The COVID-19 era has been a major time of reflection and pause, but it has not been a full stop, according to Bahamas Harvest Church (BHC) senior pastor Mario Moxey, and he says he does not see the pandemic changing things permanently. He sees the church rebounding and a lot of prosperity coming out of it.
“COVID doesn’t stop progress,” said Moxey. “We as a Bahamian people are very progressive in our thinking as evidenced by the amount of construction that has been ongoing.”
While BHC has always had major online presence, the pandemic forced them into improving their streaming capabilities to do away with the technical issues they were having prior to COVID-19. Moxey said they changed their platform altogether for something more user-friendly for the variety of devices the members of his congregation make use of to log on to services.
“In addition to that, we also changed the website, which was fine before, but we needed something more robust. We had a content management site before … there were some issues with it and we had to change the platform we had for our website; incredible results almost immediately.”
Another major change BHC made during COVID was software, which allows them to check in guests online, and do all the normal things they do during an in-person service, virtually and in real time.
“Our key performance indicator is engagement and not viewership, it’s a two-way conversation,” says Moxey. “The membership can interact with us in real time, we can know who is watching, they can chat with us in real time – all the normal things we could do during in-person service we could do in real time.”
At BHC, they are also big on registration according to the senior pastor, which he says has become important to the church community, at large.
“A number of churches don’t keep a record of their members and don’t have a membership roll that has names and contacts. There’s no way for them to contact members, so it hinders them the moment in-person service was suspended and almost starting from scratch to find contacts. For some time, we have done only what we felt we needed to do in the church, and now we recognize we need to be proactive in gathering information and data from our congregation.”
While BHC has not had an in-person service since March 15, when the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in The Bahamas, and had to suspend its October return to in-person service after a BHC staff member was exposed to an individual who tested positive for the novel coronavirus, Moxey says there has been an upside for churches that have leveraged it.
“When you do in-person service, you’re only reaching those persons you can physically touch; online expands your scope and you can reach people, including beyond the borders.”
Their new streaming capabilities allows BHC to review and see where people are streaming from.
“And it’s great to see people from around the world tuning in,” said Moxey. “Those persons who check in, we know who they are. We’re not even counting the people that don’t check in.”
Viewership in the Family Island he said has also skyrocketed, for BHC, which is “amazing” for him, as he is also seeing Family Islanders participating in their small groups program, which is all about creating environments for authentic Christian relationships to be experienced within communities.
“Our check-in numbers went as high as over 1,000 for one sermon; that’s a strong indicator to us.”
BHC’s physical adult presence pre-COVID for a service, numbered at 1,200 and 500 for children, so Moxey is thrilled to have 1,000 people checking in for one service online and engaged throughout the process.
He attributes their willingness to join the online platform to the interesting series they present – one of the most popular was their recent “Entanglement” series.
While Moxey is proud BHC was able to pivot when they needed to, he believes most churches will survive the pandemic easily. He notes that Bahamians are dedicated when it comes to their church. And even in difficult times, he said they will step up to assist their church.
“Even if they can’t go in-person to give their offering, they’re going to make the donation because they know churches need the money to keep the doors open, and when people know they can benefit from the church, they give so much more.”
And in the midst of the pandemic, BHC is one of those progressive churches that is forging ahead, commencing work next week on its new edifice on Bethel Avenue, on which they broke ground on October 3, 2018.
The hold up in construction Moxey says was their realization after the fact that they needed to elevate the building two feet to be above the road.
With the revised elevation, the new BHC edifice, when completed, will be 13 feet in the air, so they have decided to utilize the space for a basement which will serve as a convention center. The revision to the plan meant the project was delayed in starting.
The addition also means the total square footage of the building will be a little over 100,000 square feet, with the basement a little over 40,000 square feet.
BHC’s East Campus is 15,000 square feet; its West Campus is 20,000 square feet.
“As soon as we were done with the basement last year, it was Hurricane Dorian, so our manufacturers were watching and recommended we increase the wind speed load required. We were beyond 155 miles per hour, but because Dorian was the kind of storm it was, they recommended we increase the wind load, so now we’re rated for a hurricane of 200 miles per hour.”
With the revised additions, BHC’s new building tag is estimated to cost $24 million after two years and two major changes later.
Construction is slated to begin in the first quarter of 2021, with site preparation expected to start as early as next week.
“This is a long time coming…
COVID doesn’t stop progress. The building itself is pivotal to us. It’s important because it is going to be the signal of our small beginnings.”
The primary reason he has a strong desire to see the new edifice, which will bring both their campuses together under one roof to completion, is because it will allow him to then switch his focus on empowerment centers in over-the-hill communities next.
“When I returned home, I started Jesus in the Park and as I was packing up the equipment, the Lord told me to stop and look around and he said to me, ‘you’re coming here, setting up ministry and leaving, you need to set up and stay’. I needed to do more than a park ministry.”
He then started a food and clothing distribution, Harvest Distribution Center, the vision for which started to evolve toward classes to help people become employable, but Moxey never got to that phase because he had to choose between building the east campus in 2000, and keeping the doors open. He had to close the food and clothing distribution to open the doors to the physical church.
“That left me bitter, because I was disappointed that we had to stop ministry to build a building. I carried that bitterness for two years. I vowed to God when I started the empowerment center that I would not close the doors. Now, I am getting that release.”
The thought of being able to realize his empowerment centers has him excited more than anything else, but he knows he has to complete the new church edifice first.
Moxey’s goal is to build three centers through which they can impact over-the-hill communities, backed by his congregation in which he says he has professionals, who are willing to leverage their talent to assist residents in over-the-hill.
“That’s the ministry there that I really want to get into,” said Moxey.