As Montgomery County begins banning gatherings in response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, places of worship are adapting their services to meet the needs of their congregations.
“The church right now rather than gathered is scattered,” said Jay Gross, senior pastor at West Conroe Baptist Church in downtown Conroe. “We talk in our church ... about taking the church outside the walls. Well, we’re literally outside the walls now.”
Gross said the church has begun exclusively livestreaming Sunday morning services. The livestream of March 15 services has about 1,600 views as of March 19.
“I was really surprised how many views we’ve had,” Gross said.
Anthony Rios, the reach pastor of The Ark Church in Conroe, said that in order to abide by county laws, his church is also moving to streaming Sunday and Wednesday services.
The Ark Church serves about 7,000 people every week, Media Pastor Matt Clayton said, but with the livestreaming, the church has actually seen an increase of viewers.
“The online church platform actually gives us an opportunity to reach people who previously maybe couldn’t make it to church before for various reasons,” Clayton said.
Clayton said the livestream option also provides a chat function, which allows people to comment and reach out in real time during a service.
“People can put in prayer requests, and we’re seeing people virtually pray for one another,” Clayton said. “And that’s been amazing to see the community, even, supporting what we’ve been doing.”
Gross said the church is trying to adapt its other ministries to limit contact while also supporting the community, including putting together appreciation baskets for hospital workers and first responders.
“We’re also encouraging out members to just walk their streets and write their neighbors a note,” Gross said. “‘I’m your neighbor down the street. My wife and I are just praying over homes and families in our neighborhood and want you to know we prayed for you.’”
Rios said The Ark is still working on ways to serve the local community, including partnering with local nonprofit Meals on Wheels to provide meals to housebound elders. Executive Pastor Phillip Moore said the church’s kids ministry is also providing videos and packets to families.
“We’re trying to do something for all ages,” Moore said.
Moore said members of the Montgomery County community have been dealing with fear of the outbreak, but in addition to practical solutions of practicng good hygiene and adhering to local policies, church communities can provide comfort in times of uncertainty.
“Faith is the antidote to fear,” Moore said. “That’s what we’ve been going back to and trying to encourage people. ‘Hey, in the midst of all this, we can have a sound mind. ... God’s going to see us through this.'”