Drive-in services a worship alternative
That’s what a few local houses of worship are holding in the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus resulting in church closures for the time being.
Sunday will bring the second time for the outdoors, stay-in-your-car service for Impact Church in Weirton and Brooke Hills Free Methodist Church in Wellsburg.
Both had drive-in services for the first time last Sunday.
Impact Church, located at 300 School St., Weirton, had drive-in church services with success at 9 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. at the Millsop Community Center parking lot next to the baseball field and will expand that there this Sunday to three services. The starting times will be 9 a.m., 10:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
Brooke Hills Free Methodist Church, located at 1340 Washington Pike, Wellsburg, will hold its drive-in service Sunday in the church parking lot, beginning at 10:30 a.m.
Crossroads Christian Church, meanwhile, located at 110 Springdale Ave., Wintersville, is partnering with Winter Drive-In at 400 Luray Drive, Wintersville, to hold a drive-in service at the latter on April 11, the day before Easter. It will begin at 8 p.m.
Pastor Kendon Alexander and his wife, Stephanie, in responding to questions through Facebook, described Impact Church as a non-denominational church of around 200 people. “We are a church plant of seven years.”
The two drive-in services generated a turnout that they described as “phenomenal — so many people looking for hope and a place to get together safely.” They counted around 130 cars between both services.
“People need connection, they need not to feel isolated, so by providing a drive-in we meet the need without adding to the crisis. Our church embraces a basic philosophy ‘Don’t do life alone.'”
The drive-in services, they noted, are “a way to continue in that mindset without putting people in harm’s way. We have had an amazing response. We also went live on Facebook and had people responding from Oregon to New York. Our community and our nation need hope. And that is what churches are here to provide, be it online services or drive-in services like we did. We are working hard to improve the experience and continue to help attendees and workers feel safe.”
In a March 18 video post on Impact Church’s Facebook page, its pastor said, “We have been praying for you during these frustrating times, during these fearful times, during these times of uncertainty.
“One of the most frustrating things for me as a pastor of a church is do we have church or not have church. I know for many of the people of faith out there the question is do we go to church or do we not go to church,” Alexander said. “We want to go to church because there’s something so powerful when the people of God join together and begin to worship the king of glory, but yet we want to do our part. We don’t want to be a part of the problem, we want to be a part of the solution. We want to be a good witness so I’ve been laboring back and forth, and I think I’ve figured how we can join the two together,” he said in explaining the option to have a drive-in service.
Participants were instructed to stay in their vehicles and tune their radios to 90.3 to hear the service. Alexander preached from a stage area under a tent.
BROOKE HILLS FREE METHODIST
This Sunday message’s at Brooke Hills Free Methodist Church will be “Communion Among Isolation,” and communion will be observed, according to Steven Hlatky, lead pastor.
“We will be serving communion this Sunday, which is individually wrapped and prepared from a Christian Resource Supplier, so our parking attendants will have gloves on, and each person will receive one on their way into the parking lot.
“So at the end of service, we will take communion together, just as Jesus set the example, and partner with his sacrifice and will. Communion unites us with God the Father and brings healing and restoration,” he noted.
Hlatky explained how the idea for the drive-in service originated through a conversation with his dad. The topic was about how to still host a service in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We started talking about what is allowed, and I kept focusing on we can still go to restaurants, we just have to do take-out or drive-through, which then led me to I wonder what it would take to pull off a drive-in church.”
Hlatky said he and the church’s leadership team discussed “what we needed to implement to ensure safety, what we needed to set up and prepare so the service went smoothly and round up our willing volunteers to serve in different areas — parking attendants, worship team, sound and equipment and such.”
The church has a pavilion on site with parking lots surrounding three of its four sides, providing a perfect place to set up.
“We also have an extra sound system and speakers that we use for various ministers, like Church in the Park during the Fourth of July weekend, so we had everyone face toward the pavilion,” Hlatky said. “Speakers were set up in various locations, plus we were able to be on the radio, so folks could listen with their windows up.”
The church does have a social media presence, “but not as much as we have had these past few weeks with inspirational videos from the staff as well as livestreaming our services,” he said.
“We got great feedback from those who attended,” Hlatky said of the drive-in service last Sunday. “We had 109 attend this past Sunday, about 65 cars,” he said. A normal Sunday sees about 185 in attendance, including children.
“They were happy to get out of their houses and gather with their church family. We even had some visitors join us. We ask that everyone stays in their cars during the service and to have conversations with those around them by putting down their windows. We want to be faithful to gather while keeping the social distancing recommendation,” he continued.
“The message was taken from 2 Timothy 1:6-7, and we focused on having ‘A Sound Mind,'” Hlatky said. “Among the fear-driven news headlines and long social threads of worry, we are called to still be the church and promote grace, love and hope. We overcome fear with the power and truth of God’s word,” he said.
The message came through radio station 102.1.
“Also, if folks could not or chose not to gather with us, we were live on Facebook,” he noted.
“I was excited and humbled by Sunday’s service. To look out to the gathering, and witness people worshipping out of their car windows and replacing their ‘Amens’ with a car horn honk really encouraged me, and I believe encouraged many others. We are the body of Christ, and we’re not confined to a building,” Hlatky said, adding, “I’m grateful for the church team and their willingness to navigate this uncharted territory with grace, support and prayerfulness.”
CROSSROADS CHRISTIAN CHURCH
The Rev. Jeff Greco, pastor of Crossroads Christian Church in Wintersville, said the church initiated partnering with Winter Drive-In to arrange an outdoor worship service.
He credited Ryan Orr, the church’s director of technology who handles the church’s sound, lighting and social media. “Immediately he said we should look at doing church in an outdoor venue. We should call the drive-in,” Greco said, noting he presented the idea that was embraced by Ross Falvo.
“As soon as things started to shut down we put the wheels in motion for this and, again, Ross has been great to work with. He wants to do whatever will benefit the community,” Greco said.
As for the value of having a drive-in service, Greco said, “Well, even though we’re going to be isolated in our cars, there’s still something valuable and biblical about God’s people gathering. You’ll still be able to hear each other sing. It’s powerful to know we’re all in this together.”
Greco spoke to the power of social media in general during the coronavirus situation as a tool to reach beyond the church walls.
“Obviously being able to stay connected is crucial,” Greco said, noting the church has probably a dozen virtual Bible studies going on that are using Zoom. Some counseling appointments on Zoom have happened also. Church staff are calling members to stay connected, he added.
“People are telling us that they are participating, that in their living room, the kids are singing. Social media gives you the ability to take a bad situation and make it good because you can stay connected,” he said.
“It’s not the same, but it’s not terrible.”
The challenge of the church during this time is “to find ways to stay connected to one another and still minister to the world,” Greco said. “Most people view the church as a social club and they don’t think that’s a bad thing, but this is my church and these are my friends, but the mission of the church is to help the world. First of all, know Jesus and second of all, serve them, so that they’ll know Jesus, but it’s hard to minister to the world when you’re not supposed to leave your house,” he said.
Greco noted “it’s much more difficult to do ministry we’re supposed to be doing when you’re isolated. Social media helps with that, too, because you can stay connected,” he said.
“We’ve had dozens of people in our church sign up on our website portal to help deliver food, buy food for elderly, babysit kids for health care workers, so we’re organizing all that through social media,” he added.
There can be a reflective up side to the pandemic.
“I think the church individuals need to take a step back and reassess the way they spend their time, the way they spend their money and what a great opportunity to get some rest and some perspective if people will do it,” Greco said.
Many churches are continuing to reach out to their parishioners and beyond, streaming their services and Bible studies through their websites, Facebook and YouTube, for example.
The Wintersville church has had a strong online presence.
“We already stream, we already have all the equipment to stream, for us it was just our weekend online viewership went from 150 to 600 so for us it wasn’t a change, but we started streaming all three services instead of one. That was a big change but really it wasn’t a big deal, but it’s different,” he added.
Asked if there were any other closing thoughts or message to get across to readers regarding churches and the coronavirus keeping church doors closed for the time being, Greco responded, “Yes, actually, and I say this on behalf of all churches. This isn’t just for Crossroads.
“The church still has to pay its light bills and pay its pastor, the missionaries that need support, so even if you can’t be at church, it’s important you give. It’s probably the single most overlooked need. People don’t realize the church commits itself to support missionaries, and the church has staff. Money is not a huge issue for us, but there are half a dozen men that I mentor and several of them are in panic. When your offering goes to zero for a couple weeks, a lot of pastors living paycheck to paycheck, earning their paychecks comes out of that offering that week, so that’s probably the biggest thing I would say to Christians.”