Like schools and businesses forced to close their doors during the coronavirus pandemic, some area churches have resorted to closing their buildings and holding Sunday worship services online — and even outside.
“We started last week, we’re doing everything online,” said Phil Wilson, lead pastor for The Bridge Fellowship. “Thankfully, we’re able to do that.”
College Hills Church of Christ in Lebanon and Mt. Juliet’s Victory Baptist Church have also gone exclusively online.
“We’re taking it week by week as things develop,” said College Hills preaching minister Kevin Owen said. “Our youth minister, Alex Sircy, (Wednesday night) did a Wednesday-night video class on Instagram. He’ll be doing a Sunday-night event on YouTube with our teens.”
Victory Baptist senior pastor Chuck Groover said his church is following the guidelines set by government and the Centers for Disease Control, which recommend meeting in groups of fewer than 10.
“We’re doing online services,” said Groover. “I’ll be at the church. We’ll provide some music and I’ll provide a message and then we’ll have a Sunday school lesson at 9:45, followed by another lesson.”
Many churches have been providing online services for sometime now. Victory’s are available on Facebook Live and the church’s YouTube channel.
“The only difference is now we’re adding a Sunday school lesson between the two services,” said Groover, whose church membership, like many in Wilson County, were affected by the March 3 tornado before the coronavirus outbreak.
All three preachers said their messages in recent weeks have been focused on the current crises.
“I’m working on a message, devotional, to encourage and remind all of us, to remind me too, a reminder our strength is in the Lord, not our circumstances,” said Groover, noting his sermon tomorrow is on the theme of surviving the storm with Jesus in the boat. “We are hoping to encourage our folks with that this Sunday.”
“Every sermon I’ve done has dealt with how we can come together, how we have strength in trying times,” said Wilson. “It’s something like we have never seen in our lifetime.”
“I want to talk about what people are thinking about from God’s word,” Owen said. “This Sunday I’m going to be looking at Jesus’ words from Matthew 6:25-34. Jesus is going to tell us to to do things: Don’t worry and seek His kingdom.”
Like many people now working from home, so are some of the preachers. Wilson is 60 with a history of heart problems.
“Our staff is working,” Wilson said. “I’ve been told by my staff to leave.
“The only time I come in is to preach and then I go home. I’ve had to stay away from everybody.”
Owen also conducted his interview with the newspaper from his home while a small staff remained at the building, as of Thursday, to answer the phone.
“For our members, we’re offering communion, those individually-wrapped cups with a wafer on top, and our members are coming by to pick them up to take home and take as they worship online,” Owen said. “People say you’re not having church. We say we are the church. Right now, God is calling us to be the church. For this time period when we may not be in the building, we’re in our living rooms worshipping and serving the Lord.
“We’re striving to be faithful and wise in how we approach this.”
Like many preachers, Owen normally spends time making home and hospital visits.
“I’ve stopped doing this,” Owen said, replacing his in-person visits with 21st century technology. “I’m making phone calls, texting, e-mailing, using Facetime. God has given us great technology that, for this time, has given us the ability to stay connected.”
Wilson said The Bridge Fellowship has 80 small groups, called life groups, which regularly meet in homes or restaurants. They, too, have gone viral.
“They are now using things like Zoom,” Wilson said. “They are meeting virally. It’s video-conferencing.”
Not all churches have gone strictly online. Lebanon’s Highland Heights Church of Christ has canceled all classes, but still worships at the building. Those services are also available online.
First Baptist Church Mt. Juliet was forced from its building after it took a direct hit from the tornado. The church’s website, updated Wednesday, says services are being held online and an interim administrative office is being set up off campus.
Lebanon’s Immanuel Baptist Church is also holding Sunday morning worship and Wednesday night Bible study online.
One church with a different approach is Crossroads Fellowship Church on Linwood Road near Tuckers Crossroads. Sunday services, called “drive-in services,” will be held in the parking lot at 10 a.m. the next two Sundays. People will remain in their vehicles and listen on FM radio, executive pastor Ryan Wolfenbarger said.
“We’ve reconfigured the parking lot — it sits on a bit of an incline — where the little cars go in front, followed by the SUVs and the pickups in the back,” Wolfenbarger said Friday. “We have purchased an FM transmitter.
“We’re on 90.5. It’ll broadcast for a mile, a mile and a half. What they’re seeing from their cars, they’ll play into the cars.”
Wolfenbarger said he and senior paster Gary Miller were anticipating something like this pandemic happening and went to thinking outside the box.
“Many years ago, Gary did a drive-through nativity at another church and I said ‘kind of like the Christmas lights at the fairgrounds’, and it went from there.”