The COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges for churches around the globe, as the church has been scattered into our homes. Yet God is still moving in and through His people, turning challenge into opportunity.
Like most churches, IPHC congregations have moved their church services and resources online, reaching beyond the walls of their churches in new ways. Many churches have used Facebook Live, YouTube, and Vimeo to deliver online content. But they have moved quickly beyond content to provide real care via real-time virtual messaging and follow-up texts and phone calls. As Josh Hannah, director of EVUSA’s Healthy, Growing, Multiplying initiative has said, “Churches have to move beyond providing online content to engaging in online ministry.” Pastors and congregants alike have embraced new technologies–and repurposed some old ones–to care for their communities.
Before West Virginia limited even outdoor gatherings, Crossroads Church in Bluefield, WV, planned a drive-in service. Pastor Travis Lowe posted about it on Facebook, seeking an FM transmitter that would broadcast the service a short distance. In a short time, that simple idea had grown into a major community event. The city manager allowed Crossroads to relocate the service to the local high school, where law enforcement helped to park arriving cars. A local bakery provided donuts as families arrived, and the largest radio station in the area broadcast the service live.
When drive-in services became impractical, Pastor Lowe made a very quick shift from podcasting church services to offering a live stream . But he realized some in his community had little or no internet service.
“Some of our homebound folks, and most of the area’s nursing home residents, don’t have a device to access the internet,” Lowe said. “But they all had a phone.” Lowe discovered a dial-in service, Phonelivestreaming.com, that would deliver his church’s stream via telephone. “All you have to do,” Lowe said, “is call our 800-number, press 1, and you’ll receive a call anytime Crossroads goes live. Pick up the phone, and you can hear our stream.”
Crossroads also seized the opportunity to look outward, into their community, for ways to minister. On Easter Sunday, instead of the usual service, Lowe teamed up with another area church to make personal protective equipment (PPE) for a local hospital. Their livestream included footage of families assembling 3-D printed masks at Crea Company, a local creative space started by Lowe and another area pastor, Robbie Gaines. The Washington Post picked up the story, as did some other local media outlets.
According to Sarah Pulliam Bailey in the Post:
Ahead of Easter, [Lowe] contacted Tim Bess, executive vice president of operations of Bluefield Regional Medical Center, to ask whether he needed PPE in case the coronavirus were to spread in Mercer County, an economically depressed area of West Virginia that has struggled with the opioid epidemic.
“I said, ‘Are you kidding me? This is unbelievable,’” Bess said. “We need these desperately.”
The 93-bed hospital could serve up to 40,000 people in the surrounding area. On Friday, the county had four positive COVID-19 cases with one patient in the hospital, according to Bess, and no one knows when cases will peak in the region or how much equipment the hospital will need.
Crossroads has spent several years cultivating relationships in the Bluefield community, and the current crisis has turned those relationships into remarkable new opportunities for ministry. But Pastor Travis doesn’t consider these opportunities the fruit of his own creativity. Writing about the drive-in service on his blog, Lowe explained what God does with our simplest ideas. Crossroads’ experience has become a powerful illustration of a message Lowe gave the church at the beginning of the crisis:
God does not need us to be invincible. God is able to step into our weakness and make us strong. This is not a denial of our vulnerability, but the understanding that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. Maybe the current realization of our weakness, that has been brought to us by COVID-19, could open doors for God’s strength to be on display.
Follow Pastor Travis and discover more about Crossroads’ ministry via his blog.