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Japan (MNN) — In January 2020, a group of believers in Japan lost their church building. Little did they know, God would use their “temporary solution” as a growth point when the pandemic turned the world upside-down.

“Before other churches in Japan needed to go to an online format, we were forced into that kind of a style. A lot of creative ideas came out of it,” Jeffery Sonnenberg of Asian Access says.

“There are some interesting new ministries we wouldn’t have dreamed of starting without being forced into an online format.”

Planted more than 20 years ago, Saikyo Hope Chapel, now pastored by Rev. Yoshiya Hari, brought believers together for discipleship and fellowship on the north side of Tokyo. “Weeks before the beginning of the pandemic, we lost our (physical) space and started meeting in rented facilities,” Sonnenberg says.

“Then suddenly, the pandemic happened, and we couldn’t access community centers. We had to switch to an online format very quickly, and that [transformed] our thinking about what ‘church’ looks like.”

A2 Board Zoom Call, March 2020Instead of following the order of a traditional service, believers became more intentional with their fellowship time when they transitioned online.

“We moved to this format where the message gets sent to you ahead of time as a video you watch online. During the service, time normally used for preaching was [allocated to] small group discussions run through Zoom,” Sonnenberg says.

Believers who didn’t know how to use their spiritual gifts in the church found new ways to flourish. In one small group, young moms longed for a way to teach their children about the sanctity of life and biblical sexuality. A Christian nurse, who teaches these principles in her profession but never saw an opportunity in the church, offered to help.

“It (the idea) turned into a series of online seminars, and people from across the country, Christians and non-Christians, ended up participating,” Sonnenberg says.

“We’ve also seen God moving. New people have come to faith, and we’ve had online baptismal services. It’s changing and transforming the way we do church and how we can use technology.”

Pray for Saikyo Hope Chapel leaders as they decide how to proceed in the new year. A few days ago, believers signed rental paperwork for a small meeting place to hold in-person activities.

“There’s still the importance of face-to-face meetings,” Sonnenberg says.

“I don’t know that we’re going to see everything going online only. But there’s been a shift towards a hybrid model.”


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