They never imagined it would grow this quickly.
So say Joey Bluege and George Holleway, Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) vicars at Salem Lutheran Church in Tomball. The SMP program forms men for pastoral ministry through an LCMS seminary while they are serving a congregation. At the beginning of the formation process, they are referred to as “SMP vicars.”
When Salem launched online worship and Bible study in January 2017, the hope was to grow online participation to 500 devices (representing, conservatively, 1000 people) within a three-year period. Instead, the ministry has been blessed to grow from 80 devices on average in its first month to more than 450 by the end of 2017!
Those people have connected from 191 cities in 46 states nationally as well as from more than 60 additional countries around the world. Some of these countries are so hostile to the Christian message that it would be difficult to share the Gospel there in any other way. Nearly as many people participated in Salem’s online Christmas worship services as the 3000 who attended in person.
Participation online is far from the merely passive viewing of an online worship service. Vicars Bluege and Holleway regularly converse with online viewers and pray with them, as well as engaging in online Bible study. In addition to the regular prayers offered online, there have been 113 specific prayer requests from online participants. One hundred thirty-five users are “regular users”—actively involved in the online community and receiving Salem’s newsletter. The next step: the formation of an online small group ministry to connect people more closely to Jesus and to one another.
Holleway notes that there has been much “counting” done over the course of the ministry’s first year to assess its effectiveness. But he wants no one to miss the fact that those numbers are only important because they represent people—people in touch with the life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ.
According to Salem’s senior pastor, Tim Niekerk, “Salem’s Church Online has provided people in places like Iran, Iraq, and Syria the clear gospel message and the real Jesus we teach every week. That message is like the wind Jesus refers to in John 3:8, we can’t know why it goes where it goes, but we know if there is ONE person hearing the message of grace for the first time, the Spirit of God has touched them in a way they have never been touched before.”
By Rev. Jon Braunersreuther
Mission and Ministry Facilitator, Area D