When the pandemic began in March 2020, Living Stream Ministry was forced to cancel the 2020 International Chinese-speaking Blending Conference and then to hold the March 2020 International Training for Elders and Responsible Ones online. LSM was accustomed to providing the two semiannual trainings via both live and delayed webcast. Thus, holding ITERO via webcast was not something completely new. The hope at that time was that the pandemic would be short-lived and that we would be able to hold the conferences and trainings live again soon.
But as we all know, that would not be the case, and as LSM began preparing for the 2020 International Memorial Day Blending Conference, there was much fellowship about how to carry out the conferences and trainings during a prolonged pandemic. Certainly the usual way of webcast was an option, but there was a burden to do something more. So, through the fellowship the decision was made to offer the Memorial Day Conference messages in a way that would be easy for the saints to watch them throughout the whole earth: all the messages were streamed at the scheduled meeting times in each locality’s time zone. Thus, all the saints in a local church could watch each meeting at the same time online following the usual conference schedule. For example, the first conference message was streamed via webcast on Friday, 22 May 2020, at 7:00 p.m. no matter where you lived. LSM also encouraged the leading brothers to provide online meeting sessions for prophesying after each message and to cluster with other churches in their own time zones. LSM likewise provided online prophesying sessions by time zones for those saints who did not have a way to blend for prophesying. We at LSM were quite amazed by the results. For comparison, consider these statistics:
In 2019 the webcast connections were for churches, not for individuals. But if we assume a reasonable average of 50 saints per connection, the total number of saints attending webcast was 19,850, and the total attendance was 22,420. In 2020 the attendance was at least 87,937 (and probably much more), an increase of 300%!
We were very encouraged and excited by this, and so, we decided to take the same way of rolling out the messages by time zone for all upcoming events during the pandemic. Compare these results:
Again, it is difficult to know how many saints actually attended the ICSC, Memorial Day, and Thanksgiving conferences by webcast in 2020 and 2021 since many connections hosted whole churches or smaller groups of saints. But the numbers above for the 2020 and 2021 conferences provide at least minimums, and these show very significant increases over their pre-pandemic counterparts.
Since the semiannual trainings are registered events, the webcast numbers are probably closer to actual attendance. During the pandemic we made the video training accessible to the saints in their homes. Thus, many who did not register before due to health issues or due to location and difficulty in commuting were able to register and participate from home.
Another factor in the increase in attendance during the pandemic is related to language availability. Since the messages of the semiannual training are pre-recorded, there has been a way for a number of languages that do not typically translate during the live trainings to translate the messages ahead of time and to have their translations available for webcast. We have gone from 12 languages in 2019 to 24 languages in 2021. For the conferences during the pandemic we have been able to offer the messages in 20 languages by webcast.
Going forward, LSM intends to hold the conferences and semiannual trainings after the pandemic both in live events and via the improved webcast format that we have been using during the pandemic. We hope that this will give as many saints as possible the practical way to be in all the conferences and trainings throughout the year.
But God has blended the body together.
1 Cor. 12:24
And when this letter is read among you, cause that it be read in the church of the Laodiceans also,
and that you also read the one from Laodicea.
Brother Witness Lee once pointed out that the epistles in the New Testament blended the churches together:
In the New Testament we also see a marvelous blending. The Lord Jesus blended all the seven churches in Asia together by sending them one aggregate epistle. Paul blended the churches in Colossae and Laodicea by writing one epistle to each of the two churches respectively and asking them to read the two epistles reciprocally (Col. 4:16). This indicates that in the eyes of Paul those two churches were one. They both should know the same thing. (The Practical Points concerning Blending, ch. 4, CWWL 1994-1997, 1:119)
Blending the churches is one of the functions of the New Testament ministry, and this service of the ministry still continues today. In the past we may have thought that it was our coming together physically that accomplished the blending among us in the local churches. But this pandemic has shown us that the blending is not at all in the physical and natural realm nor is it based on solely our activity. It is God who blends the churches in the Body together, and He does this in the divine and mystical realm through the saints’ participation and enjoyment of the ministry. We should all be in the same things, with one accord, and even with one mouth (Rom. 15:6), and this is really happening among us more and more these days. As He did in the days of Paul, so He is doing in our days today. In the physical and natural realm of this world there is a global pandemic, but in the divine and mystical realm within the churches there is blending. And, to be sure, the Lord is using this pandemic to intensify His blending work among us through this ministry. The numbers testify of that. Praise Him!