The coronavirus has brought out the best in Georgia Baptists.
Did you see that? Did. You. See. THAT! God just used Georgia Baptists to flip the script on COVID-19 and reach more Georgians with the gospel than ever before.
What came as a roar from the throat of Satan himself, designed to bring death and paralyzing fear, the effect of coronavirus instead was that of a ministry mobilization alarm. What Satan has meant for evil, God has clearly used for good.
While we certainly grieve the coronavirus wildfire of death that has raged, we cannot ignore the beauty growing amid the ashes. The indelible gospel mark on the state of Georgia is unprecedented, thanks to the nimble resilience of Georgia Baptist pastors during the lockdown.
An early example of this was what turned out to be for some a sheer nose-dive into online broadcasting technology. Immediately after the lockdown began, around 1,000 Georgia Baptist pastors and church leaders joined in several live trainings on how to live stream services online. As soon as those webinars were done, they immediately went to work, getting their leaders ready to stream the very next Sunday.
And when they did, they found themselves preaching to more online than had ever attended their church in person.
Others turned to FM broadcasters and drive-in church – where parking lots became sanctuaries and honking horns replaced “Amens!”
Refusing to let Easter 2020 be a COVID-19 casualty, Georgia Baptists realigned for this drive-in church model while simultaneously ramping up promotion for online services. Then the stories started coming in.
If I told you a church went from 45 views online to over 950 reached on Easter, and that their sermon-watcher audience over the month went from a handful to 9,760 people, you would think I was talking about a megachurch. Not so. It was a church that runs around 100 on most Sundays. Rickey Whitely, pastor of Pineland Baptist in Thomasville, went on to tell us that his audience included folks from Georgia all the way to Alaska!
These stories are more common than not. Keith Etheridge of Double Branches in Lincolnton said, “We would probably have around 150 people or more on Easter. So far, 414 have watched our service on Facebook.”
What happens when a known drug-dealer gives his heart to Jesus and lets the pastor know in the live comments on the video? Kevin Williams of First Baptist Villa Rica can tell you about that. That happened during his pre-recorded Easter broadcast.
Kevin can also tell you about a family who lives across the street from the church – a family they’ve been reaching out to for six years – who not only started watching online services, but now indicates they’re ready to join the church!
A man who started attending the online services of Central Baptist Lawrenceville is now inviting friends and family. Pastor Steven Greene said the man’s parents are church members and have been praying for him to get back in church. Not only is he watching online every weekend, he’s texting out invites to friends and family.
Another common story we keep hearing is how many who never got around to it as far as a physical visit to the church property goes, now are letting the pastor know they’ll be there when church is meeting in person again.
Salvations are being reported all over the state. Even top evangelistic pastors are blown away. Jason Britt, lead pastor of Bethlehem Church, said 135 people texted in during Easter services that they had given their lives to Christ in salvation and wanted follow up.
Amid the pandemic, ministry to members didn’t diminish, it ramped up. One pastor reported that he had personally contacted more of his members in four weeks than he had in four years. Coronavirus has made “pastor” more verb than noun more notably than ever in our lifetime.
The members of our churches have answered the call as well. Church members who had never spoken to even one person on FaceTime found themselves leading a Sunday school class with seven, nine, or even 15 people gathered online.
Clothes closets and food pantries implemented social distancing measures and kept meeting needs. Whether it was face masks and gloves or using a pole to drop goods through car windows, their benevolence ministries stayed open.
When Paul said to Timothy, “Preach the Word; be instant in season and out” (2 Tim 4:2), he may have not imagined COVID-19 in a 2020 world. But what Georgia Baptists have done throughout this crisis proves its relevance.
Though a symptom of a fallen world, the coronavirus pandemic has provided a context that has put the best of Georgia Baptists on display.