Amid reports that coronavirus cases are spiking across the country, one of North Carolina’s largest megachurches has decided to cancel all in-person services until a vaccine has been developed.
World Overcomers Christian Church announced Thursday that it would continue having online services until a COVID-19 vaccine was readily available. Senior Pastor Andy Thompson said hosting in-person worship services is not worth the risk.
“When our people are able to come back together, they’re going to want to greet one another and hug one another, and in my estimation, the risks are too great,” Thompson told a local CBS affiliate. “We have to figure out ways to minister to people beyond just them risking contact in the middle of a pandemic.”
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, over the last two weeks coronavirus cases from social gatherings such as church and sporting events have increased. The state health department calls these infectious gatherings clusters and defines them as “five or more epidemiologically linked cases within 14 days of one another.”
Data from the report, which was collected in the month of August, revealed that religious gatherings rank third on the list of events or settings creating clusters across the state.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Thompson said his church has experienced unexpected growth and that he has been able to reach more people via online worship services.
“Church for us is just growing. We’ve never had this many people watching. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to having church the way I did before,” Thompson said.
Although other churches in the area have returned to in-person services, Thompson claims it’s not the wisest decision. He believes churches need to seriously “rethink” their strategy before allowing people back into their building.
“Every time they tell me they’re having meetings, I always say, ‘You might want to rethink that. Do you really have to have meetings to minister the gospel of Christ?’” Thompson said, reiterating that people need to adapt and “figure out a way to be effective when it comes to the future.”
Thompson’s decision to suspend in-person services until a vaccine is developed follows fellow megachurch pastor Andy Stanley’s announcement earlier this summer. The North Point Community Church leader canceled in-person services until 2021 in order to guarantee the safety of his church members.
“This is based on the experience of other similar-sized churches around the country that opened two or even three weeks ago. If we open and a volunteer, child, student or an adult who attends any of our environments tests positive after the fact, we are responsible for doing all the contract tracing,” Stanley said in July.
“And that would be the right thing to do, that would be the responsible thing to do, but that would be pretty much an impossible thing to do.”