The Birth of the Adventist Church Online Network in the South Pacific

Although the collaboration of the unions and the Digital Discipleship Ministry of the South Pacific was birthed from COVID-19, it’s apparent that God was working behind the scenes laying the foundation well in advance.

Digital August 11, 2020

Since mid-July 2020, the Adventist Church Online Network (ACON), a collaboration between the Digital Discipleship Ministry of Adventist Media and the four unions of the South Pacific Division, has been equipping local churches to create intentional and impactful online experiences. 

The purpose is to increase engagement and improve online evangelism opportunities for local churches.

Presently, the ACON experience consists of a five-week series of weekly broadcasts followed by a set of workshops. Each week’s broadcast has focused on a particular aspect of online church, including building digital teams, navigating technology, developing online journeys, understanding the challenges and benefits of live versus recorded services, and exploring models of online church experiences. 

In addition to the broadcast and workshops, ACON has a Facebook group to provide support, a website with resources and past broadcasts, and a space where church members and leaders can share their visions for what the church may look like in the future. 

Highlight of ACON

One of the most effective features of ACON has been providing a consultation to Esther-Shahn Pedersen, Manna Park Seventh-day Adventist Church’s communication director; the experience is designed to help increase her church’s intentionality and impact in the online space.

During the first three weeks of the consultation, the objective has been to understand Manna Park’s needs, provide guidance and support, and help in developing a strategy. It’s apparent that through this process, Pedersen is developing a vision for the possibilities to communicate the gospel online through her church’s platforms. She has developed the skill to create an intentional content calendar with specific calls to action that are aligned to the ministries within the church and delegate responsibilities to her team members. 

The transformation has been inspiring and is challenging the ACON team to think of how this experience can be documented and replicated across more churches within the South Pacific Division.

The need for churches to continue in the online space

Although the collaboration of the unions and the Digital Discipleship Ministry of the South Pacific was birthed from COVID-19, it’s apparent that God was working behind the scenes laying the foundation well in advance.

In January 2020, the Digital Discipleship Ministry moved from the Australian Union Conference to Adventist Media at the South Pacific Division. Though this was a time when planning for the upcoming 6th and 7th Digital Discipleship Conferences in Australia and New Zealand should have been taking place, the impending impact of COVID-19 put those plans on hold. 

Instead, during lockdown, Rachel Lemons Aitken, digital discipleship strategist and founder of the ministry, worked alongside Jan Rhais Armantaid, her assistant at the time, to develop a curated collection of resources on the Digital Discipleship website to support local churches and families impacted by COVID-19. 

Aitken explains that she was “waiting on God, to sense his leading about what he wanted her to do next with the ministry.”

Around this same time, New Zealand’s COVID-19 restrictions started to lift as their lockdown came to an end. Pastor Victor Kulakov, Discipleship Ministries Leader for the New Zealand Pacific Union Conference, recognized a risk and an opportunity in this situation. While churches entered the digital space because of their need to continue worshipping as a congregation, Kulakov believed they needed to stay there to reach out digitally to the community around them. 

“Now you’d have to convince me not to encourage churches to minister online,” he stated emphatically.  

However, Kulakov was not new to the online space. In 2019, he teamed up with the Digital Discipleship ministry to lead a team of engaged pastors, lay people, and technicians in running the first Digital Discipleship Conference outside of Australia and the fifth conference for the Digital Discipleship ministry. 

This joint effort laid the foundation for ACON.

A God-inspired collaboration

In May 2020, when Kulakov raised the idea of a training event for his churches in the New Zealand Pacific Union Conference, Aitken suggested bringing onboard the other unions from across the South Pacific Division to create an experience which would be beneficial to all of them.

From there, the team evolved to include Pastor Cameron Wari, communication director for Papua New Guinea Union Mission; Pete Navosailagi, Trans Pacific Union Mission communication assistant; Vahiria Kei, ministry assistant to Discipleship & Hope Channel NZ; Lyndelle Peterson, director of Personal Ministry, Sabbath School, and Stewardship in the Australian Union Conference; Pastors Adrian Webster, Jesse Hereford, Steve Pointe, and Joshua Stothers from the New Zealand Pacific Union Conference; Kent Kingston, editor of Signs of the Times Magazine in Australia; and the production team from Whangarei Seventh-day Adventist Church, which includes Pastor Jordan Spangler and church members Andrea Melville, Luke Melville, and Tony Smith. 

The diverse skill sets, networks, and backgrounds of this team have been invaluable to the creation and development of ACON. 

In order to build the platforms of the local unions, viewers have been encouraged to watch and engage with the event on their local union’s Facebook page.

The spectrum of needs

One of the challenges of working collectively across the division has been addressing the various needs presented. While some countries are faced with the challenges of prohibitively expensive data, others are faced with language barriers to participate in the meetings. And as conversations progressed, various additional needs came to light.

The topics and content of the event have attempted to reflect those diverse needs and allow the team to adjust the programming and workshops as additional issues are identified.

Looking beyond the five-week event, the team is identifying ways they can continue to work together to further equip their local churches and leverage the strength gained from their collective knowledge and experience. Some of the possibilities include additional online events, church consultations, and training resources.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can visit the ACON website or view the videos on the Digital Discipleship Facebook page or Youtube channel.

The Topics of the Adventist Church Online Broadcast

Week 1: What Does the Church Look Like Going Forward?

This session will challenge your thinking about the power of your church’s online presence and the impact it can have. 

Week 2: How to Set Up a Team for Your Digital Church

Learn who to include on your team, from churches with a lot of volunteers, to those with just a few. Also, learn ways to engage members in the church’s digital evangelism. We’ll explore the benefits and challenges of live and recorded services.

Week 3: Gain Technical Expertise for Your Digital Church

Learn about equipment and understand the best equipment to buy for different budgets. Understand the technicalities of live streaming and other types of online ministry.

Week 4: What’s the Journey for People Visiting Your Digital Church?

Think through the steps a person takes when they visit your church’s online presence. Think about what you want them to do next and develop an intentional journey.

Week 5: Learn the Different Models of Digital Churches

Understand the different ways your church can minister in the digital space, both when serving online is necessary and when it becomes a part of your church’s ministries as churches return to in-person meetings.

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