A few months ago, I received a message that the prayer summit event we had been planning would become completely virtual, rather than an in-person event. COVID-19 has been doing that to a lot of events lately. The original plan was a socially-distanced, appropriately well-sanitized event that could take place in person, just like this event has always been done. We even had custom-imprinted hand sanitizers and masks ready to order. However, the persistence of the infections in our area led to the decision to cancel the in-person component.
Naturally, the next step was discussing whether a virtual version of the event was possible and whether or not it would be valuable. I work in the Conference communication department, so my original thought was, “yes, we can pull this off, but I think everyone is burnt out of everything virtual.” However, the decision was made to proceed with the virtual event, but the ideas on how to produce it leaned towards making it its own event, rather than some type of video/call version of what is usually done in person. Yes, there would still be sermons presented, but not as many, and not as long. The multi-day event became a one-day event.
Because it’s a prayer summit, prayer should be integral to the whole thing, so an idea of producing a prayer focus time came up. The prayer focus would feature a pastor in our Conference briefly speaking about and then praying for a particular subject, then inviting the watching audience to take a few minutes wherever they are to stop and pray as well. Also, a live host would be present to pray over each presenter before they joined the live stream via video. Additionally, music from around the conference would help enrich the virtual experience by offering a greater variety in a shorter amount of time.
I went to work, creating motion graphics, and preparing promotional material and videos. I worked with several pastors to compose the prayer focus segments and even got to participate myself by filming my family praying for one of the features. Other organizers worked in their churches to arrange special music segments that I was able to acquire copyright information about and add the appropriate graphic overlays to during the stream.
The stream began in the morning on Sabbath, August 15, 2020, with several churches opting to show the event in their churches in place of the traditional sermon time. The Lord blessed, and the event went off without a hitch. Following those opening components, the program took a break for lunch, which allowed viewers to come home from church and rejoin the program. Resuming in the afternoon, more music, prayer, and presentations resulted in a big blessing for those who watched.
Throughout the program, viewers were given invitations to share their prayer requests through the YouTube and Facebook chat and comments. Many took advantage of this, and it provided a chance for the live host to pray for specific items during the program.
While comparing virtual engagement with physical attendance may be like comparing apples to oranges, it didn’t take long to realize the broader impact of holding the event online. Over the last four years, attendance for the prayer summit has been around 50-60 people. This year, the virtual event’s online registration revealed that more than 150 people took part in the event. Whether in their homes or viewing the event in a local church in the morning, the increase in exposure was noticeable. I received phone calls and online messages, thanking the Conference for holding the event and offering something positive and hope-filled in a dark time.
In a follow-up survey that was sent to registrants, many asked for more prayer time to be part of the virtual programming, and for the event to be held more frequently than once a year. While so many things have been converted to be offered as virtual, and we are becoming burnt out on them, it is clear that we should never be burnt out on prayer. And, as long as issues in our world persist, prayer will consistently be high on our needs list.
You can watch the event, or view individual components of the presentation at www.gscsda.org/prayersummit.
Shane Hochstetler is the communication director at the Gulf States Conference.
Gulf States | October 2020