In these unprecedented times in which every day life has been greatly altered by the coronavirus, churches around the U.S. have been forced to close their doors due to calls from government officials to limit gatherings of people to 10 or less.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still church going on.
Examples of that can be found in several areas of Texas County, as churches and pastors employ unusual methods to share God’s Word with interested people. In many cases, messages are being delivered via online and social media means. But another suddenly common (and popular) technique is “drive-in church” where people gather in large parking areas and hear messages while seated inside their vehicles.
Among the area churches conducting drive-in services last Sunday were Houston First Baptist, Souls Harbor Family Worship and Roby Baptist.
“During this time, people are scared, distressed and depressed,” said Houston First Baptist pastor Russ Stigall. “Many are beginning to shelter in place because they’re not going to their jobs or they’re older. Our interest is to reach out to those people in various ways to help them in every way we can.
“The building may be closed, but we’re not closed; we’re just suspending our regular activities.”
Stigall said his church has implemented a “home delivery ministry” in addition to its ongoing “teleministry.”
“Anyone who has a need for something – like maybe bread or milk – but might not feel like getting out can call us and we’ll go get it and leave it on your porch,” he said. “The same goes for people who might be afraid and just want to talk. I’ll go by their place and I don’t even have to go in – we can just talk at the door. Or we can just talk on the phone.
“We just don’t want anyone who might not have family close by to feel as though they don’t have the support they need.”
Danny Delcour is pastor at Houston’s First Free Will Baptist Church and is president of the Houston Ministerial Alliance. He said there is actually a bright side to the unfortunate circumstances caused by the COVID-19 situation.
“With all of the services being done online, it’s actually reaching more people in some cases,” Delcour said. “In our case, there are people from as far away as Virginia, Colorado and Utah watching. I would have never guessed that would happen, but because of what we’ve seen we’re going to continue it even after all this is over.”
Delcour will conduct drive-in church beginning this week.
“The drive-in idea is great because people can still come to church and feel safe,” he said. “I think many churches are adapting very well to the way things are.”
For the past two Sundays, Souls Harbor pastor Cody Neugebauer has held a 10:30 a.m. service at the Phoenix Drive-In Theater in Houston. Attendees heard the proceedings through their car stereos, just like they would hear the sounds of a movie.
“It’s a time for people to get together and keep their distance, but stay united as a body,” Neugebauer said. “You know, the building is just a building, but the people are the body of Christ. They’re the church, and for me it’s about the body being able to stay united and for us to all realize the church is more than just a building.”
People taking part in Roby Baptist Church’s drive-in service last Sunday heard pastor Wes Mayfield on their vehicles’ radios via a low-power FM transmitter brought in for the event. On the church’s website, Mayfield points out that Christianity has been met with challenges in the past.
“Throughout the history of the Body of Christ, it has been met with countless oppositions, hardships and challenges,” he said. “However, each time she has adapted and endured. The coronavirus pandemic is no exception. The church will adapt and endure. The only question is, how quickly and efficiently will she adapt?”
Houston First Baptist also recently started online services, including a Wednesday show called “Midweek Lift.”
“It’s short, with devotional thoughts and scripture,” Stigall said. “It’s designed to give people a lift in the middle of the week when they might be getting down. We’ll also address prayer requests.”
Stigall said the bottom line is that even in the strange situation we all find ourselves in, there are still ways to touch people.
“And like many churches in the community, we’re interested in the whole community,” Stigall said. “We want to bring hope to the community and we’ll do it as best we can until we get through this and we can have church again in our regular setting.”
Stigall said he hopes people from churches that aren’t doing online or drive-in services will feel free to attend services elsewhere.
“I really believe God has a lot of answers to the questions people have in their lives right now,” he said, “so we invite them to be with us. But keep in mind we don’t want your offering; that goes to your home church. We just want to connect with you, care for you and give you a chance to worship God.”
“We still have a community to serve,” Neugebauer said, “and we still have to serve one another and serve God.”
“God has laid it on our hearts that we have to keep things going,” Delcour said. “And God will always show how to make a good thing out of a bad thing. We just need to hang on and continue to pray and God will lead us through it.”