For many churches, the decision to transition to online broadcasts and gatherings posed a completely new challenge.

So this week, it was heartening to read that online worship has encouraged curiosity towards religion” (translated) according to a recent BBC Cymru article which explored the experiences of churchgoers during the pandemic in Wales.

But while churches have seen a good level of interest in their online content from newcomers, this in itself brings an even greater challenge ahead for Christians: discipleship. The call for churches is to make disciples, not just YouTube or Facebook viewers” (translated), as Rhys Llwyd, leader of Caersalem church, Caernarfon, explains in the article.

The article also tells Llinos’ story. After engaging with the online services of her local chapel on Facebook, she is eager to join the chapel community once restrictions are lifted. In a season of isolation and vulnerability for so many, the desire for a loving community is incredibly strong. As the church, we need to ensure that we are inviting these people to be part of the church community, to be part of the body of Christ, and not simply observers. Many stories like hers coincide with some of the findings of our Changing Church: autumn survey report published last year, that:

  • nearly nine in 10 church leaders hosting online meetings were reaching new people;
  • in the three months prior to the survey, each Christian talked to six non-Christians about their faith.

Seeing people develop interest in Jesus and encountering Him is incredibly exciting, but it is so much more exciting when those people are committed to continuing their journey of faith. As God’s people, we need to place great importance on discipleship, coming alongside people who are encountering Jesus for the first time, and providing space for people’s faith to flourish.

Simply put, a church producing great content gets people interested, but a church offering great community makes people stay.

One resource that is flourishing and offering this form of community during this season is online Alpha. In Wales, in the time between the start of lockdown in March and the end of September, there were 40 per cent more Alpha courses running, compared to the same period in 2019. There is a greater sense of openness amongst people in this season, with the pandemic undoubtedly causing people to ask life’s big questions, and as a response many churches across the country are hosting these discussions. 

In the March-April edition of idea, which comes out later this month, we feature Brendon Christian’s testimony. Wales-based Brendon became a Christian during lockdown after being led by God to read a Bible that his mother gave him many years ago. He followed the leading of the Spirit and ended up looking for a church online. After finding Cardiff City Church and attending their services, he joined the Alpha Online course run by the church. In this edition of idea you’ll also hear from the Alpha UK team, which shares that more than 6,000 Alpha Online courses were run across the UK in 2020.

Let us celebrate that there are people who have encountered Christ in this pandemic who might not have had the opportunity prior to the widespread emergence of online services.

But may this celebration fuel fervent prayer and a courageous willingness to make disciples in this nation. Let’s keep thinking ahead to guide the next steps for newcomers, and to disciple new Christians.