Thanks to COVID-19, Church Culture Changes
For years, lead pastor Tim Boyd and the leaders at Westside Christian Church in Bradenton, Florida, felt called to increasingly engage with the surrounding community. The people of Westside periodically participated in small service projects and the church had a relationship with a local nonprofit called Downtown Ministries, but community involvement had never been a defining characteristic of the congregation. Until 2020.
In the early days and weeks of the pandemic, Boyd remembered being surprised at how quickly things shut down. Westside suspended its in-person worship, prerecorded its Sunday services for streaming online, and then reopened when the state of Florida relaxed guidelines for group gatherings. But the constant change was not a primary concern because the Sunday worship experience suddenly had become secondary to acts of service.
When stay-at-home orders were first issued and lockdowns were being strictly observed, the people of Westside Christian Church quickly shifted to an emphasis on serving their neighbors. The church tried putting it in perspective: “We’re stuck at home, but what would be even worse? Not having a home at all.” That compassionate viewpoint quickly changed the culture at Westside. Boyd said the church’s members stopped focusing on their own suffering and started looking at those around them, many of whom had more severe struggles. Downtown Ministries was a natural place to start.
The church began with small acts such as collecting granola bars, cereal, and other nonperishable foods. The congregation responded generously by overfilling a 55-gallon drum with donations every week. And the outpouring was more than just a short-term, emotional response created by the stay-at-home advisories. A year has passed, and Westside members are still filling that barrel with donations of food for Downtown Ministries almost every week.
When Florida began easing COVID-19 restrictions, people from Westside quickly began volunteering in-person at Downtown Ministries. The Westsiders did far more than serve food; they developed relationships with the area’s homeless people. One of the church’s elders met a young man at Downtown Ministries who gave his life to Christ and was baptized. When the church learned the young man was living far from his nearest family member, Westside paid for a ticket so he could go and live with his grandmother.
The church’s service to the surrounding community has spread beyond Downtown Ministries. WCC’s members are now serving with a local women’s shelter and ministering to foster children on a regular basis.
Boyd said the church’s culture has completely changed. He often hears people discussing their latest volunteer efforts with each other on Sunday mornings. After years of praying for the change, he is amazed at the speed with which God brought it about, and the way he did it.
“If it wasn’t for COVID, there’s no way it would have gone this quickly.”