COVID-19 Surge Has Some Church Leaders Re-thinking Whether To Reopen

The drive to reopen churches around the country appears to be losing momentum as a result of the surge of COVID-19 cases.

Pastor surveys by the Barna Group have found that the share of churches reporting a return to in-person worship fell from 56 percent in June to 49 percent in the most recent survey. The Barna surveys, reported by Christianity Today, also showed that five percent of pastors now say their churches will not resume in-person worship until 2021.

A previous Barna survey found zero percent of pastors expecting their churches to remain shuttered for the rest of this year.

Among the churches planning to suspend in-person worship for all of 2020 are the six locations of North Point Ministries in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. In pre-coronavirus times, more than 30,000 people worshiped across the North Point churches each weekend.

Andy Stanley, the founding North Point pastor, announced in May that his churches would reopen on August 9, but in a video message sent to his congregants this week, Stanley said those plans had to change.

“We’ve decided to suspend adult worship services for the remainder of the year,” Stanley said, in a sober tone of voice. He cited the “uptick” in the number of COVID-19 cases in the Atlanta area.

“Consequently, we cannot guarantee your safety,” Stanley said.

“Even if we did reopen,” Stanley said, “we certainly would not be able to create a quality adult or children’s worship experience with social distancing protocols in place.”

Some prominent megachurch leaders, however, do not intend to follow Stanley’s example.

“I’m not buying the gloom and doom,” said Jack Graham, senior pastor at Prestonwood Baptist in Plano, Texas, and a prominent evangelical supporter of President Trump.

“Starting school, opening churches and growing America’s economy is in motion,” Graham tweeted Thursday. “Positivity beats politics every time.”

Collin County, where Graham’s church is located, as of this week had reported nearly 5,000 novel coronavirus cases, a 20% increase over the previous week’s total.

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