Megachurch Pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Ministries in Atlanta, GA, announced his church will not reopen until 2021. The church will turn its focus toward expanding their online community rather than resume in-person services.
Stanley told members of his congregation that it will host digital-only services for the remainder of the year. His decision came as part of an effort to give his church some level of comfort and certainty during these troubled times.
“I announced to our churches that we would not be meeting publicly for the next three Sundays. Some pastors called and said, ‘What do you know that we don’t?’ I said, ‘I don’t know anything you don’t. I just know that clarity in the midst of uncertainty is the way forward,’” Stanley told Ed Stetzer.
After realizing that his church was wasting much of its resources for just 20% of his congregation, he made an important decision. The church could be better stewards of God’s resources if they focused on expanding its online community.
“This is really my mission decision. It’s not based on emotion. It’s on point with our mission to inspire people to follow Jesus. And it’s a very outsider-focused decision instead of an insider-focused decision,” he said.
Pastor Stanley and other church leaders didn’t make an executive decision without doing their research. They surveyed congregations across their seven campuses to get a read on how members felt about in-person worship. The research revealed that a decreasing number of church-goers were reluctant to attend church during the pandemic.
“We don’t want to accidentally do something harmful to our community while gathering a whole lot of people. Under these circumstances, you run the risk of actually doing something negative to the community and gathering the 20% that show up is doing nothing for the community,” he said.
Stanley also took into consideration how resuming in-person services would impact the community. Contributing to the spread of COVID-19 would not demonstrate the love of Christ to those they are trying to reach for his namesake.
“This is an incredible opportunity for the church to be seen doing good,” Stanley said. “The communication has been, we love you too much to open the doors on Sunday morning. Let’s focus on doing stuff for the community.”
The church has found other creative ways to continue meeting at a safe distance. Their middle school ministry meet on driveways called “driveway groups.” And their small groups sit in lawn chairs on the campus six feet apart.
“The church is not closed. We’ve just suspended our Sunday morning gatherings,” Stanley emphasized.