Outside the box… Churches having to adapt outside the four walls

Published 1:53 am Tuesday, March 24, 2020

It’s Sunday morning across the Bible Belt which Carter County is deeply a part of and on most Sunday’s families are up early grabbing a quick bite of breakfast, putting on their Sunday best, and making one last stroke through the hair with a brush or comb to make sure the kids look their best for Sunday School and Children’s Church.
That would be the case for most Sunday’s but that scenario didn’t play out that this way this past Sunday as instead of getting in the car and driving to their respective places of worship, families were pulling up the social media Facebook on their cell phones, computers, and televisions to listen as their Pastor and possibly a worship team brought the church into their home.
All of this brought about by an unseen enemy that has closed schools and restaurants, has placed people in hospitals and even has claimed lives throughout the United States and worldwide.
That enemy is the Coronavirus – a highly contagious virus that has created panic grocery buying, job losses, and has sent people into their homes to try and avoid being in a large gathering where the virus can be easily passed.
It is a completely different enemy than what was faced on 9/11 where people were seeking to get inside the doors of churches over fear of an enemy that threatened to attack American soil sending fear throughout the land.
Instead, the Coronavirus has acted completely different in that it is sending people away from the typical church setting to hunker down in their homes where hopefully this virus can soon pass.
In his Sunday address to his church via their church Facebook page, the Rev. Randy Johnson, Senior Pastor at Valley Forge Freewill Baptist Church, stated, “We are experiencing a worldwide pandemic that none of us have ever seen and even though there have been pandemics in the past, this is the first one in or lifetime that we have ever experienced.
“Just a few days ago, who would have ever thought our lives would be turned on a dime, that suddenly everything just stops and it’s bizarre that we can’t even do things like shake hands or hug family or friends. But can I remind you that this didn’t catch God off guard.”
Johnson went on to say, “This is a different crisis than the 9/11 attacks on America. The theme then was your life can be gone quickly. The theme of this Covid-19 virus is that life is uncertain.”
And while Johnson and his church are accustomed to having their services streamed via Livestream on Facebook for their sick and shut-in members, many other local churches have had to take different roads to make sure that church for their members can go on with as much normalcy as possible with Governor Bill Lee admonishing there be no meetings of more than 10 people.
In other words, local churches have been forced to think outside the box in taking their services from the comfort of their four walls where they normally gather and take the church on the road – to the member’s home and beyond.
Roan Street Church of God Senior Pastor Brien Sturgill said that the situation is forcing churches to come out of their comfort zones to impact their community.
“The current crisis is pushing the mainstream, fundamental churches out of our cultured comfort zones which will actually serve to increase the impact of local churches, congregations and common good for our community,” Pastor Sturgill said.
“While many are simply closing campuses, some are creating video broadcast of their services which were not previously attempting to use social media and technology to advertise their expressions of touching their community with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
And while social media is one form that churches have started to utilize, churches are becoming creative in their approach to serving their congregation and community.
One example was Sunday at the Stateline Drive-In when Calvary Baptist Church had services on the grounds of the drive-in theater. People could drive in and stay in their vehicles while tuning into the theater’s FM station to listen as a message was delivered by the church pastor, the Rev. Jacob Guinn.
Even though bathroom facilities weren’t available if did offer those looking to gather as a body to do so safely while remaining in their vehicles.
And while church pastors are faced with how to serve their members in the best way possible, another point of concern comes from the fact that without members filling the church how will the churches be able to function financially especially with the concerns of how long the pandemic may last and job situations.
It is especially challenging for churches that may be involved with building projects like Pleasant Beach Baptist Church which should be moving into their new church facilities in the next three to four months.
“My challenge to the church has been to emphasize being a daily church instead of how it affects our weekly services,” said Pleasant Beach Baptist Church Senior Pastor Mark Fowler. “I am praying God will use this time for many to seek Him. How long will this affect our normal schedule we do not know. We are trying to be led by the Lord each day and seek opportunities to serve Him.
“Yes, we are in the middle of a building project that is supposed to conclude in the next three or four months. Having a larger facility means you plan on having larger crowds. We never expected that in the middle of the building project that churches would not be meeting as they normally do.
“What we are reminding ourselves is that God makes no mistakes,” Fowler continued. “When He gave our church the land and the opportunity to build, He knew this day would come.

“We, of course, have taken a step of faith financially. I am not sure how this will affect our economy or our giving but we are truly serving and trusting
the same God who provided for His children while they were in the wilderness. I am thankful that God’s supply is not dependent upon the American economy.
“I do not know how or when God will provide but throughout history He always has. This time requires more faith than ever.
Just as Abraham followed God up the mountain without knowing where the sacrifice would come from, we are truly following the same God. We
believe the Lord will provide.”
While many are just trying to plan for possibly a three-week event, the stark reality is that no one truly knows how long this pandemic will affect Carter County and the surrounding areas.
Sturgill was asked what the challenges and impacts the church could face if, in fact, the Coronavirus stays around for three to six months instead of just a few weeks.
“First, the spiritual impact,” said Sturgill. “The Bible tells us to not forsake the assembling of believers. Corporate worship is a critical part of the life of the believer. God designed it that way. He does things in the corporate setting that He chooses to do not to do otherwise (Acts 2).
“Socially, the connection of people is critical to social development, relationships, and faith-building. Rev. 12:11 says that “and they overcame him by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony.” When we share our stories of what God has done in our lives, it builds faith in others.
“Connection/Disconnection. Humans are routine-oriented. When we get “out of the habit” of going to church, it is very hard to change our lifestyle and be faithful in attendance to the house of God, especially for families that have children,” Sturgill continued.
“Financially, many congregations will struggle greatly, and some will even be forced to close as most often members become unfaithful in their financial support. Many churches without a large surplus would be in financial crisis within a 3 to 6 months window. Many have facility expenses, mortgages, utilities, insurances, payroll and more. Most members treat tithing and giving like a business transaction; if they don’t go, they don’t give.
“Lastly, if giving is minimal, our community will also feel the effect. Many in our community are in need and often rely on the kindness of local churches in times of crisis to assist with essential bills.  As many hourly employees are at risk of being laid-off or limited in working hours, the church will not have the resources to assist those in need.
“We need to pull together as a community and pray, asking God for His help and favor in this situation.”
Sturgill and some of his members went on a prayer walk through the streets of Elizabethton on Saturday praying for healing and financial favor on the community and for God’s protection over the people of Carter County and surrounding areas.
The church located at 113 North Roan Street will also be offering drive-through prayer on Tuesdays from 11 am to 1 pm for anyone that needs prayer as the church’s prayer team will be available.

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