—This content is sponsored by The Solomon Foundation—
As the pandemic unfolded in March, I quickly became concerned . . . about catching the virus, about our economy, and about churches. On March 9, during my last airline flight (from Detroit to Denver) before most everything shut down, it became obvious to me I was not the only one concerned. Before that week ended, our country was in total lockdown. I could feel the tension rising within me, and I could sense the tension in others.
As with many others, my wife and I spent a great deal of time watching the daily coronavirus briefings from the White House and monitoring what local governors, mayors, and the pandemic task force had to say. We also repeatedly checked how neighboring communities and other states were choosing to deal with COVID-19.
Before we knew it, everything in our area was closed, including The Solomon Foundation offices. At TSF, we had to devise creative solutions to remain operational. But of all the places I was barred from entering, the prohibition from gathering with our church was the hardest for me to deal with. I never imagined our church building could be closed. My wife and I coped with the closure by driving to the church parking lot on Sundays and watching the service online from our car. I found I just needed to be there, to be close, to keep alive the routine of getting up and going to church on Sunday mornings.
I admit to being a workaholic who thrives on “getting out there” and “pounding the pavement” and “pressing the flesh.” These personal traits have made COVID-19 all the more challenging for me personally. Our ministry at The Solomon Foundation is based on relationships—face-to-face relationships, whenever possible. Early in the pandemic, I fell in line with my fellow Americans and signed onto Zoom. I made a lot of phone calls and I wrote a lot of emails. I even made the difficult, but correct, decision to suspend work-related travel by our staff.
That was gut-wrenching to endure. Anxiety was high, fear was creeping in, and many were frozen in place watching the time pass.
Hitting the Road
On one of TSF’s first weekly calls with leaders of churches we partner with, Ken Idleman challenged each of us to “make something special of this time—do not let this season before us be wasted!”
To that end, my wife and I quite literally mapped out a road to peace. We studied an atlas and thoughtfully charted out two road trips. We analyzed COVID-19 reports and took seriously our safety and the safety of those we would be visiting. Our mission was to responsibly and carefully visit with and pour into the church leaders we loved.
We started the eastern road trip which took us through eastern Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri, southern Illinois and Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and northern Texas. All totaled, we were on the road 33 days, made 41 ministry visits, and traveled 6,364 miles.
Then, after three weeks back in Denver to get caught up with the TSF staff, we embarked on our western swing through Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, California, Arizona, and New Mexico. On this trip, we were on the road 47 days, made 49 ministry visits, and traveled 7,405 miles.
During our travels, we did not turn on a radio or TV the whole time. By removing the voice of the world, we were able to tune in to God’s voice; this enabled us to experience a true sense of security and relaxation.
Leading the Way
Many people are naturally curious about what is going on in the rest of America and what is happening in our movement of churches. I can quickly summarize: Our churches are leading the way in the evangelical church movement in America. Our churches and our leaders refuse to suspend their ministry—they insist on reaching people for Christ. They follow the rules (though many states have been guilty of overreaching). They find ways to connect with people. I could provide example after example of the creativity and dedication I have witnessed in our churches over the last seven months. Here are some of my current favorites:
Libby (Montana) Christian Church; Phil Alspaw, preaching pastor: Libby is located in the far northwestern corner of Montana, not far from the Canadian border; its population is less than 3,000. The Montana governor decreed that only 40 people could meet for church (even though every casino, Walmart, and Home Depot parking lot was full). LCC has a drive-in church. You pull into the parking lot and are welcomed by greeters who give you packaged Communion and a bulletin, ask you to tune your radio to 100.7 FM, and help you find a parking space. The lot was full the day we were there. The worship team and pastor stood on a large flatbed truck upfront. People honked their horns. LCC was averaging about 800 before coronavirus and had more than 600 in their parking lot that day! Montana’s governor was not going to stop LCC from gathering.
Ekklesia Christian Church, Conway, South Carolina; Matt Wilson, lead pastor: When the schools in and around Conway closed, ECC switched their afterschool program for children into an all-day program. Now it’s likely ECC will start a Christian school. Thanks to one of their members, ECC found hydroxyl generator fans provided very clean air throughout their facility; this gave parents and the community a sense of safety. Ekklesia is now almost 100 percent back to their pre-COVID-19 attendance numbers.
Lewis Street Church of Christ, Little Rock, Arkansas; Jameel Robinson, senior minister: On May 30, someone firebombed Lewis Street Church of Christ, destroying the inside of the facility. LSCC and TSF are partnering to rebuild the structure. LSCC’s members have remained strong and have been meeting every week in a recreational building located next to the firebombed sanctuary. (See the related article, “Rebuilding Hope from the Ashes.”)
Renaissance Church of Christ, Atlanta, Georgia; Orpheus J. Heyward, senior minister: RCC, one of the largest African-American, noninstrumental churches of Christ, launched a massive online effort through multiple venues and has been reaching thousands with their services. Renaissance developed better online programs than any other church I have visited.
West Valley Christian Church, West Hills (Greater Los Angeles), California; Rob Denton, lead pastor: California’s governor imposed very strict rules on churches, so WVCC launched an outdoor service on the West Valley Christian School sports field (at the same address). Worshippers tailgate, bring their pop-ups for shade, and stay after service to eat and fellowship. The church met at 9 a.m. Sundays during the summer (due to the heat), and the field was packed.
The Refinery Christian Church, Goodyear (Greater Phoenix), Arizona; Chad Goucher, lead pastor: TRCC, which was one of the fastest-growing churches in America prior to coronavirus, has reopened with five services; it provides childcare at three of them. The church followed all the requirements outlined by Arizona.
Real Life Ministries Silver Valley, Pinehurst, Idaho; Gene Jacobs, lead pastor: Real Life opened their new facility during COVID-19 and grew from 300 to 500! When it reopened, the county where the church lies had seen only four cases and no deaths, so there were only limited special requirements in place.
Growing the Kingdom (and Me)
All seven of those churches have either met or exceeded their giving budgets. Who would have thought church giving could increase during a pandemic? These are just a few of the many examples of Restoration Movement churches finding new ways to spread the gospel in challenging circumstances. These churches didn’t simply fold up their tents; instead, they found ways to expand the kingdom. What a great time to be part of the Restoration Movement!
The road trip had a goal of helping churches grow, but in the end, it brought me immeasurable joy and helped me grow personally. The national parks we visited filled my heart with thankfulness to God for his creation. The time my wife and I spent together talking, exploring, and helping address ministry challenges brought a renewed love and connection. The time we spent sitting across tables from my favorite people in America—church leaders—filled my cup. Praying over hard choices and making good decisions brought me peace.
I’m praying you are also passionately pursing God’s will for your life in this season. Stay on that road and I know you will find a peace that passes all understanding.