As more and more churches turned to online services in the wake of directions coming from local governments and federal organizations to suspend meetings of people in groups of 50 or more, pastors are being called upon to disseminate information even as they encourage their congregations’ spirits. There are so many practical considerations to note as churches, schools, and businesses close their facilities for a season due to the threat of Covid-19. It is in times like these that the church shines, faith leaders believe. Whether it’s preaching a message intending to help believers practice faith over fear, organizing meals for the elderly or children who are missing school lunches, or inviting medical experts to communicate facts, these leaders are serving their flocks.
Greg Laurie / Harvest Christian Fellowship
This is a time to pray and work together! pic.twitter.com/0I6VH5BYzB
— Greg Laurie (@greglaurie) March 15, 2020
Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California called on the church to pray during the sermon he preached for the online services. “This is the church’s secret weapon that is rarely employed, and I say let’s detonate it now: Prayer. Prayer. And there’s power in unified prayer. We miss that sometimes…Jesus said if any two of you agree together as touching anything on earth, it will be done of our Father in heaven.”
Last week, Laurie warned that the fear over the coronavirus is a greater risk than the virus itself and encouraged believers to lean on their faith over fear. During Laurie’s message on Sunday, he emphasized the need for Christians to come together to fight the virus “because it knows no boundaries.”
Rick Warren / Saddleback Church
Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church headquartered in Lake Forest, California explained to those watching that although the church was going to be streaming online services for the near future, small group meetings are still happening. Saddleback is known for being a champion of the small group model; Warren stated that all 8,000 of the church’s groups had been instructed to meet and watch the service together. “Saddleback Church is going to be much better suited to weather the storm of this coronavirus outbreak than a lot of other churches because we have members that have been a part of weekly small groups and studies for literally decades. In fact, we have more people attend small group studies every week than attend out typical weekend services. About 30,000 people show up on a weekend, but about 40,000 attend one of our 8,000+ small groups.”
Warren shared that Bob Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, had contacted him regarding how the global network of Saddleback Churches could help respond to the pandemic. Warren’s message focused on helping listeners “replace fear with facts and faith.”
Jack Graham / Prestonwood Baptist Church
Celebrating all the pastors& churches today who worked to proclaim the message of hope.Whether in smaller groups or online platforms we are all determined to rise to the uncertain challenges of this surreal situation. Let’s pray for one another and be the church loving &serving
— Jack Graham (@jackngraham) March 16, 2020
Pastor Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas announced all services were moving to online services starting this most recent weekend. Graham invited Dr. Ken Cooper to speak on Sunday and address the congregation. The church is also taking initiative to help children who may be without meals during this time due to school closures. “One tangible way we will be sharing hope is by serving children who are missing free meals due to school closings. We will provide more information about this initiative in the coming days,” an update on the church’s website states.
Graham also encouraged congregants to invite their neighbors over as they watched the service in their homes. “What an incredible opportunity this is for us to shine out light–to be a good neighbor.”
Miles McPherson / Rock Church
Pastor Miles McPherson of Rock Church in San Diego, California had a panel of officials join him for the Sunday online service. After a brief lesson from Scripture, McPherson spoke to public health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten, Mayor Bill Wells of El Cajon, and Mayor Kevin Faulconer of San Diego.
The panel discussed facts surrounding the virus in an attempt to dispel fears. Dr. Wooten told McPherson that people who do not display symptoms for the virus are not in danger of infecting other people. However, Dr. Wooten reiterated that as this is a new virus that is still being researched and medical experts are still determining how it is spread. “This is a new virus and research is still going on,” Dr. Wooten said. Additionally, Dr. Wooten said medical experts don’t really know what the virus looks like in children and whether or not they can transmit the virus to others while not showing symptoms.
Mayor Faulconer discussed the measures the city of San Diego is taking to help hourly wage workers who may be missing out on wages. Mayor Wells explained the reasoning behind the directives for people to practice social distancing is to “try to at least suppress the number of people getting sick all at the same time” so as not to overwhelm the health care system. Dr. Wooten echoed Mayor Wells’ statement, explaining that the measures being taken now are a way to “kick the can down the road” so that the majority of people exposed to the virus will happen once vaccines and antiviral medications become available.
Louie Giglio / Passion City Church
Pastor Louie Giglio of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Georgia addressed the unique experience of leading online services in an almost-empty building. Giglio shared the building may be empty, but “the church is very much alive today because the church never was buildings.” Instead, the “church is us. It’s you and me, the people who are alive in Jesus Christ.”
Giglio also assured those watching the service that God is still in control of this situation, even as we wade into unprecedented waters with the coronavirus and the measures that need to be taken to mitigate the risk it presents. “God has never been without a plan. He has never been without purpose. And he always has been sovereign….I believe in some way he is going to use the spread of this virus and he is going to turn the story around for good.”