Churches across the country are doing what they can to connect to parishioners from a distance. Now, some are switching from online back to in-person during this pandemic.
"It wasn't easy. It wasn't the best, but our people did well with it, and we tried to make the best of that situation. We had a lot of people that would come into the church to help put things together technically and musically and that sort of thing. And all that time, trying to maintain proper distancing," explained Dean Ropp, pastor of Midway Community Church in Georgia.
From Zoom bible studies to prayer meetings over the phone, Ropp says their parishioners continue to tune in and stay engaged. But many still desired that in-person connection to their church. So Midway Community Church started offering their Sunday service in-person.
"As time went on, we were looking for ways we could get back together safely, and in our context, we decided with our size and facilities, we would try outdoor services,” the pastor said. “We have done outdoor services before, because we wanted to and so we knew how to do it.”
Midway Community Church already had a stage that was set up in a grove of oak and pecan trees on their property, plus other equipment that they could move outdoors. They put in some extra precautions to keep people safe, like having people bring their own chairs.
"Then, we also, in this case, rather than sitting close together like we'd like to, we have cones set up for every family or individual, so everyone keeps a little eye on their distancing and that sort of thing," said Pastor Ropp.
While attendance was terrific, Pastor Ropp decided they'd only hold the outdoor services every three weeks to ensure they weren't spreading the coronavirus. The outdoor services are one extra way for the church to stay connected with people since some aren't too keen on online church services or have had a hard time keeping up with church events because of the pandemic.
Pastor Ropp says people were appreciative of the fact that they could still get together and physically be at church, even if it was from a distance.
"I can’t tell you how grateful we all were to be able to do it, the first time especially. It’s really carried that enthusiasm each time because we do love being together. That’s part of who we are as a church," said Pastor Ropp.
As for how long churches across the country will be able to maintain an outdoor or online presence with their community, time and COVID-19 statistics will tell. Outdoor services may be difficult in the winter.
Pastor Ropp says they're taking things month by month and brainstorming different ways to keep their church community together.
"There are a number of ideas we’ve had in how we would do it, whether it would be online registration or do it by classes the different groups were connected with,” he said. “So, there's a couple options we can do. We’re hoping we can get through it without going to that.”
He says some people who may be suffering during the pandemic may need their local church now more than ever, so he hopes people who do belong to a church can continue to stay plugged into whatever services being offered.