Carol and Bruce McElmurray attend services at Prestonwood every Sunday. They just happen to do it from their remote home high in the mountains of southern Colorado, thanks to Prestonwood.Live.
Prestonwood.Live provides an opportunity for people near and far to plug in to an online church community.
The McElmurrays’ nearest neighbor is a mile away, and the closest town with a choice of churches is a 42-mile drive over muddy roads in the spring and heavy snow all winter.
“It is difficult to attend any local church on a regular basis,” Bruce said, “so our choice is to attend church online.”
The McElmurrays sampled several churches across the country, “but they’re either New Age or feel-good churches and don’t stick to Scripture,” Bruce said.
Then a friend told them about Prestonwood. The McElmurrays visited online several times and soon decided that Prestonwood best met their needs for a church to call their own.
“Carol and I have lived here full time for 21-plus years and have tried many churches,” Bruce said. “We find that Prestonwood is a good place to worship each Sunday.”
People around the world echo that, and have become a part of the Prestonwood family through Prestonwood.Live.
Dr. Matt Brooks, Online Campus Pastor, leads a team of volunteers who do everything possible to make sure the people accessing Saturday and Sunday services online know they are a special part of Prestonwood.
Coloradoans Carol and Bruce McElmurray find a church home in Prestonwood.Live.
“The people online are from all around the world,” Matt said. “We get people from many countries and from every state in the union.”
Prestonwood.Live attracts about 10,000 views, which averages between 15,000 and 20,000 people, each weekend from about 50 countries on six continents, he said.
Services on Prestonwood.Live are viewed around the world, in English and Spanish. The online community hears the same praise and worship and the same teachings from the pastoral staff, and they respond to the same invitation to put their trust and their lives into the nail-scarred hands of Jesus Christ.
And they can chat with one another during services on their laptops and phones.
The focus of Prestonwood.Live is to connect people in North Texas with Prestonwood, “to have a section in the church, to be here live,” Matt said.
“There’s nothing like being at Prestonwood,” he said. “But if you can’t come to Prestonwood, Prestonwood comes to you.”
Matt said watching online is more immediately interactive as communication is right at the fingertips.
“Part of our prayer team prays not just for the message, but for every name they see as people join the services online,” he said. “And there are several times during the service when we offer to take prayer requests.”
Those who reply will mention loved ones and their needs, and the prayer team prays for them immediately, Matt said. “We say, ‘The prayer team is praying for you right now.’”
Over the months, Prestonwood.Live has grown steadily, with people from every state and many countries joining in the worship and the conversation.
“Someone might say, ‘I’m worshipping in New England,’ and someone will answer, ‘I have a sister there,’ and that starts a conversation. And any point the preaching team brings up we facilitate with a discussion,” Matt said.
Online Campus Pastor Matt Brooks says more than 600 Prestonwood.Live members have accepted Christ in the past year.
Prestonwood en Español uses its Facebook page to engage online followers, said Fady Del Rosario, who oversees the page.
“This is a big part of the engagement process,” he said. “Some are local; some are from other countries—Mexico, Central America, South America, even Europe.
“It’s great because instead of just being viewers, they’re engaged,” he said. “I have scripts I’ve developed and I can literally cut and paste open-ended questions: ‘Where are you viewing from?’ ‘What are your prayer requests?’
“I think the more engaged people are online, the more they feel like they’re a part of the conversation.”
But no matter where they are, there’s a connection through the community of Prestonwood.Live. Though most have never met in person, they’re still friends who care for one another.
“This is Sarah,” one wrote. “I wasn’t able to make it (to church) today but I am watching live.”
Another mentioned a friend and wrote, “I’m so glad you heard his message tonight. I was going to call you and tell u about his message!”
A Prestonwood family who recently moved to Canada told online friends that “until we get established with a church up here, we are staying connected with the Saturday evening church, live online. We are watching now.”
Prestonwood.Live touches seekers and believers wherever they are. Since January 2018, more than 600 people who follow Prestonwood.Live have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, Matt said.
People view Prestonwood.Live from some 50 countries on six continents.
“We’re usually right at 10 to 15 (professions of faith) a weekend, and sometimes in the 18 to 20 range,” he said.
But some weeks are special.
One of those occasions was when Prestonwood member, and popular speaker, author and singer Sheila Walsh shared her testimony with Pastor Jack Graham during services.
“Our numbers and our engagement went through the roof,” Matt said. “Sheila was very transparent, and she was great at pointing people to victory in Jesus Christ.
“Then there was (Pastor Graham’s) tribute to Billy Graham. I think that was the largest reaction I’ve ever seen on Prestonwood.Live.”
The Prestonwood.Live team does everything possible to reach people who don’t know Jesus, or want to learn more.
The volunteers on the prayer team pray not only for the messages that Pastor Graham and Teaching Pastor Jarrett Stephens will bring, but they pray for every name they see as they’re posted online, Matt said.
“Several people mentioned cancer or loved ones with illnesses, and our prayer team prayed for those immediately,” he said. “And there are always several times during the service when we offer to take prayer requests.”
Viewers engage in the worship and with each other through Prestonwood.Live.
Deanna Garcia, who lives in Spain, is one of the international members. She first visited Prestonwood during a Christmas visit with her mother and sister in Texas.
“They regularly attend Christmas Eve services, which is where I first heard Pastor Graham a few years ago,” Deanna said.
“I was blown away by his words and decided to try the church on a regular Sunday that following summer,” she recalled. “For the first time in years, I finally felt at peace, connected in a wonderful way to a church.
“Imagine my delight when I found out about the live (online) services!”
Now she does everything possible to join the 9:30 a.m. Sunday service at 4:30 p.m. in Spain.
“I am sitting uninterrupted in my living room, sometimes with a cup of tea and cookies, to watch and listen,” Deanna said.
“Last summer I tracked down Pastor Matt to introduce myself in person and thank him for overseeing the online ministry,” she said. “There are some people you might say are ‘regulars,’ including a sweet lady from Boston, and some of the online volunteers who are the equivalent of the greeters at the church doors.”
Sarah Westgaard, a volunteer at Prestonwood, does her best to make sure everyone in the online congregation feels welcome, no matter where they are.
“We have Wendell, who (joins us for) services every Saturday night,” she said. “He’s a missionary in the Philippines. I try to pay attention when there are people from overseas. There’s a big time difference. Sometimes its 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. where they are, so I try to make a big deal of them showing up.”
Most will never meet in person. But through Prestonwood.Live, they are part of the same community of believers, no matter where they live.