By Chris Moon
After a weekend of large-scale cancellations of in-person worship services—the result of the COVID-19 pandemic—many Restoration Movement churches are spending this week plotting their next moves.
Pastors say they are looking both inward at how their online programming was received and outward at how best to serve their communities in a time of need. They say they are recognizing the way in which “social distancing” recommendations are affecting vulnerable communities, from the elderly to those in poverty.
Tyler McKenzie, lead pastor of Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, said his church put together both a weekend service plan and a community service plan when word began spreading that larger church buildings should close their doors last weekend.
McKenzie said the church’s community service plan drew excitement from the congregation. The coronavirus presents a significant opportunity for Christians to witness to those in their circle of influence, he said.
“The church would never pray for this moment, but the church was made for this moment,” McKenzie said.
Northeast Christian Church’s community service plan has three steps for church members: pray, love their neighbors, and serve the church’s community partners. The church offered specific tips in all of those areas.
Part of the plan had church members collect enough supplies to create 15,000 “snack packs” to deliver to local schools and other community groups that serve people in need. Each snack pack includes a breakfast bar, orange, snack item, and drink.
The church met its goal by Monday.
The response, McKenzie said, was the result of years of culture-building in the church, encouraging people to serve their community. The church regularly touts its “Love the ‘Ville” outreach slogan.
“These are the kinds of things that people expect,” McKenzie said.
Meanwhile, Northeast Christian Church’s online services went off without a hitch. The church has had an online campus for a couple of years now, so all the infrastructure was in place. The church has a typical weekend attendance of about 3,500 people, and McKenzie said he thinks more than that tuned in online this past weekend as the building remained closed.
The church dealt with the expected shortfall in offerings by encouraging people to give online. McKenzie said Sunday yielded the largest offering of any Sunday so far this year.
The question, he said, is how things will play out if the church isn’t able to meet in-person for the next couple of months.
Some churches over the weekend held online services for the very first time.
“It went decent,” said Steve Cuss, lead pastor of Discovery Christian Church in Broomfield, Colo.
The church typically hosts between 850 and 1,000 people at its weekly Thursday night and Sunday morning services in the Denver metro. But it never had invested in providing more than an audio podcast of the sermon each week.
The church is a bit “old school,” Cuss said.
He said the church shot a video of its Thursday night service and made that available online this Sunday. The YouTube video recorded about 300 views.
“That’s probably north of a thousand (viewers) for us, if you think about households,” Cuss said.
He said the church has a good network of churches that it works with in its region, and it will seek out additional expertise on how to provide better quality video for its congregation.
“We’re depending on them to get some coaching,” he said.
The church also is turning its attention to how to serve people in need during a time of social distancing and quarantines. Discovery Christian Church, Cuss said, is an “activist” church that serves in at-risk areas of the city.
The church is trying to discern how to serve without putting people in danger of infection and spreading COVID-19 further.
“Where is the line? That’s what we’re wrestling with this week,” Cuss said.
Jim Borton, senior minister of First Christian Church in New Philadelphia, Ohio, said his church also got its first taste of offering online services this past weekend. The church streamed its services using Facebook Live.
“Honestly, it went great,” Borton said. “I’ve got to give props to the staff. I’m the least techy guy on the staff.”
Borton said the church had resisted offering online services in the past because it was concerned about the production quality. The sanctuary lighting isn’t conducive to such recordings.
Now the 175-year-old church, which averages about 350 in weekend attendance, is looking at making an investment in improved lighting in its sanctuary.
“This whole issue pushed that into hyperdrive,” Borton said.
First Christian Church also is looking at how best to serve its community as people hole up in their homes for extended periods of time. Borton said he’s already had multiple people contact him about helping senior citizens in the congregation who don’t feel comfortable getting out.
“I have three or four people in my back pocket who are just waiting to run errands for the elderly,” he said.
And Borton said he sat in on a meeting of county officials as they discussed how best to get meals into the hands of people in need, including students on free and reduced-price lunches.
Borton is approaching his 29th year with the church. He has lots of contacts inside the school district, and the local fire chief goes to the church as well.
New Philadelphia sits adjacent to Dover, Ohio. Combined, those cities have about 30,000 in population. The communities are finding ways to get things done, Borton said, and the local churches will be part of it.
“I think the churches will be there for anyone who falls through the cracks—we’ve got them,” he said.
Chris Moon is a pastor and writer living in Redstone, Colorado.