When 6 feet of Comite River water poured into the Faith Worship Center last August, it did more than wreck the building. The same flood chased most of the church’s members out of their homes.
That led the Rev. Rick Sullivan to a 21st-century solution.
“My congregation was so far spread that I just wanted to try to just connect them, just to keep that group of people connected,” said Sullivan, the church’s pastor. “So, the weekend of the flood, that Sunday morning, I did a Facebook Live service just to keep my group connected. I invited all of them to watch and tune in.”
The video from an office in Sullivan’s home, in which he gave a sermon and joined with Jeramy Babin in acoustic worship music, got about 150 views, Sullivan said. He went live again the following Sunday on his personal Facebook page and continued as the weeks went on. He started doing another live video on Tuesdays, and the audience grew.
Repairs still aren’t finished at the church, but as many as 1,700 people a week have watched at least one of the broadcasts. Although he has a large number of Facebook friends, the viewership has amazed Sullivan.
“In real life, we had membership of close to 100, but we didn’t see them every Sunday,” he said. “We saw 50 to 60 people on a Sunday morning. So, it was an exponential growth number.”
It wasn’t the only way the small, scattered church has been able to have an outsized impact.
As people and organizations donated supplies to those hurt by the 2016 flood, Faith Worship Center received more drywall and insulation than it could use. So it distributed it to 10 area homes. The church also fed workers who were repairing a neighboring shopping center.
Progress on the church building has been slow. The flood damage required not only replacing drywall and insulation but many of the building’s studs. Because a stage in the church floated, Sullivan was able to save the pulpit and cross that his father, the Rev. Lewis Sullivan, had used throughout his ministry, and his mother’s keyboard, which he continues to play. The pulpit has been at the church since at least 1983, Sullivan said.
As the work on the church is being done, Sullivan invited his Facebook followers to have a look during the Sunday worship videos. On a Sunday morning in October, Sullivan arrived at the church to find some of his members waiting for him.
“They said, ‘We don’t know what your plan is, but we’re going to church,’ ” he said.
So, Sullivan invited them in, and they set up some straight-back chairs for the small congregation. Only one of the building’s five air conditioners was working, and there was drywall mud on the walls. Four buckets from Lowe’s served as the stand for Sullivan’s keyboard. But the service went on, and it has continued. Now, Sunday services have about 30 or 40 in attendance, in addition to all those who are there on Facebook.
Thanks to a donation from Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization, Faith Worship Center is closing in on its remaining repairs — flooring, painting, air conditioning, cabinetry and trim work.
Even after the renovations are finished, the Facebook videos will continue, Sullivan said.
“The flood experience, actually, gave us an opportunity in ways we never would have thought of and never probably would have had access to to minister and connect to the community around us,” Sullivan said.