The First Baptist Church of Paranaguá, founded in 1903, is the first Baptist Church in the state of Paraná, Brazil. It currently has 450 members (370 in the headquarters and 80 members in the three church campuses) in the city of Paranaguá. There are 12 more Baptist churches in the city. It is a church with a contemporary mindset, seeking a balance between Baptist tradition and modernity, and has a collegiate ministry.
In early 2020, before the pandemic reached Brazil, we had no idea what was coming. Our services were broadcast by cell phone to Facebook, targeting especially the deaf community – something very simple. The children’s service happened simultaneously with the church service, and during the week we had activities for several organizations and ministries (women, elderly, youth, deaf, music workshop, and the rehearsals of the choirs and worship groups). Financially, we were coming out of a crisis that hit the churches in Brazil in 2015, bringing down contributions to almost twenty percent.
In March 2020, in the middle of a campaign to raise funds for World Mission from the Brazilian International Mission Board, we were surprised by the state and municipal decrees regulating the services and religious activities. The churches were to remain closed and services were to be online only.
At first, we were filled with several concerns and questions, especially about how to proceed from now on. As we had already been talking about the possibility of improving our online transmissions and investing in equipment, God placed in the hearts of two of our pastors the desire to help in this ministry. In the same week, we were able to hold the first meeting of leaders online to discuss the issue. This led to the creation of the Online Worship sector within the Ministry of Communication.
Eugenio Lima (Pastor of the Deaf) brought his own equipment (computer, cameras, screens, etc.) to the church sanctuary, and we made an improvised studio. He and Pastor Pedro Francisco Varga (Youth and Small Groups Pastor) took responsibility for all the transmissions and recordings that were necessary. They oriented the leadership and made themselves available so that the services, meetings, and live programs could be transmitted via YouTube.
In the beginning, we created two live programs during the week (one on Tuesday afternoon and another on Thursday afternoon), aiming to keep the church informed about the pandemic as well as united and participative – taking advantage of the fact that most members stayed home during the lockdown. Interviews were conducted with people from the healthcare industry, business people, self-employed people, professionals, and pastors, etc.
We received a camera as a gift and acquired a new computer to transmit the worship service. However, as it was not an adequate camera for transmission, we decided to invest in equipment and asked for technical orientation from the First Baptist Church of Curitiba’s team. We bought a video production switcher and a new camera and tripod as well as lighting.
We are still learning and training new members for the sound system, multimedia, and worship broadcast teams.
In the worship area, our Minister of Music Marilia Pevidor de Carvalho Cavallari sought to review the structure of the services. This review was done in order to adapt the services to an online worship format while reducing, at first, the worship team to avoid crowding. The church’s choirs and ensembles started to rehearse online and to make individual recordings that, after being mixed, could be presented as videos during the services. Using some free tools on the internet (Zoom and Google Meet), we were able to start children’s services online, thus enabling interaction with the children.
Robson Mattos, Children’s Pastor, motivated his team and together they started to hold the children’s service online, promoting games with the pre-teens and visiting the children (without entering their homes).
The Youth Ministry, the Deaf Ministry, and the Senior Adults Ministry tried to keep the fellowship and the programs using the same tools; however, some were not able to join as not everyone had internet access or the needed devices.
The Senior Adults Ministry is led by sister Vânia Kleinhans. She managed not only to motivate the elderly to make use of the internet, but she also sought the help of family members (children and grandchildren) of the senior adults in order to assist them.
The church fellowship was made more dynamic through the use of WhatsApp. In the group called “PIB Diversos,” we provided a space for free, lively, and dynamic communication as well as using it for games, announcements, announcing birthdays, etc. In the “PIB intercession” WhatsApp group, only prayer requests and thanksgiving are allowed, and at the end of each day the pastor prays for the published requests.
The Sunday School had its activities interrupted in the first months. However, we decided to use Tuesday afternoons, replacing one of the weekly programs, to offer Online Bible School.
At the beginning of the second semester of 2020 with the return of our in-person services (with limited number according to the norms of the Health Department), it gave us the possibility to have a Sunday Bible school class and broadcast it to those who are staying at home.
The return of the in-person services, with only a third of the sanctuary’s capacity, was received with some caution by most members of the church. Even now, more than eight months later, we still have not surpassed 100 people attending the service.
As it was mentioned in the beginning, the church was recovering from a financial crisis, and we thought it would get worse during lockdown due to a reduction of tithes and more. However, once again, God and the church surprised us. In almost every month, we not only reached the budget but exceeded it. A large part of the church membership started to deposit or transfer their tithes. Today the minority of them deposit their tithes in the offering plate, but the offering moment in the service is often to hand over the proof of deposits.
The Church’s Mission
The church had been working toward the implementation of Multiplier Small Groups for a few years. We were running five groups in 2019, looking to multiply the groups in 2020. This was the hardest hit ministry in the church. At first, we tried to keep the small groups in an online format without success. So, by the end of 2020, only one group was still meeting online.
Our church campuses continued their work. They have their own church sanctuaries and pastors. The Bairro Nova Primavera Campus was to be organized in August 2020 with 60 members. Unfortunately, we had to postpone the organization, and we hope it will be possible to organize it this year. The congregation in Bairro Guaraguaçu was the one that suffered the most. In addition to having few members, most of them are in their senior years. The congregation at Bairro Labra has had a good attendance and has not stopped its activities. This success is thanks to the hard work of its pastor who has been doing visits and meetings with small groups of young people to keep the flame alive.
Last year our main campus baptized only eight people. We have scheduled baptisms for this month.
As we said, we were surprised by the pandemic and the prohibition of resuming the services in person during the Brazilian International Mission Board’s World Missions Campaign we have at church. At first, we thought that the campaign would be a failure. But God surprised us. Even with the church temple closed, we managed after four years of not reaching the offerings goal to not only reach the goal but also to surpass it. This is also what happened with the other campaigns we had.
It is worth sharing that the creativity of our Missions Council Leader was a very important piece for us to reach the offerings goal. Sister Elaini Lopes involved the whole church in a creative way. She managed to have free canteens and bazaars. It was a great success.
At first, it was very difficult for our Ministry of Social Assistance to give support since its leader and a good number of its members are seniors or have some underlying condition. Even so, we tried to help especially those members who were experiencing some difficulty or who were unemployed. Throughout the year, we tried to adapt our services to the needs and the norms imposed by the government, particularly in the distribution of food.
We also tried to contribute through various media (newspaper, Facebook, and WhatsApp), helping make the population and the church members aware of the seriousness of the situation and many times calming the spirits of the nonconformists. We began to write, almost daily, articles on various issues that were linked to the pandemic and sought to reinforce the measures adopted by the government authorities, guiding the population and believers in general to do their part.
- We tried to be cautious from the beginning by faithfully obeying the decrees issued by the government. We put a banner in front of the church warning the population that, in cooperation with the government, our doors were closed.
- After putting prayer first, bringing awareness was and has been the most useful tool throughout the pandemic.
- We tried not to innovate in ecclesiastic practices (suppers, administrative assemblies, changes in the system of receiving members, etc.), meaning we did not change anything that could contradict our ecclesiology or theology. We know that the pandemic will pass, but the principles will not.
- We started to hold online meetings, almost weekly, with the church leadership and gradually spaced out the meetings.
- We froze the budget and the release of funds is no longer automatic, requiring authorization from the Finance Division depending on the amount.
- We took advantage of what we already had in place regarding online services. However, initially with the borrowing of equipment (computer, video camera, and lights), we started broadcasting until we could get more training and buy our own equipment. We avoided going into debt, and caution and information were key points.
- The decisions, at first, became more centralized in the Leaders’ Council (pastors, ministry and division leaders, deacons, and church board). In the second half of 2020, we started back in-person services and resumed the church assemblies after the services.
- The scheduled conferences and retreats were transformed into live programs on YouTube, and the preachers previously invited remained the same.
- We maintained the campaigns to raise offerings for Missions (State, National and World), and we exceeded the offering goals in all of them.
- The Church’s Board of Directors and the other elected positions for the year 2020 had their mandates extended until the end of 2021.
- During the pandemic, we could see how good and faithful God is. He provides for all our needs.
For Reflection and Discussion
- The article shares about an increase in giving in spite of economic challenges stemming from COVID-19. Have you felt a call toward greater generosity during this season and how have you responded?
- The church featured in the article found WhatsApp to be a helpful tool to connect with their community. What technology has been most helpful to your community? Are there other tools you are researching to implement long-term?
- The church sought to remain true to their theology and ecclesiology. How have you been able to hold fast in these areas?