How Mark's making great connections
Mark Lyndon-Jones would be the first to admit he was no tech wizard, but he now has a growing audience
In "a bit of a panic" as churches closed at the end of March, Mark Lyndon-Jones, who leads Porth Elim Church in the Rhondda Valley, says his solution was to "stick my iPhone on an old tripod, hoping it would stay on while we went live on the first Sunday."
So it has come as quite a surprise that he is now hosting three weekly online meetings which together are attracting an international audience of up to 22,000 viewers.
"It was all totally new," he says. "Until that stage, I’d shied away from doing live stuff on social media.
"I’d done lots of posts and used Facebook as an advertising space for our meetings. We got some interaction, but we had no real online experience with our services.
"We’re only 70-80 people and we hadn’t had to think about how to do community before, because people in Rhondda are very involved in each other’s lives already."
Mark’s online Sunday services initially attracted between 100 and 200 people, so he went on to launch a weekly Monday evening blessing and communion service, with Prayer Central services on Thursdays.
A month into lockdown, Mark led his audience into Easter week, pleased with the engagement despite the increasing workload.
"I did something like 48 talks in the first month," he says.
"It was a lot of content, but I just tried to keep it simple. I assumed the people watching us wouldn’t normally go to church, so I tried to use language that would be helpful for people looking in."
It was Pentecost Sunday where things really took off.
"I was out early in the morning for a walk that day. I read the first few verses of Acts 2 and got a fresh revelation where the account says 'the believers were all gathered together in one place'. It was a bit ironic because we weren’t going to be gathered together that day. But the Bible says 'the whole house was filled with the Holy Spirit', and I pictured everyone in their houses on Pentecost Sunday. The whole house could be filled; they didn’t need to be in church.
"So I did a one-minute video and about 1,200 people watched it within an hour.
"In it, I said, ‘Why don’t you say, right where you are, come Holy Spirit’. It became a catchphrase online. Whatever we did from that moment, we would say ‘come Holy Spirit’. We started getting a few thousand viewers every time we did something.”
Mark began to connect with people who had never been to his church before. There were locals from the Rhondda Valley, then others from 15 different nations, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Liberia, Ethiopia, Spain, Canada, France, and Indonesia. Viewing figures across the three services kept building, hitting 1,500 in April; 9,500 in May; and 22,000 in June and July.
And Mark is impressed at the determination of some of his older viewers to access the online meetings. "One of our ladies listens live on Facebook and rings her friend so she can listen down the phone," he says.
He is thrilled that 15 people have come to faith over the past five months as a result of the online services.
"Most of these people wouldn’t necessarily have come into the building to make that decision, but it’s been easier for them to do it in their own houses where they are relaxed and can be themselves. It’s shown me that the Holy Spirit will come to people right where they are."
He gives the example of Debbie, a lady who had never been to church but had joined in the Pentecost service. "When I said, ‘Just say come Holy Spirit" she did. She said the moment she did that she felt as if her life had changed forever."
He has also welcomed the greater honesty that online services have created. "One lady told us she’d just discovered the man she thought was her father wasn’t her father. She was trying to process this and just blurted it out.
“But what she didn’t know was that another lady in our online community had had that exact same experience, and she was able to minister to her. Online, people will talk more openly about the challenges and the anxieties they feel. They want to share the details of their lives, and you can pray for them."
The challenge Mark now faces is how to disciple people online whom he has never met.
"We’ve started using the YouVersion Bible reading app. We had 32 people engage with that in the last session which was enormous for us. Most hadn’t read the Bible before."
Now lockdown is starting to lift, Mark is enjoying getting to meet people in person who have engaged online – like Rachel, a young mum with leukaemia who the church had prayed for.
"Recently I saw her in person for the first time. She’s in remission and she said, ‘As soon as we’re out of this I want to come and get baptised." The online community has been great, but the fact that we’ve built real connections with real people is phenomenal.”
Finding a real pathway to share prayer ...
Mark’s ministry during lockdown has also involved regular 'garden path visits'.
"I visit older or more vulnerable people, stand down the path and pray for them," he says.
But curious neighbours started listening in and soon began asking for prayer themselves. One street stands out in particular.
"I must have prayed for half of New Century Street over the past four months," he says. "Every time I go somebody comes for prayer – sometimes it’s five or six people.
"I was looking to pastor my church, but I’ve ended up pastoring the community."
Church members have had similar experiences. "One guy, Ray, isn’t on Facebook, but a young guy called Danny who works with Ray on a building site found our services and sent the links to him. A few weeks ago, he asked Ray, ‘how do I become a Christian?’, so Ray met him before work one morning and Danny came to faith."
Then there’s Jordan, who lives opposite church member, Dave. Jordan was keen to stress he was not ‘religious’, but Dave assured him he wasn’t either, explaining instead that he had a personal relationship with God.
"A couple of weeks later Jordan knocked on Dave’s door and said, ‘I get it now. It’s about relationship.’ As a men’s pastor, it’s important for me to see us reaching men." says Mark.
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