In this virtual ministry series, we have explored churches who have successfully moved their services online. These churches had a large following and familiarity within the Adventist Church before the pandemic, and they only flourished further since last March when COVID-19 became official. With prepared productions every week, these churches have practically mastered the online church experience, welcoming thousands of new members from time zones around the world. And experiences they truly are. They are well-lit, well-edited, and well-done productions that have kept a worshipful, engaged, and full church feeling alive for many in these times.
But there is another that has grown its following in many of the same ways without editing, without pre-recording, and without being a church at all. They do things differently and always have. This is the One project, “a beautiful movement of people who are keen to hear the voice of Jesus in their life.” At least that’s how Japhet De Oliveira, co-founder of the One project, puts it.
the One project is not a church nor is it an official affiliation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. According to their website, the One project is a 501c3 nonprofit organization with small but mighty beginnings that stemmed from the “Primal Adventist Impulse: a longing to be with Jesus.” the One project began at a Denver hotel with a group of friends. Among those friends were Alex Bryan, Tim Gillespie, Dany Hernandez, Eddie Hypolite, Sam Leonor, Terry Swenson, and the aforementioned De Oliveira. There they discovered just how serious they were about Jesus and about developing a community where people could find the same love, passion, and purpose.
That was in 2010. Since then, the One project has hosted over 30 “Gatherings” around the globe, welcoming thousands to attend weekend-long meetings, discussions, and worship opportunities that center around the One project resolution, “Jesus. All.” Though some content has always been accessible online after the fact, the Gatherings were designed to be in-person.
De Oliveira says he and his colleagues had “always been excited about being in a room with people from all different backgrounds and faiths who want to hear about God in a way that may change the way they think.” He described the “electricity in the room with a group of thinkers.”
And speaking of electricity, the One project Gatherings created quite the buzz among the Adventist Church and collected some infamous criticism along the way. Each Gathering increased in attendance as more and more purchased their tickets to the weekend experiences.
After nearly a decade of traveling the globe to gather with Jesus-seekers, the One project decided that 2018 would be the last year of Gatherings for the time being, as leadership was making plans to begin a second chapter to create new opportunities for new conversations. “Chapter Two” of the One project then launched with a brand-new Gathering in February 2020.
That highly anticipated return of the Gatherings would turn out to be one of the few times people found themselves in a room with hundreds of others that year. COVID-19 changed life as we knew it and the world came to a halt in March. Packed event centers humming with people, cities flooded with world-wide visitors, and hotels booked to the rafters quickly became unimaginable, and the One project pivoted with everyone else.
As they embarked on the months of uncertainty and change to come, the One project remained determined to connect again with their friends and followers. They were hopeful in the early months that the pandemic would subside and the Gatherings they had planned for the fall would still happen. In the meantime, there was Salt Works.
Salt Works is a Sabbath School class Alex Bryan leads in his Walla Walla University Church community. Bryan is also a co-founder of the One project. Each of the pastors who founded or who have since come on board with the One project have full time jobs outside of the One project. It is largely led today by De Oliveira, Bryan, Sam Leonor, Tim Gillespie, Paddy McCoy, and Rod Long. They are busy tending after their own congregations and supporting their own communities, but have found great purpose in their work with the One project. De Oliveira says he enjoys that the One project has given him the opportunity to talk with his One project brothers every day. Their commitments naturally become intertwined as their intentions are shared. So, when Alex Bryan moved his Jesus-centered Sabbath School fully online during the pandemic, it was an instant hit for those who had just reconnected with the One project. They intend to continue the digital class well into the future, regardless of what may improve about the pandemic.
Salt Works is unique in its own right as it is led by the One project crew and is a weekly production available online every Saturday morning. Because it is presented by the One project, it is not strictly a Sabbath School but rather fits their definition of a “Connect Group.” For the One project, a Connect Group is a way to connect with God and one another. De Oliveira explained that it has meant something different in these times for everyone who joins. For some, Salt Works is simply their opportunity to gather with believers and Christian philosophers, for others it’s their Sabbath School and for many, it’s their church.
Perhaps surprisingly to some, Salt Works is popular considering the way it is produced. Throughout this pandemic, churches have searched for and succeeded in finding ways to make their services seamless. A glitch in a real-time stream or a frozen face in the middle of the sentence is enough to ruin the already strange experience of attending church online. Those with the technology often opt to pre-record to eliminate the risk of interruptions. But Salt Works is as live and down to earth as it gets. Each discussion is streamed in real time and fosters a live discussion in a chat section. This allows viewers to contribute, participate, and enjoy a tangible connection with those they’ve gathered with online. Every prayer, question, insight, laugh, smile, and tear is shared in the moment. At the end, viewers are invited to join Extra Salt, a Zoom room meant to mimic the bustle of a church lobby after a service.
While Salt Works can be accessed via social media, the One project team encourages people to go directly through their website and use their “TOP LIVE Channel” for the best experience. Alternatively, they can find all of the One project content in “The 1 Project” app developed and launched in 2020. By “registering” for Salt Works in either place with an email address, viewers then have easy access every week to the live streams and are able to participate in the live chats. Accessing it this way gives viewers the intended experience and also provides separation from the burnout many feel when consuming digital content via social media. From beginning to end, each Salt Works session is candid, different and, true to its name, flavorful.
the One project leaders know they have many people joining them and watching them, so they like the experience to be “fresh” and not recorded ahead. According to De Oliveira, “a few hundred” watch live every Saturday morning and “a couple thousand” end up viewing each Salt Works by the end of the week.
the One project team explored many software platforms to find a way to deliver the best experience. What they ended up with was technology that not only made Salt Works better than ever, but also brought back the hope of Gatherings.
There were supposed to be two more in-person Gatherings in the fall of 2020, but both were cancelled when it became clear the pandemic was not going anywhere any time soon. Instead, the One project launched its first-ever fully online Gathering for October 23–25, 2020. In true Gatherings fashion, it was complete with a packed schedule meant to fill every moment with highly concentrated doses of Christ.
The weekend event focused on one passage, featured two sessions, and was made to fit time zones of three continents. The passage, Matthew 24:4–14, highlighted the theme of the Gathering, “Stay the Course,” as Jesus was describing the hardships His followers would face as the earth aged. Session 1 covered verses 4–9 and Session 2 covered verses 10–14.
Each session was about three hours long and included compact presentations from multiple speakers, music, live panel discussions, and a live chat with registrants. Thanks to the same software and setup mastered through Salt Works, these online Gathering sessions were available live worldwide — participants merely had to follow the schedule to find the starting time that lined up with their time zone. For example, when Session 2 began on Saturday, it could be viewed live at 11 a.m. in Los Angeles, 12 p.m. in Denver, and 2 p.m. in New York. This meant the very same live stream was available in London at 7 p.m. and in Copenhagen at 8 p.m. Things got a little tricky in Australia as that was then Sunday at 5 a.m. in Sydney and at 2 a.m. in Perth, but Sessions were each repeated a second time to create double the availability in different time zones. A schedule was created to keep it all straight.
Registration fees for pre-pandemic, in-person Gatherings were typically a few hundred dollars to cover venue expenses and support the One project, but the online Gathering was made completely free. This is not because it was without expenses — their software contracts alone that make it possible to facilitate Gatherings are $20,000, according to De Oliveira. Having quality technology to capture the live streams and create a dynamic viewer experience isn’t cheap. Free access to the online Gathering was made possible by donors, most of whom were just individual people who love the One project and who were eager to have it back.
Counted among individuals who love the One project are Donna and Tulio Robinson. They discovered the One project in 2015 when Donna said they decided to give some of their content a listen after hearing lots of talk at the time about their “supposed dangers and ‘apostasy.’”
“Discovering that every sermon was about Jesus, and that the attacking video I was shown was full of falsehoods, we decided to attend our first Gathering in San Diego in 2017,” said Robinson. “We found it to be so refreshing to focus on Jesus, and felt like we had found our ‘tribe.’ We then attended another in San Diego the next year, then Atlanta, then Redlands, and finally Boulder last February just before COVID hit.”
The Robinsons live in Tennessee and were hopeful the Gatherings scheduled for fall of 2020 would happen since one was going to be in Chattanooga. When the online replacement was announced, they signed up right away. Robinson said it was “almost as good” as the real deal. They especially appreciated the live chat where they could ask questions and “see” some friends they recognized.
“Since we wouldn't think of missing the One project Gatherings now, we were excited when they started Salt Works,” she said.
The Robinsons started joining in on Salt Works for the week of Easter. the One project actually hosted daily Salt Works meetings about the Passion Week and all that Jesus endured. As with the Gatherings, the Easter Salt Works concluded with a communion service and a blessing.
“We made our own bread and bought grape juice, and joined virtually with hundreds of others for a very special communion and blessing service that I will never forget,” said Robinson.
They have not missed a Salt Works session since and truly see it as their Christian church family, especially in these isolated times.
“I love that I am always surprised by a new way of looking at something so familiar, and that I am always challenged to apply Scripture to my life in meaningful ways afterwards,” said Robinson. “The point is to take what we talk about and go out among our neighbors and communities to live out Christlike love to them. Service, community, unconditional love, filling needs, and treating all people equally: these are the themes of our weekly talks as well as the Gatherings. How did Jesus live out God’s love for us? How can we do the same for others? What does it mean to be a follower of Christ in the real, messy world we live in? I am so grateful to be part of this vital movement, especially at this point in earth’s history.”
Robinson noted that, much like the Gatherings, the panel of people leading the Salt Works sessions with Alex Bryan are from many different backgrounds. Among the pastors are administrators, healthcare professionals, recent graduates, and a mix of men and women from all ages. The variety leads to many thought-provoking discussions and interpretations of Scripture which is what keeps such a diverse crowd coming back for more.
“It is incredible to be challenged, encouraged, and blessed each week, and the presenters have become friends in many ways,” she summarized. “We also connect with other people we’ve known through the years or have met at Gatherings.” She and her husband both consider the One project and its recent endeavors a true “Godsend.”
Many share the same sentiments about both the Gatherings and Salt Works and are ready and willing to follow and fund it into the future.
In the final sendoff Salt Works of 2020, Alex Bryan concluded the year with information on the 2021 budget. He noted to viewers that they take up an offering every week to support the One project and invited those who have been enjoying Salt Works weekly to consider making a gift as the team continues to produce the live Salt Works sessions.
“Our budget for Salt Works is roughly about $1,000 a week so it’s right around $50,000 a year just to make this happen with all the infrastructure and the subscriptions that are needed to pull this off,” he explained to viewers. “If this is part of your church home, we just invite you to join us. We are super appreciative of that.”
Salt Works will continue to be available on the1project.org and through the One project app every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. There they are currently discussing a series titled “Dear Church, To the Church of God in Corinth.”
the One project has also launched a highly interactive and collaborative weekly Wednesday Bible study beginning January 13 called Redefine: The John Project. The study will explore the gospel of John. It can be accessed in all the same ways via the website or the app by registering on the TOP LIVE Channel. It is also available through Vimeo, YouTube, and Facebook.
Additionally, at least two Gatherings are slotted for October 2021: one in Sydney, Australia, and one in Chattanooga, Tennessee. the One project leaders are hopeful Gatherings in 2021 can be experienced both in-person and online. Registration will remain free and the One project will remain committed to their favorite thing to do: openly talking about Jesus.
More articles in the Virtual Ministry Series:
“Loving Well at Crosswalk Church” by Hallie Anderson, June 10, 2020
“Behind the Wall at Oakwood University Church” by Hallie Anderson, July 31, 2020
“It’s Not Business; It’s Personal — Loma Linda University Church” by Hallie Anderson, October 15, 2020
Hallie Anderson is a writer, reader, and freelance marketing and communications specialist based in the foothills of Northern California.
All images courtesy of the1project.org.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10987