TULSA—Dave Bender likens the aging population of this second-largest metropolis in Oklahoma once known as “The Oil Capital of the World” to “an oil reserve that is untapped.”
Bender, minister of administration and media at Tulsa, South Tulsa, oversees the church’s Worship Service Online ministry that is celebrating its first birthday in an effort to share the love of Jesus Christ with those in their golden years.
What began a year ago at the Legend at Mingo Road Assisted Living & Memory Care center has now grown to include 11 other such centers, where Tulsa, South Tulsa’s Sunday worship services are live streamed.
And, Bender said Tulsa, South Tulsa members aren’t greedy—they want to give the success God has provided to them away, and they’re willing to help teach other churches how to do it.
“We’d love to see other churches do this, because I think it’s a great way to share their church services with these retirement homes that are exploding all around in our communities,” stressed Bender, who said the church has been streaming its services in-house for almost 19 months.
“We actually started in the summer of 2012,” Bender explained. “We have a group of folks who I call our Online Ministry Team. They came to me in January 2012 and said, ‘You know, we have this online streaming down pretty well, and we think we’re ready to take it on the road.’
“We started out thinking about places such as the Ronald McDonald House and the county jail. About that same time, one of our members was a director of an independent and assisted living facility which had just set up their facility with WI-FI and had a large flat screen TV, but they couldn’t get anyone to come in and do their Bible studies, which is how it is normally done. So, I started working with him and offered to try the online ministry out.”
Bender said the simple requirements for the facility to host the online service are a flat screen TV with a HDMI cable and a Wi-Fi connection.
Tulsa, South Tulsa’s Worship Service Online volunteers promote the services through various mediums and take the services into the retirement homes each week.
“We use our 8-page, four-color publication called The Channel, of which we mail about 150 copies weekly,” Bender said. “All of the facilities we go to are within about five miles of our church. We put up fliers in their elevators or on their bulletin boards to let the residents know about the service.
“We try to personalize it and build a relationship with their activities director or administrator. They then make an announcement the day of the services to bring the folks in, and it’s basically just like having a little church there in the center each week.
“The members of the Online Ministry Team set everything up and pass out the special bulletins we have printed each week.”
The Online Ministry Team members access the Tulsa, South Tulsa worship service either through a special App or the church’s web page.
Bender said the resident groups are large and small, ranging in size from 35 to six people.
“We record the services, too, and one of the facilities is playing them back on Monday for the folks who miss the service on Sunday,” he said. “Our desire would be for other churches to find out about it, call us and let us show them how to do it. I think we would even be interested in maybe sponsoring them for the first site, show them how to do it and then turn it over to them. It’s a ministry we are very interested in sharing with the rest of the churches in the state.”
Going out and just showing something on a TV is not the point, Bender stressed.
“In our bulletins we have something we call a “Connect Card,” that allows people to share prayer requests and/or interest in the church. We send out Channels, bulletins, offering envelopes and pens and we get maybe two or three responses back per week. We have even had interest by some in joining the church.” Even more importantly, hands-on ministry has resulted.
“We have something called our Stephen Ministry for people to minister to others in difficult times, such as a marriage situation, the loss of a loved one, loss of a job or financial pressures, and our Stephen Ministry is starting to build relationships with folks in these retirement homes,” he said. “We also are talking about forming a class to minister to caregivers.”
But, the greatest joy, he said, is worshiping with the folks and seeing them commune with God as they sing.
“About half of the facilities are for those with memory issues, and that’s where our largest attendance is,” Bender said. “Some of the residents may not remember what they had for breakfast, but they can sing joyfully along with the hymns in our blended service.
For more information about the Tulsa, South Tulsa, Worship Service Online, or its App, visit www.stbc.net, or call 918/299-0904.