Megachurch pastor Andy Stanley announced today that the church he leads, North Point Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia, will be suspending in-person services through the end of the year. The original plan when the church moved to online-only services was to reopen in August. Now, however, Stanley says the bottom line to church members is the simple fact that “we cannot guarantee your safety.”
This was “not a casual decision,” Stanley explained after giving the news that the North Point churches in Atlanta would stay closed through the end of the year. Stanley said the decision was made based on the uptick of COVID-19 cases in the area, the results of attendee surveys, and the experiences of similar-sized churches that have already reopened across the country in the last few weeks.
Contact Tracing at North Point Church Would Be ‘Impossible’
The leader of the multisite church explained that if North Point Church were to hold in-person services and if someone at any of their campuses tests positive for the coronavirus, the church would be responsible for contact tracing. “That would be the right thing to do,” Stanley said. “That would be the responsible thing to do. But…if you’ve been a part of any of our churches for any length of time, you can imagine how difficult to impossible that would be.”
In addition to being concerned for the safety of worshippers, Stanley explained the quality of in-person services would decline due to the social distancing protocols they would need to implement.
Some may see this decision as “an unnecessary precaution, perhaps a lack of faith on my part,” Stanley said. “You might even interpret this decision through a political filter,” he continued. The leader said he understands why some may feel that way, but he emphasizes that he has a lot of faith. In fact, Stanley has faith that North Point and the local churches in the area “will not only survive this but ultimately we’re going to thrive as a result.”
Besides, Stanley argues, people are the church, anyway. “Whether we gather in circles in driveways, in the church parking lot, or online or in our homes, the church is going to be fine.” Stanley also said “we’re going to continue to serve the community and continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus in each others’ lives as well as the lives of people who aren’t even a part of one of our churches.”
For those who may still be concerned for the future of the Church, Stanley assures them: “2,000 years of church history attests to the fact that Jesus is building his church, and we are simply invited to participate in the process.”
Still, leaders at North Point aren’t “going to sit on our hands waiting for a vaccine.” Instead, Stanley said the staff is updating the church’s digital experiences and developing a strategy for limited physical gatherings to take place in the future. He encouraged those watching to stay tuned and watch their emails from North Point.
This Virus Is Not a Conspiracy
Perhaps as a way to reiterate the fact that the virus should be taken seriously, on Monday Stanley published a video to his YouTube channel in which he interviews a couple, Stuart and Kellee Hall, who had a close encounter with COVID-19. Their encounter was so close, in fact, that Stuart nearly died multiple times. If it hadn’t been for the care of multiple medical professionals, in fact, and a life-saving plasma transfusion, Stuart wouldn’t be here.
Stanley, a friend of Stuart and Kellee, discussed faith in light of the fact that while so many people were dying from the virus, God saved Stuart.
As the couple shared their experience, which occurred over the course of several weeks starting in late March, the Halls emphasized the care their friends, family, and the medical community showed by placing their family’s needs before their own. At one point, Stuart was moving in and out of consciousness while he was put on a ventilator. He also experienced intense hallucinations. Eventually, however, he was taken out of the Intensive Care Unit and wheeled down a hospital corridor flanked by the people who had taken care of him. An emotional Stuart recalled: