Russian YouTube show opens more doors for online outreach
Pastor Yuri, founder of a Russian YouTube channel with an evangelistic focus, is seeing his vision for online outreach and worship embraced by thousands of pastors and churches as pandemic conditions drive them to “digital spaces.”
In 2018, Yuri launched a travel and exploration-themed YouTube show in partnership with volunteers from a Finland-based Christian TV channel. Each episode explores a topic in history, travel, culture, or politics and includes a segment to study its spiritual components.
Yuri’s plan for the channel was to accumulate a minimum of 1,000 subscribers and then gather those who were interested into small groups in their local communities for Bible study and worship. As of May 2020, the channel has 2,300 subscribers.
Late last year, Yuri moved into phase two of his plan: he and his team filmed and posted two pilot episodes of “Church Without Walls,” a YouTube series explicitly dedicated to exploring faith in an online community.
“Our plan was to start recording this program on a weekly basis this May, but the quarantine happened and borders closed,” Yuri said.
The global pandemic may have interrupted Pastor Yuri’s forward progress, but it’s proving the value of his innovative vision for Internet-based ministry, evangelism, and discipleship. He believes in it more now than ever.
“You can build relationships, you can talk about God,” Yuri said. “If you remember, two years ago we talked about that. But now (with coronavirus), it’s like, ‘This is what we needed!’ I plan to find a new team in Volgograd and we will make the pilot program with them.”
With his YouTube channel paused, Yuri pivoted to offering his expertise to other pastors and churches that suddenly found themselves thrust unprepared into online spaces for ministry.
He recently delivered a webinar to Russia North District pastors and church leaders on best practices for online worship services, discipleship, and fellowship (webinar in Russian: https://youtu.be/KXP4PxZLYsY).
Yuri first thought of using YouTube to reach unchurched, Russian-speaking people because the Russian government had passed legislation that made it very difficult for Christians to legally share their faith with anyone outside registered church buildings. Yet YouTube and the Internet remain largely as “free space.” Believers can invite anyone to attend meetings on Zoom or Skype or to watch a faith-based program online without restrictions.
As Nazarene churches in Russia adapt to digital meetings, they are already attracting new people.
Recently, a church member invited an unchurched friend to join online Nazarene meetings. The woman has never attended any kind of church service before, including Russian Orthodox services.
“She is the first fruit of this vision,” Yuri said. “She saw our Easter service program and she liked it. I hope that sometime when the isolation is finished, we have the opportunity to meet her in reality.”
Five Nazarene churches in Russia cooperated to host a combined Internet-based Easter service attended by about 100 people on April 19.
One church is hosting small group Zoom meetings in which 10-15 people play games, spend time in discussion, and encourage one another through the separation and isolation of stay-at-home orders. It’s also an opportunity to share faith with those who don’t yet know God.
“The situation with the pandemic is a situation of stress,” Yuri said. “Everybody feels the stress. We talk about how we react in that situation, how God can help us with the stress. We need to change our emphasis from the Sunday services as the activity to which we invite our neighbors and instead involve them in our online meetings and serve them. We need to think about how we can help them.”
This story originally appeared in the June edition of Where Worlds Meet.
--Church of the Nazarene Eurasia