Weekly in-person Bible study meetings are a great opportunity for building up a community of faith by learning and sharing together. But for many people, such as those who live in rural areas, have limited transportation options, work shift jobs or must navigate multiple barriers to get to one physical location, weekly gatherings are often impractical or inaccessible. The value of face-to-face community is priceless and something to be treasured, but, at the same time, with new technology come new ways to connect meaningfully and intentionally. We spoke to two pastors about their usage of Facebook Live for regular Bible studies and invite you to consider if this tool would work for your community.
Combining Face-to-Face and Distance Bible Study
Lt. Colonel Carole Voisey never planned to start a Facebook Live Bible study. But when she received a new appointment to a corps ministry, several people who wanted to attend her home Bible study realized it would be difficult to manage the travel. Her daughter recommended making her regular Wednesday night Bible study available through Facebook Live. “I am going into my 28th year of service [as a pastor] and I am not as tech-savvy as the younger generation,” she said. “It wasn’t my idea and I wouldn’t have thought of it, but it’s great to encourage the younger generations that their vision is worth following. They know how to connect with people —and they’ll even do it for us.”
The Peekskill, New York Corps broadcasts Lt. Col. Voisey’s Bible Study each Wednesday night, so participants can opt to travel to the corps for an in-person experience, follow live at a distant location or watch it afterwards. Typically, an additional 8 to 10 people participate live from Facebook, while many more watch later. All the studies have over 200 views, some over 900. However, the corps doesn’t know if people watched the entire video.
“If you want to reach people beyond your walls, Facebook Live Bible study is a great option,” says Rev. Sandra Williams of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. Unlike Lt. Col. Voisey, Rev. Williams was looking for a way to livestream Bible study and had tried different technologies over the past several years. This past year, she settled on Facebook Live. As the pastor for Christian Education at the Friendship, a megachurch in Charlotte, NC, she has found that offering her twice-monthly women’s Bible study on Facebook Live has been a huge success. She often has over 300 people livestreaming the whole study, even though, for church members, making the study in person remains a top priority.
At the in-person meeting, women’s study participants range in age from their early 30s to 86-years-old, but online participants include younger moms in their 20s, as well as people who do not attend Friendship church. “When some of our young moms found out that the Bible study was available on Facebook Live, it just spread like wildfire among them,” Rev. Williams said.
“A lot of our moms are single and we don’t have day care on Saturdays, so they are not sure about bringing their children and babies to the class. In addition, a lot of women of all ages have had illnesses and losses over the past few months, so coming on a Saturday wasn’t physically possible. This way they can still be a part of the fellowship. And, sometimes, Saturdays are just such a busy day with activities, chores and out-of-town travel, especially at Christmas time, that to get to the class is hard, but to get online for the class is something women can do. But the women who are there notice who is missing.”
Rev. Williams has met young adults in Charlotte, who recognize her from her Women’s Bible Study class on Facebook Live at different places around town. “They tell me, ‘oh yes, I see you on Facebook Live, my friend sends me the handouts’. So, I’ve learned that young adults will join in if they know, they just message each other. Once I’ve emailed the handouts to my mailing list, they’re out there and everybody can share them. They all get the litany and the handouts in advance, so they can follow along.”
The virtual nature of the Bible study also makes it gender inclusive. “The other thing is it turns out that a lot of men will watch it. Sometimes they can’t make it for general Bible study or the men’s Bible study, but they can watch the women’s Bible study on Facebook. So a number of men have told me that the topic we’re doing right now— prayer—is helpful,” Rev. Williams reports. “It’s not really a genderspecific theme, so they can watch on Facebook, even though they wouldn’t come into the meeting in person.”
Rev. Williams uses a lapel mic to teach her study and has two hand-held mics that get passed to participants to use when they want to ask a question, make a comment or pray. Her participants are used to the format and she feels there is no significant difference in how participants engage during Facebook Live broadcasts of Bible studies and unrecorded Bible studies. Lt. Col. Voisey does encourage leaders to consider the difference between a broadcasted and unbroadcasted Bible study, both for themselves and their participants.
When Bible studies are broadcast, everything you do is “out there forever. So when you drop a piece of paper and pick it up, everyone sees it. If you cancel a class, everyone knows. People aren’t just disagreeing with you in the room, but you’re being challenged more publicly, so you have to be ok with that,” points out Lt. Col. Voisey. “Any mistake you make is public. But also what other people say is public, so it’s important that everyone who is there understands that it is being broadcast live. My studies are inductive classes, so there is not a lot of personal sharing, but we do make sure we have time for that after the recording is finished or before we start. So our start time isn’t exact.” The class starts at 7 p.m. in person, but the live feed usually starts about 7:15 p.m.
Feel free to check out Rev. Williams’ Bible study at Friendship Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC and Lt. Col. Voisey’s Bible study at The Salvation Army—Peekskill, NY on Facebook. Archived videos can be viewed at any time. Williams broadcasts live on the first and third Saturdays of the month, from 3- 4:30 p.m. Voisey broadcasts from 7:10 p.m.—8 p.m. on Wednesdays.
For instructions on how to set up your Facebook Live, check out this link: goo.gl/ISjmYJ