Cooking Up Congregational Engagement During COVID-19

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Great Lakes, The Way

By Kim Ousley

Churches across the country were hit hard during the pandemic. Each had to determine how to keep in touch with their congregation and keep them engaged. Salem Church of God in Clayton, Ohio, near Dayton, just so happened to cook up an innovative idea. Word spread quickly, and so did interest.

Cooking with Bob & Alison was first whipped up during a staff meeting. Bob Hawker and his wife Alison and two daughters, Ansley and Aria, love to cook and bake. Both Bob and his wife grew up homeschooled, and cooking was a home-economics credit for them.

“One of my favorite things to do is feed people,” Hawker explains. At the meeting, the staff was trying to come up with yet another idea. Many had fallen flat, and the team was struggling to come up with fresh ideas. Hawker, who serves as pastor of Next Steps & Family Ministries, heard Carmen, the online engagement director, say, “What about a cooking show? What if they were to film him cooking, and call it something like BBQ Bob?”

Starting at that meeting, Steve Southards, lead pastor, says he was supportive of the idea but didn’t know what to expect. “Bob is a great cook and Carmen has a vision for the production of it, but we didn’t know how it would happen.” One of the church’s staff values is to “experiment often.”

This is certainly an example of that value being lived out, according to Southards. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but we learn from it and it makes us better.” And, with that, an intern, serving a year-long residency, and Hawker set up two special lights and an iPhone camera, and began filming the first video to be aired later on Facebook and YouTube.

Alison says she is the baker, but Bob does most of the cooking in their house. When he approached her with this idea of a cooking show, she was a little bewildered. “Bob was talking to me and said, ‘Hey, there was an idea at the meeting today that you and I could do a cooking show,’ he remembers saying. “She laughed and said, ‘Okay.’”

Hawker shared that the pastor was doing a sermon series on “Bless this Mess,” so it kind of took the pressure off the results, and whatever happens it was just a “no-frills” cooking show, anyway. “What I’ve tried to do is take things that seem really complicated and out of reach and just keep it simple,” he adds. “Sitting down and sharing a meal as a family and with friends is the most spiritual thing we can do,” he continues.

Pastor Steve joins Pastor Bob on the show!

The first video starred Pastor Steve Southards and his wife Erin alongside the Hawkers. “Neither Erin or I are great cooks, but we love Bob and Alison and enjoyed trying new recipes. I’m hoping Bob invites me back for the episode where he fires up the grill!”

Fettuccine Alfredo was on the menu. Homemade pasta and sauce were on the menu. The video provided a number to text for follow-along instructions so people could try the recipes at home.

The second video was live with the girls, Ansley, 7, and Aria, 3, with tie-dye cool whip Easter eggs and strawberry shortcake.

Hawker’s dad sent them fresh strawberries from Florida, his home state. “We’re both from Florida and grew up around strawberry festivals. You can find them everywhere, on the side of the road,” says Alison.

How did the congregation react to this new venture?

The first video had 2,000 views in 2 days. “That was awesome!” The second video garnered 2,000 views by the end of the night, and 130 comments. That number went up to over 10 thousand views by those sharing the link to the video with friends and family across the country and beyond.

Photo: Bob and Alison absolutely love their children.

“We really don’t want to go back to normal,” says Hawker. “We want to come back and become better.” He never wants it to go back to the way it was before COVID. Even though the numbers in church have been down, due to pandemic restrictions, the online presence has been huge. Hawker hopes they will all get to meet together soon to break bread in person, though.

The videos can be viewed online at the YouTube channel for Salem Church or their website. Their next video, April 16, will be “fiesta-style.” Tacos, Mexican street corn, and Spanish rice are on the menu. “We plan to do smaller videos, like five minutes long on things like, ‘Here’s how you make salsa!’” exclaims Hawker.

Alison and Bob look forward to growing a salsa garden with their daughters this summer.

Watch a sample episode on Facebook at Browse more episodes of Cooking with Bob & Alison on the church’s YouTube channel.

Interested in best practices concerning COVID-19 response? Our trusted partners at Brotherhood Mutual can help. Watch their on-demand webinar.

Kim Ousley is a freelance writer from Anderson, Indiana.

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