Over a year’s time, businesses and schools alike have gone from in-person to virtual and remote working and education. 

Churches have been functioning no differently.

For those that could do so, churches have gone from in-person worship to virtual church services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has lifted many of its mandates and bans to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, the pandemic is still affecting many daily.

People are still wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Three metro Atlanta pastors discussed how their churches are still virtual and how their ministries have been managing throughout the pandemic.

Pastor Jamal Bryant, a senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Stonecrest, Georgia, said his church is continuing to hold virtual services and his church ministry has expanded since the pandemic began last year.

“Even before the pandemic, we expanded our online presence with the expansion of our ministry focused on online pastoral care and support. In many ways, the pandemic has expanded our idea of how we do church and enabled, if not forced us to explore ministry outside the four walls of our church,” Bryant said.

“Members still have various ‘touch’ points from drive-through prayer and communion pick up. We ask our elders and ministers to stay connected with our members and we remain creative in our approach to gather safely when possible.”

Olu Brown, senior pastor at Impact Church in East Point, Georgia said, “We have done amazingly well throughout the pandemic. We reached more people and connected with more people virtually.”

Dr. Kevin R. Murriel, senior pastor at Cascade United Methodist Church in southwest Atlanta said his church is also continuing virtual services and that the church has had virtual services since the second Sunday in March of 2020.

“When the pandemic began last year, we already had an online presence. Going to virtual and streaming services was absolutely an adjustment. All of a sudden, people are watching services from a computer,” Murriel said.

“We are currently in phase three of a five-phase opening protocol. I am proud of my members for not losing hope. Our streaming audience has grown exponentially. There are benefits of broadcasting virtually that we never saw before, including members who joined our church from other states and countries. The church has adjusted very well during COVID.”

In many communities around the country, the church is the focal point where people not only can get spiritual fulfillment but also support. These three ministries have come through to help and support Atlanta communities throughout the pandemic.

“We have helped the community with mission and outreach during COVID, from feeding individuals to providing covid testing and serving as a vaccination site,” Brown said. “We pivoted and offered ourselves this past year. We have to make an impact.”

“Our food pantry has fed over 600,000 people since we opened right before the pandemic. The reality of food insecurity still exists and we continue to expand our partnerships to meet the needs of our community,” Bryant said.

“We are actively working with our members and community to offer resources from everything from small business development, financial literacy and more. We have launched a number of activities around health and wellness (both physical and mental) that include outside walks and programming from our Samson Fitness Facility. Additionally, we have made numerous donations to organizations supporting social justice initiatives and higher-education organizations.”

Murriel also said outreach from his church continued during the Covid, including its “Smart Lunch Smart Kids” lunch give-a-way for kids in Atlanta.

Over the holiday season last year in December, Murriel’s church gave gift cards for Christmas to all workers at Arbor Terrace Senior Living Facility at Cascade and to Kroger employees also located on Cascade Road to show its appreciation.

“We were not going to stop doing outreach just because of the pandemic. We served over 100,000 families during the pandemic in 2020. Currently, we have another initiative, ‘Feed the 5000,’ where we are feeding families, providing breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” Murriel said.

“The pandemic opened the church for more ministry opportunities even though the physical doors of the church are closed. I am thankful for the members and volunteers, those who support ministry, and thank God for what He is able to do through us during the pandemic.”

Bryant said the pandemic has not affected his preaching but has caused him to focus on the impact of his messages, as his church has impacted more people throughout the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has forced my ministry to reside outside of the four walls of our church. So while that does not necessarily impact how I preach, it does bring into focus different messages that may come from the pulpit,” Bryant said.

“However, it has directly impacted our ministry and approach to community outreach. I would say that we are a stronger, more connected ministry as we really work to expand how we touch lives and meet people, not just our members, where they are.”

Murriel said he works hard but worked harder during the pandemic.

“We will continue to have a dynamic online service. I’ve grown in my preaching during COVID. There are strengths that COVID has developed. I tapped into people’s pain and gave hope. I have deeper empathy for those who hear my messages,” Murriel said.

For more information, visit www.cascadeumc.org, www.newbirth.org, or www.impactdcd.org.

(Photo Credit: Size More Group)

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