Leaders believe initiative opens scores of new possibilities.
Published on: 03-31-2022
On February 1 the executive committee of the Northeastern Conference (NEC), based in Jamaica, New York, United States, made conference history by establishing its first virtual church. Members voted the Living Manna First Online Seventh-day Adventist Church and announced that Ivor Myers will serve as pastor. Myers previously pastored the Campbell Seventh-day Adventist Church in Campbell, California.
NEC president Abraham Jules is excited about the new endeavor. “The pandemic has taught all of us some lessons, one of them being that we can have church while we are at home. There are many people we will be reaching through this virtual congregation that we would not reach otherwise,” he said.
During the pandemic, as many churches moved services online, Myers changed the way he did things, with the online audience tuning into the Campbell church’s weekly services. As he interacted with viewers online during his live presentations, he noticed a significant increase in the reach and size of his audience. “We were communicating directly with them. We saw their comments come up and responded in real time. That ended up being a real blessing,” he said.
Myers approached the Northeastern Conference with the idea of forming a virtual church. “The difference between streaming services online and forming a virtual church is that the people online are not on the outside looking in; they are not just joining a service; they are the service,” Myers explained.
“This is a novel concept,” Jules said. “I have learned in my life and my ministry that you must try some new things so you may meet and reach [other] people for Christ.”
As a virtual church, Living Manna plans to operate much like a traditional church with members occupying a physical building. “The only difference is [the members] will come from around the world,” Jules said. “They will be indoctrinated in the teachings of the Adventist Church, and we will have elections like any other church—all of the typical auxiliaries will be represented in the virtual church.” Living Manna members will utilize Adventist Giving online to return tithe and give offerings. As a virtual church, Living Manna will also operate seven days a week through varied online programming, addressing daily living, finances, mental health, and more.
Pastoring an online church also allows Myers and his wife, Atonte, to minister from a different area of the country. While the virtual church falls under the Northeastern Conference in New York, the Myerses currently live in Huntsville, Alabama, where their ministry also includes serving at Oakwood University. Atonte is a licensed family therapist and will serve as the school’s licensed mental health therapist, and Ivor will serve as head dean for the freshman men’s dormitory.
When asked about possible impacts of members choosing to support a virtual church and abandoning their local church, Jules was not worried. “I’m not concerned about people leaving their brick-and-mortar churches to go to a virtual church,” Jules said. “If you are doing what is right and people still leave, it is a free country. You do your best to minister.”
NEC associate secretary Nicardo Delahaye agreed. “The online church is catering to a different audience. We are going after two different demographics. The challenge with the virtual church will be trying to foster the congregation into seeing themselves as a system.”