Just a couple of months ago, Sundays across America were abuzz with multi-site church campuses juggling service times and automobiles playing musical chairs for parking spaces during changeovers of contemporary and traditional worship.
But then the COVID-19 virus came to visit, and churchgoers became shut-ins as government-imposed stay-at-home orders and quarantines swept over the country.
Strangely familiar things began occurring in subdivisions, apartment complexes, neighborhoods and boroughs. Families prayed together and ate together again. Neighbors helped each other. Those who had plenty shared with those who didn’t. The youngest to the oldest were cherished. Time slowed to an era long forgotten. When people asked, “How are you doing?” they really meant it. Digital communication focused more on collaborative engagement than self-absorbed entertainment.
As pastors and ministry leaders grapple with doing church in the midst of social or physical distancing restraints, many are rediscovering the Biblical vision for being the church.
Silo ministry models—which segregate the Body of Christ in church buildings according to their demographic needs or stage of life—are being replaced, at least for now, with an “all-hands-on-deck” mentality.
Throughout the week, Instagram, Google Hangouts, Facebook Live and Zoom video meetings are congregating groups of people from everywhere for prayer, worship and Bible study. A new “come as you are” church culture is transcending denominational affiliations and geographical barriers as social media platforms become the new pulpits in family rooms and kitchens across the country.
In late March, shortly after the coronavirus global pandemic hit the U.S., more than 4,500 people logged on to a two-day digital conference called the “COVID-19 Church Online Summit,” sponsored by Wheaton College’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute and the National Association of Evangelicals.
“Maybe one redemptive gift is the reformation of the church, from going to church to being the church,” says Adam Cox, pastor of Navah Church in the Kansas City area. Cox spoke by video during the online church summit about embracing an Acts 2 vision for the church.
In the New Testament, the Book of Acts describes the early church meeting daily in homes for prayer, worship and fellowship.
A year ago, Cox and his church elders sensed God leading them to move out of the church building they had been meeting in for several years and reorganize into home church gatherings centered around the presence, practice and person of Jesus.
“Jesus will build His church,” Cox says, “and He is the shepherd of His church. And He’s given us the Holy Spirit and put Him into His people. I would say trust your people to lead and be the church in this hour above all.”
Matt Bartig, pastor of Northroad Community Church, with campuses in Moscow Mills and St. Charles, Missouri, says his 12-member staff all share the same ministry title in the wake of COVID-19. “Everybody is a connections pastor,” he says.
Seven years ago, Bartig started the church, which had grown to about 1,000 people in worship attendance before the coronavirus locked down corporate meetings. The first Sunday Northroad hosted its worship service online, it was viewed by nearly 1,500 people, Bartig says, because church members invited friends, family and neighbors to worship with them. And the church’s number of small groups meeting weekly via Zoom video has grown from 20 to 60. Bartig says the church has redoubled its efforts to connect daily via Facebook Live and Instagram with an 8 a.m. devotional, 10 a.m. children’s activity, noon prayer time, weekly online youth gatherings and quirky family video contests. As the church’s daily online connections have increased, the Sunday service has grown to 4,000 views online. The church has also created a mobile chat group via text to link volunteers with needs in the community.
“I think we’re seeing an opportunity for people to come from couch, to computer, to church,” Bartig says. “We have never had an opportunity to be in the living room of some of these people until they got to a place where they were so desperate and needed connection.”
For Prestonwood Baptist Church in the north Dallas suburb of Plano, Jeff Young, minister of spiritual development, says the pandemic has created an opportunity for church members in their late 20s to early 40s to make phone calls in which they pray, encourage and offer assistance to the church’s 1,800 members who are 70 and older.
“It makes it feel more like a community from a cross-generational standpoint that wouldn’t have happened without this crisis,” Young says. “I hope we can figure out ways to grow that aspect after we get through this season.”
Patrick Thompson, pastor of New City Church, Long Island City, in metro New York, had to self-quarantine following his COVID-19 diagnosis. But that didn’t stop his fledgling church from partnering with a local parent-teacher association and seven area restaurants to distribute more than 12,400 grab-and-go meals for students and others in need across west Queens. The effort raised $80,000 and recruited 120 volunteers through social media solicitations by mid-April.
“Our church has always operated by the model of finding places the Gospel isn’t present and going to interject our lives there,” Thompson says.
Visit coronavirusandthechurch.com for ministry resources.
Above: Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, held a COVID-19 blood drive April 8. Social distancing measures were in place. Congregations across the globe have been finding new ways to minister the love and grace of Jesus Christ amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Photo: Courtesy of Prestonwood Baptist Church