Churches shift services in response to COVID-19

Published 7:23 am Sunday, April 12, 2020

Prior to COVID-19, there was no question as to whether the barber shop would have appointments, or the state parks would be running, or if a local church would have open doors for worship on Sundays.

Now that the virus has called for people to stay home as much as possible, all these normalcies are suddenly not as accessible.

Local churches around the Outer Banks have had to change the way they operate while maintaining connections with their congregations.

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“We’re trying to be supportive and honoring of what governing officials are asking of us,” said Liberty Christian Fellowship Pastor Scott Hobbs.

Mass gatherings were first discouraged, then prohibited, early into the outbreak of COVID-19. Therefore, churches have shifted their traditional services.

Hobbs said Liberty Christian Fellowship has live-streamed their services via Facebook before, but not outside of the building. He explained that the team has received “quite the education” on how to reach a mass audience through social media.

Some churches have had the means of broadcasting their services in place for some time now. Pastor Rick Lawrenson with Nags Head Church said they have had a streaming service set up for two to three years. He realized others are not as fortunate.

“For a lot of smaller churches, it’s something brand new . . . I’ve been able to meeting with groups of pastors in the region and helping them do the best job they can,” Lawrenson said.

For many churches, it seems as through live-streaming has become the main means of reaching parishioners. Son Rise Church of Christ Pastor Jason Woolard said they have had their production team equipped for this type of service, but engagement is greater now than ever.

“We were able to transition pretty easily, though we had to change up the program because there’s a lot more traffic since everyone is watching that way,” Woolard noted.

At Our Lady of the Seas Catholic Church, Jane Grimm said some IT-savvy gentlemen came together quickly to pre-record services for their congregation. “We record it [the service] using my hotspot and it goes right to our website,” Grimm explained.

Lawrenson said his team has been pre-recording their services as well: “It enables us to add our music and some different things to it and make it a little bit better of a video.”

Social media has not only allowed for streaming/recording of the physical church services, but it has allowed for pastors, priests and religious leaders to engage with their community on a personal level.

Rev. Dr. Jody Moore of Outer Banks Presbyterian Church said members of their congregation have been writing encouraging messages to one another on their Facebook page. “We have also been including our church members birthdays and anniversaries in our weekly newsletter email,” Moore added.

Dave Briggman with All Saints Episcopal Church said they have made use of the Zoom platform. “That way we’re able to talk and hear one another,” he said. Hobbs said his team had a training session on how to use Google Hangout, Zoom and Facebook messenger.

Many church leaders are in agreement that social media has brought in more viewers than normal. Lawrenson said this time of year, Nags Head Church may see 300 worshippers on Sunday morning. Now through Facebook, he sees there are upwards of 3000 viewers.

“People seem hungrier to engage more because they feel isolated,” Hobbs shared.

Grimm said that after streaming their services, she received donations from donors in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio along with local community members, which exemplified a much broader audience than usual.

For those that are not active members on Facebook or do not have the technological means of streaming, some church leaders have thought of other innovative ways to provide services.

Pastor Mike Caton with Mount Olive Church of Christ said they have been offering drive-in services on Sundays. “Last Sunday, I parked toward the end of the parking lot and let folks line up behind that while sitting in their cars.” Caton said he had a sound system ready and held his service while everyone maintained their social distance.

Churches have also been providing weekly devotions, making phone calls and even picking up supplies that members of the congregation may be in need of. Others have made use of the radio, like Nags Head Church, who will be broadcasting their Easter Sunday service via local radio stations.

Lawrenson noted that pastors are “working harder in the past three to four weeks than they have in a long time,” due to this learning curve.

Through this transitional period, churches have borne witness to a strength in the Outer Banks community. “We have an advantage in the Outer Banks,” Hobbs said, “because we’re a community that’s used to pulling itself up by its boot straps.”

“When it all goes down, everybody comes up and helps one another,” Hobbs added.

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