to get out into the community,” Copley said. “The genesis of how it started was really an attempt to reach people and use our technology to – first of all – share the good news of God’s grace and create a fiscal worship experience.”
The Monday Night Live at Amboy UMC is held every Monday at 6:30 p.m. for 30 minutes of prayer, Bible study and a thought-provoking meditation on life.
The event is geared towards the Hispanic community, but it also for those who have a difficult time getting to church on Sunday mornings due to disabilities, work or other reasons.
“We wanted to expand our footprint in a different way and be accessible to those who can’t physically make it to church,” Barron said. “This is a way to reach them, where they felt safe and not have to worry about being picked up by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).”
Copley said, initially, they had hoped to start in mid-September, but they didn’t get rolling until late October. He said they are looking to boost it again this month in hopes of getting the word out and hopefully increase the number of views. He said it is still kind of early to tell just how many people the Facebook Live ministry is reaching.
On Nov. 26, the service reached 84 people, and there were 41 video views, six likes and multiple comments, according to Copley. He said he is pleased with those numbers.
“The hardest thing is, we don’t know who they are and how consistently they are watching,” Copley said. “The main idea behind it is that folks are busy and life gets chaotic, but somehow they can still build a relationship with God.”
He said it is difficult to build a relationship compared to those who actually come into the building, but at least in this way, they have some kind of connection with people.
“To me, it’s exciting,” Copley said. “It is a real contemporary way to reach people. Even in the early church, even Jesus proclaimed the gospel in different ways, and that is the driving force in what we are doing.
“We are planting seeds, some of those we may never know, but someone’s life could be changed,” Copley said. “And that’s the heart of the good news, and that is what is exciting about it.”
Amboy UMC has a membership count of 200 to 250, but worship attendance is usually about 20. Copley said the Facebook ministry might assist the church in growing.
“We have been here since the 1950s, and this is just another way to engage a community by adding a different kind of worship service,” he said.
Barron, who has been with Amboy UMC for four years, said they recently contacted every person on their membership and a lot of their members have moved out state but want to keep their membership. She also said some aren’t really “church people anymore, but they don’t want to drop their membership.”
“Most of them wouldn’t budge, even though they lived in Dallas, Memphis or some other place,” Barron said. “Some still send in checks for their tithe.
“This (ministry) is an experiment we are trying. The Spanish service uploads to the other website in the Spanish community and we have been at it a lot longer. We are trying to build up the Spanish service.”
The Spanish service is held on Sundays at 4 p.m.
In December, Amboy hosted a toy drive for people in the community, where they met residents and gave away toys and let them know “coming into a church isn’t a scary thing.”
They also recently visited the local Veterans Affairs hospital for caroling, and the church works closely with the neighborhood association. Barron said she wants people to be aware of all their services.
“In the spring, our thoughts and plans are to try to create a service in the building (on Mondays) and use that as a springboard to invite folks,” Copley said.
“We will continue to do the Facebook live, but we also want to meet in the building and have a service and see if folks respond to that.
“That might give us the first indication of this ministry’s impact.”