Pastor J.R. Lee of Freedom Church in Acworth preaches during the 8:30 morning service Sunday, March 15.
As calls intensified late last week to avoid large groups in the hopes of curbing the spread of COVID-19, more commonly known as the coronavirus, many Georgia Baptist churches opted to move their Sunday services exclusively online.
The result yesterday brought many social media timelines flooded with live worship services and pastors delivering sermons either pre-recorded or to empty sanctuaries save for a few essential personnel. Those steps mainly affected churches around the metro Atlanta area. Yesterday, the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) daily noon report brought 99 confirmed cases in the state, with 49 of them in Fulton, Cobb, and Dekalb counties. Churches in the middle and southern part of Georgia making changes opted to hold Sunday services as normal, while canceling in-person Wednesday and Sunday gatherings for the upcoming weeks.
In a Saturday night post, Pastor J.R. Lee of Freedom Church in Acworth explained the need for the next day’s services going exclusively online.
“After consulting with our advisors and some local health officials and government officials – including Gov. [Brian] Kemp himself – the overwhelming consensus is for us to not meet physically in our building tomorrow but instead to have church online,” he said.
Lee went on to express a sentiment shared by many church leaders over the past few days. While social media has often been a fertile area for division, it’s also become a cheap and readily-available tool for churches of any size and background to use. As such, many congregations were prepared for yesterday. For those needing help getting started, here is a five-minute video on live-streaming your service.
A time for online
Pastor Sean Wegener of Summerville First Baptist has used Facebook Live since his arrival nearly two years ago to give greater access for shut-ins and others. And while they may not be terribly computer-literate, many have become proficient enough in that social media platform.
On Friday he told The Index of the church’s decision to not cancel Sunday morning services, but make it optional for those who would rather view his Sunday School class and worship online. As so many others had to do, though, the church decided just 24 hours later to not have in-person meetings for Sunday School or worship, going fully online for the time being.
On Sunday, the CDC recommended that groups of over 50 postpone or cancel their gatherings for the next eight weeks in order to halt the spread of COVID-19. And even then, events should be mindful of “protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene, and social distancing.”
In response to the crisis, churches have also asked individuals to check in on senior adults and provide services like running errands to the grocery store or pharmacy. Other congregations, such as The Rock Baptist Church in Clayton County are providing food for children who normally depend on school for breakfast and lunch.
In a letter to his congregation on Saturday, Pastor Tim McCoy of Ingleside Baptist Church in Macon explained how the church was viewing the situation.
“During this crisis, we want to love our neighbors by doing our part to help stop the spread of COVID-19. We also are committed to serving others in Jesus’ name and to sharing the gospel – the good news of eternal life for all who repent, believe, and follow Jesus.
“Our confidence and hope are ultimately in the Lord. He has given us ‘a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control’ (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV). As King David wrote long ago: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’ (Psalm 27:1, ESV). Absolutely nothing can ‘separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:39b, ESV). We are eternally secure in Christ (cf. John 10:27-30).”
Scott Barkley serves as editor of The Christian Index.