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Growing from the Living Room

Pandemic-inspired techniques pay off long after restrictions ease.
When Aaron D. Hill launched “Living Word from the Living Room” during 2020 pandemic lockdowns, he didn’t know how real his Facebook Live broadcasts would become. After informal chats and a couple of worship songs, the bivocational lead pastor of Living Word Christian Center started delivering a weekly 20-minute sermon, hoping to use social media to enlarge the tiny Charleston, West Virginia, congregation.

“Those were strange times, but fun times,” says Hill, 42, the manager of an automotive paint store. “One time our Goldendoodle got loose and knocked over the camera. The next day, one of my customers said, ‘I saw your dog going wild.’”

The unusual approach worked; one online message attracted 1,200 views. When in-person worship resumed that summer, Living Word met in the back parking lot, using a transmitter to allow attendees to listen on their car radio. After the city shut down a main boulevard on Sundays to allow for socially distanced exercise, Hill moved services out front to attract more attention. One time he climbed up and preached from the roof.

“Once we moved out front, we started seeing people coming to those parking lot services,” says Hill, whose flock numbered less than a dozen in December 2019.

As more attendees warmed to the messages, Living Word began to grow. The church relaunched its children’s ministry and youth group. It now offers midweek meetings for children, youth, and adults.

Today the church is averaging close to 60 on Sundays. During 2022, Living Word performed 14 baptisms and recorded 12 rededications to Christ.

Located about four blocks from the state capitol, the 49-year-old church seeks to be involved in the community. To build relationships with nearby Piedmont Elementary School, members have delivered lunches and cupcakes to teachers, and stocked their lounge with snacks and sodas.

In 2021, the principal called to ask if the church would be willing to donate to a fundraising drive for its new playground. Living Word gave $500; groundbreaking took place last fall.

Robert R. Burton, 50, president of statewide utility West Virginia American Water, sought a new church home after moving to Charleston with his wife, Michele, and daughter Sarah the week before lockdowns started.

On Facebook, Michele connected with Hill’s wife, Sarah. After watching several services online, the Burtons decided to attend Living Word regularly in person. Today, Robert runs the sound board, while Michele and Sarah volunteer in the children’s ministry.

Having lived in eight states during 31 years of marriage, the Burtons have attended churches ranging in size from 60 to 600. What sticks out to Robert is Living Word’s family atmosphere.

“People have your back and care about you,” says Burton, who oversees 200 WVAW employees in Charleston and another 150 statewide. “This church also has a resilient feel to it. It’s amazing what pastor Aaron does while working another full-time job.”

Hill is glad to see paint store customers show up for services.

“It does help the ministry to be out in the community,” Hill says. “It appeals to people that, at the end of the day, I’m just like them.”

Kenneth C. Walker

Kenneth C. Walker is a freelance writer, co-author, and book editor from Huntington, West Virginia. He has more than 4,500 article bylines and has written, edited, or contributed to more than 90 books.