Churches Reach Out Despite Pandemic

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Calvary Chapels Are Finding Ways to Minister During the Global COVID-19 Crisis

Story by Margot Bass

police make meals

Sheriff's deputies come together to serve the community with THRIVE, a Calvary Chapel affiliate in rural King George, VA, passing out food to families in need during this crisis. Photo by Christian Rodriguez

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine. Acts 2:42a

As Melanie Hinson handed “grab-and-go” breakfast and lunches to parents waiting in their cars at an elementary school in rural King George, VA, she noticed Jessica, a mom she remembered seeing just two days earlier—a woman who had “stuck in her heart.” Melanie, wife of THRIVE Christian Fellowship Pastor John Hinson, and members of her church were asked by the school to pass out the free food to families while schools are shut down in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Melanie gives food to child

Melanie Hinson of THRIVE Christian Fellowship gives a local girl food for her family at the "grab-and-go" lunch giveaway. Many children depend on schools for breakfast and lunch. Photo by Christian Rodriguez

It was a lighter day, and the volunteers weren’t as rushed as normal to finish within the allotted hour. “There were more opportunities to talk a little with the people while they were waiting for their packages of food,” Melanie recalled. “That first day, I could see on Jessica’s face that she was heavy and burdened, and I spoke words of encouragement to her.” This time, however, Melanie learned that Jessica was scheduled for a C-Section the next day. Through the window, Melanie encouraged her as Jessica shared her concerns. When Melanie asked to pray for her, Jessica gratefully agreed.

Despite limitations on sharing the Gospel, THRIVE, a Calvary Chapel affiliate, sees this outreach as an important opportunity. Melanie explained, “We’re a small community. We’re seeing a lot of the same faces coming through, and I feel like we’re starting to develop some relationships with these parents. If this crisis continues, we’re going to be seeing them for the next month and a half, three times a week. The Lord will open doors of opportunity with them outside of this.”

During this global pandemic, believers are responding with Jesus’ love and grace. Calvary Chapels and other churches are enthusiastically embracing creative ministry opportunities as they follow government guidelines and orders designed to rein in the highly contagious and often deadly virus. Although most churches are unable to meet in person, pastors are reporting an exponential increase in the spread of the Gospel through social media and practical ministry.

“This is a time when God is stripping away the distractions for Christians as well as unbelievers. In a sense, the Lord is giving believers a chance to get back to Him and to what's important,” stated Al Fredrich, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Longview, WA.

men read a form near a car

The Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel St. George, UT, Jerry Camacho, encourages a man in his car through a drive-through prayer tent. Photo courtesy of CC St. George

The Church is Still the Church

“We might not be standing together in a church building, but we are collectively making up the church as we gather in our own homes and small group settings,” said Lance Cook, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel La Habra, CA. “Pestilence has come, thus we gather in His presence for His name—in His authority and by His power. As we cry out to God in our affliction, He will hear and save us.” He added that he recently felt the Lord affirm in his heart, You are going to see people in heaven that you walked into My kingdom, who have never walked into your church.

planing in church lobby

Senior Pastor Lance Cook of CC La Habra (left), and his team prepares for an outreach to the nearby community during the pandemic. Photo courtesy of CC La Habra

Jack Hibbs, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, CA, declared, “Right now we are all isolated, and we can only reach people through social media. But that’s OK. The Gospel is going out more now than in any other time in human history.” He estimated that recently, through his large church’s social media platforms and His Channel Television combined, nearly a half a million viewers heard the Gospel.

Fellowships large and small are using online technology and radio stations to share worship services, daily devotions, messages of encouragement, and prayer opportunities; ZOOM and other conferencing methods are being utilized for Bible studies, children’s church, and staff meetings.

Christians are also using social media—as well as old-fashioned telephone calls and acts of kindness—to actively, spiritually, and practically minister to their church families and communities. Calvary Chapel pastors around the U.S. shared their strategies for reaching out in a time of enforced isolation.

blood drive

Calvary Chapel Clayton opens it's church doors to the community for a blood drive during COVID-19. Photo courtesy of CC Clayton

Calvary Chapel Clayton, NC, held a community blood drive with the Red Cross in late March. Assisting Pastor Jeffrey Anderson stated, “We provided the space and hospitality; they did the medical work. About 35 people registered to give blood. A lot of people walked off the street wanting to donate because they heard about it and saw the sign outside.” According to the Red Cross representative, the effort resulted in the collection of 36 units of blood. “You all have given 108 patients more time with their loved ones,” she told the church.

Food Pantries, Homeless Outreach, Public Schools

Several churches continued these ministries, changing practices to include social distancing. The Calvary Chapel Houston, TX, food pantry became drive-through only for the crisis. “Normally they come in and pray. Now we’ll hand them the food they need and pray for them at a distance,” said Senior Pastor Ron Hindt. “We’re seeing people we haven’t seen before. This opens the opportunity to share Jesus as we tell them we’re doing this in the name of the Lord. And everybody accepts prayer.”

Those contacting the food pantry at Calvary Chapel Oklahoma City, OK, have had greater needs than normal, observed Assistant Pastor Christian Traina. One woman who called in had lost her job, had three kids, and couldn’t get help from any other food pantries. “We just scrambled and went into our own kitchen and pulled out pots and pans and things she could use because she had so little,” he described.

Calvary Chapel South in Kent, WA, was able to help families of students attending the school across the street. “For the past three years, we’ve held an after-school Bible Club with a couple of dozen children attending. The principal just reached out to the church to see if we could help with some situations,” reported Executive Pastor Gerrit Hoeks. Needs ranged from providing basic groceries and supplies to assisting mothers who were either homeless or between homes, a grandmother working and trying to care for her grandchildren, and a family that needed a laptop or tablet to do homework.

Volunteers are also feeding the homeless who have been moved to area hotels. A team from Calvary Chapel Fredericksburg, VA, prepared Easter baskets for children at those hotels.

Pastor Jerel teaches outdoors

Pastor Jerel Hagerman of Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel in Yucca Valley, CA, teaches the Word of God during a drive-in Sunday church service. The church received special permission from the San Bernardino Health Departement on the condition that participants remain in their vehicles at all times. Photo by Anthony Burns

Assisting Local Governments

A city official in La Habra, CA, approached Pastor Lance Cook after one of the church’s first online-only services with these words: “I think that’s something our city needs to hear. Our city needs prayer and help. It’s bad.” The official then asked him to set up a city-wide prayer meeting at the church. Shortly after, city officials and business representatives gathered to pray before a live, virtual church audience over all the social media and city cable platforms. Lance was asked to teach and provide worship.

making pizza dough

Believers at CC La Habra make bread to help families struggling financially. Photo courtesy of CC La Habra

“In just one day, the Lord gave us a platform to speak to possibly anyone within the reach of our city. I gave God's Word, which offered hope, and an invitation to find peace through a personal relationship with Jesus,” Lance enthused. “It’s been amazing. And that’s just what we’re doing with a church that can’t assemble.”

Calvary Castle Rock, CO, Senior Pastor Dave Love has offered his church facility to the city’s mayor if the need arises. “I told him if he wanted to use it as a COVID-19 testing site, for food distribution, patients’ beds, or for whatever it was needed for, he could have it.”

Pastor Jerel teaches people in cars

Congregants honk their car horns to symbolize an Amen during Pastor Jerel's teaching. Photo by Anthony Burns

Outdoor Services

On Sunday mornings in Yucca Valley, CA, neighbors in the vicinity of Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel can hear the sounds of worship, biblical teaching, and the honking of car horns—the fellowship’s newly established “Car Church.” According to Senior Pastor Jerel Hagerman, 150 cars parked in orderly rows on a recent Sunday, many of which carried whole families. Some people even brought their dogs. No one could leave their vehicles. “I shared about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, in the fiery furnace, a shorter message that would encourage every age, including younger kids. “Ordinarily in a service I’ll say, ‘Can I hear an Amen?’ This time I asked them to honk their horns every time I said that,” Jerel said. “We had so much fun. I told them, ‘You know what’s great about this? Nobody’s going to fall asleep during this service. Once we get back in the building, we may install some horns.’”

Sound travels in the desert when it’s quiet. Friends who lived less than a mile away texted Jerel to tell him they could hear the service perfectly. “They said it was so cool because the sound of praise and God’s Word was going clear across the valley.” In addition, there is a convalescent home next door to the church. “All of those people are quarantined. I’m sure they could hear us,” Jerel reflected. Several people in one car accepted Jesus as Lord in one service. A woman celebrating her 90th birthday came from 50 miles away. “We saved her a special parking spot, sang 'Happy Birthday' to her, prayed for her, and everybody honked their horns. It’s a birthday she’ll never forget,” he reminisced.

Calvary Chapel Lynchburg, VA, is planning a drive-in Easter Sunday service, an option permitted by the Virginia Department of Health. “We’ll set up a stage with a live radio broadcast to cars and encourage everyone to bring their own communion elements for the end of service,” relayed Pastor Troy Warner.

Carey makes hot meals

Carey Honea, from CC Fredericksburg, VA, boxes hot meals for the homeless as part of the ministry called Crossroads. Photo by Christian Rodriguez

Ministry to Health Care Providers

Calvary Chapel Oklahoma City, OK, wanted to encourage the nine nurses and one doctor who attend the fellowship. “We’re making them care baskets full of surprises—something that would be a little unexpected to show them that they’re deeply loved, appreciated, and missed—because they’re just so stressed right now, working so hard,” revealed Assistant Pastor Christian Traina. Baskets might include individual sanitizer packets, a bag of coffee, a brand-new T-shirt from the church, lotions, soap, Advil, chocolate, vitamin C and zinc lozenges, a gift card, succulents, a travel mug, chapstick, and tea. The church may expand this ministry to health professionals outside the church. Many believers are sewing face masks for hospital personnel and doctors' offices.

Expanded Prayer Opportunities

“While many churches are concerned about being able to connect with their people—as they should be—the Lord just put on my heart that what we really need to do is get the people to pray,” shared Dave Love, senior pastor of Calvary Castle Rock, CO. “God says in 2 Chronicles 7:14, 'If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.’ Isn’t that what we really want—to see God heal the world of this pandemic? I think it is.” Dave has asked his congregation to sign up online to commit one hour every day to prayer.

“More than 330 people have signed up, and we have all 24 hours taken care of. I found out that somebody had sent this to another pastor and his church is going to implement it, and that pastor sent it to seven other pastors. I have no idea where it’s going from here,” Dave admitted. “I can see that people are praying, some for the first time for more than 5 or 15 minutes. They are purposeful in what they are praying for and are seeing what a discipline this really is. Part of the prayer is asking the Lord to show us needs.”

Calvary Chapel St. George, UT, has opened its parking lot for several hours a week to provide ministry in a drive-through prayer tent. Pastors and staff are available to pray from a safe distance with anyone who comes through.“ One of the frustrations that we’ve heard is that our people miss seeing each other and having that time of fellowship. We want people to drive up and have an opportunity to see a face, somebody in person,” offered Senior Pastor Jerry Camacho. “If we find out during that time of prayer there are any additional needs, then we are willing to help with shopping, food, basic necessities.”

medical professionals with masks

A medical staff in King George, VA wears protective masks crafted by volunteers from CC Fredericksburg, VA. Photo courtesy of Dr. Tony Dapena.

The crisis has caused churches to “really up their game” regarding prayer, noted Ron Hindt, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Houston, TX. Many are now taking and responding immediately to prayer requests during online services. “Whenever we’re on for a service, we have staff on phone lines. We take prayer requests during the whole service,” Ron conveyed. “People are giving their lives to Christ. A lot of people who have fallen away from the Lord are now watching online and responding.”

Normally only a handful of people attend the Sunday night prayer meeting at Calvary Chapel Cheyenne, WY; since the fellowship has made it available through Facebook Live during the pandemic, attendance has quadrupled, said Communications Director Sheila Sells, who is also the wife of Pastor Shaun Sells. Church staffers answer the phone to field prayer requests coming in from the community.

Recently, because of a technology glitch, they inadvertently aired the service through Sheila's personal Facebook page, creating a new ministry opportunity. “People who don’t attend our church or aren’t saved ended up being part of that audience,” she explained. Her husband’s relative, who wouldn’t normally watch the church service, was following online. He called Shaun the following day with questions about world happenings and what they mean. “It was a real-time ministry opportunity that would not have happened had we not been re-focusing on how we’re doing ministry in this time. The Lord is opening doors—forcing us—to think outside the box. He’s still sovereignly creating these opportunities to reach out to a world that’s in a place of uncertainty,” Sheila encouraged.

Attendance at the new ZOOM prayer meetings at Calvary Chapel of Delta, PA, has also boomed, stated Pastor Doug McClean. “We want people to be able to see each other as they pray together, things that you can normally do at a service. People are in isolation and longing for fellowship. They want to talk, to connect. We’re trying to find ways to make that happen.”

prayer in parking lot

Pastor Jerry Camacho and staff members from CC St. George, UT, fellowship at a distance during their drive-through prayer tent. Photo courtesy of CC St. George

“Outside-the-Box” Opportunities

At the end of CC Lynchburg’s Sunday livestreams, a panel of ministry leaders remains to answer questions based on the teaching. “The congregation is encouraged to send in questions to the leaders for a direct response. It has been well-received, and there has been a lot of great interaction," shared Pastor Troy Warner. Questions asked and answered are being posted online.

Calvary Chapel Clayton, NC, has started two YouTube shows. In one, The Biblical Perspective, Pastor Kevin Edwards answers congregants’ questions and interviews guests. The first episode addressed what the Bible says about COVID-19. In the second show, Take Heart, various pastors and elders share encouraging devotions.

Youth and Children’s Ministry

Children’s church, Sunday schools, and youth/college groups are thriving through technology, despite quarantine restrictions.

At Calvary Chapel Clayton, NC, Assisting Pastor Jeffrey Anderson is using the YouVersion Bible App to deepen the faith of their students. “We’re doing a 60-day Bible reading plan, reading all of Paul’s letters. It sounds like a lot, but it’s no more than two chapters a day. What’s cool is that within the app we can see who is participating. After every day, there’s a place for everyone to comment,” Jeffrey explained. “Right now, I’m seeing the kids comment on how the Lord’s speaking to them. I feel like they’re more open to expressing themselves through writing than face-to-face.”

Christian Traina, assistant pastor at Calvary Chapel Oklahoma City, OK, is using GroupMe to provide daily challenges to his youth group. “When it comes to kids and isolation, they really gravitate toward video games, Netflix, and YouTube. They get disconnected from God and the church body,” he advised. Each day he asks them to post a specific picture, starting with those that show what life looks like for them in quarantine. He is ramping up the challenge daily, now asking them to post photos of them doing “something productive, becoming more and more finely tuned toward servanthood and thinking of other people.”

Some youth pastors around the country are teaming up to teach each other’s youth groups via ZOOM. “Every Friday night, the youth at Calvary Chapel Wichita, KS, join in on the link to hear a different youth minister each week,” related Senior Pastor Patrick Farrell.

CC Wichita Youth Pastor Juan Juarez wanted to engage the youth but add some excitement. "The more I was thinking and praying about it, the more I realized what an incredible opportunity we have to capitalize on the weirdness of this season," Juan described. He's lined up guest speakers through May, including friends he made at Calvary Chapel Bible College. "One of the things that excites me the most is getting to introduce our youth to new people and new friends and allow them to feel like they're really gaining something from this time—to not feel so trapped,” Juan stated. Calvary Chapel Fredericksburg, VA, is also inviting other leaders to share with its youth groups.

man packs food for children

A volunteer from THRIVE Christian Fellowship organizes the food that is going to be given out to children and their families. Photo by Christian Rodriguez

Creative Senior Adult Ministry

Staff members at Calvary Chapel Merritt Island, FL, have begun calling nearly 40 senior adults in the congregation to encourage them and check if they have any needs. “We’re calling these people every week to pray with them and to see if their needs have changed or if there’s anything different we can do,” mentioned Linda Wolfe, a women's ministry leader. Then volunteers in the church help to meet those needs. The surprise, she said, has been that few are requesting groceries or supplies—they want to talk. “You can tell how happy they are when they receive the calls. They need someone to talk to and love them. It makes a big difference in their walking through this virus issue,” Linda pointed out.

At Calvary Chapel La Habra, CA, volunteers from Calvary Disaster Relief (CDR) bake fresh bread every day in its sanitized commercial kitchen to take to elderly members of the fellowship. Once a week, each senior receives a visit from CDR volunteers, who place the bread, a case of water, toilet paper, and a homemade card from the children’s ministry on their front porches. They also offer to pray with them.

A pastor at Calvary Chapel Oklahoma City delivered five weeks of teaching packets to seniors at three nursing homes he serves in the city. The packet, which includes DVDs of his teachings, worship CDs, and song handouts, was made to cover the time he was supposed to be in Kenya planning a mission trip for the church. “It was a real labor of love. He was not able to go on that trip, but he was able to distribute those packets to the senior centers on lockdown,” noted Assistant Pastor Christian Traina. “He’s not a very emotional guy, but even he was getting a little choked up—these seniors, who feel they’ve been more or less forgotten, were blown away.”

Most of the congregation at CC St. George, UT, is more than 60 years old. “We want to do more with some of these older saints who are not on social media,” declared Senior Pastor Jerry Camacho. The church is making recorded services on DVD and audio available for free at the church.

prayer at front door

A team from Calvary Chapel La Habra, CA, prays and ministers to a man on his front porch who is experiencing isolation from COVID-19. Photo courtesy of CC La Habra

Organic Connection and Giving

From offers of help, to staying connected, to a commitment to continue tithing, believers in churches are generously, intentionally, and proactively reaching out to their church body. Doug McClean, pastor at Calvary Chapel of Delta, PA, admitted, “I think that we took for granted that we would see one another face to face. When you no longer have that option, suddenly you’re thinking about maintaining and investing in relationships.” His wife Susan, sensing that people were feeling isolated and simply needed to hear a voice, started an “old-fashioned” women’s prayer chain, distinct from the church’s prayer email.

“We have three different chains going every day—morning, afternoon, and evening. The first woman on a chain will call the next on the list, spend a few minutes just talking and getting caught up, and then pray over what they discussed. That person will then call the next one,” Doug detailed. At least 20 women ranging in age from 19- to 70-years old are participating.

Christian Traina, assistant pastor at CC Oklahoma City, disclosed, “People in our congregation have lost their jobs, and others have come to the church with checks and said, ‘I don’t know who this is for, please give it to the people who need it the most.’ Whether it’s a check or toilet paper or meal trains, we’re trying to be that connection, that hub. There are so many things taking place organically within our body, just naturally and not directly from us, and we’re extremely thankful people are thinking outside the box and staying connected.”

At CC St. George, UT, many people are still coming in to drop off their tithes during the week and call the office with offers of help. “We’re super blessed by that because I know that this is a time when many are struggling financially. As they reconnect in person, it’s been emotional for a lot because they miss seeing people,” conveyed Senior Pastor Jerry Camacho.

Because hunting is popular in Wyoming, believers at CC Cheyenne are offering extra meat to those in need. “It’s been neat to see the Holy Spirit lead people to want to serve organically,” observed Sheila Sells, communications director.

Lance Cook is organizing groups of five from CC La Habra to join him in making telephone calls to people in his church who are experiencing health issues and hospitalization. “We text them: Can you take a call in 30 minutes? I’ve yet to have anybody tell me No. Then I find five others to join me in the call,” Lance said. “People want to do it.” Reaching out to others in this difficult time helps the helper too. Lance described the response of a retired fireman who had just returned from delivering supplies to an elderly person: “I’ve been sitting around at home gripped with this funk, the heaviness of all this. Now it’s completely left my heart.”

love for La Habra

Drivers show their appreciation for their church in a drive-through prayer venue at Calvary Chapel La Habra, CA. Photo courtesy of CC La Habra

The Gospel Across Borders

Calvary Chapel Lynchburg, VA, has seen its audience grow globally as its services and meetings have gone online. Senior Pastor Troy Warner reported that during the first ZOOM meeting for its college ministry, people from North Carolina, Florida, South Carolina, and the Philippines joined the conversation. “During a recent Sunday morning service, people from Israel, Nepal, and the Philippines joined us. The whole world is feeling this. I just got off the phone with a pastor at CC Vladimir, in Russia … everyone is looking on-line for services,” Troy related.

Video Streaming Opportunities

RightNow Media is an online video streaming service for churches. It also has children’s and Christian movies, shows, and Bible studies. CC Cheyenne is offering the resources for free to its own members through its website. The church purchases a membership to Rightnowmedia.org for each church member who registers.

For smaller churches that may struggle getting their worship team together, YouTube has a good selection of worship music, according to Pastor Mike Voight of New Horizon Christian Fellowship in Klamath Falls, OR. Pastors will need to review what’s available and pay attention to copyright notices. Mike has placed some of his own CDs, DVDs, and books in the church foyer for use by his congregation.

Calvary Chapel Longview, WA, is asking individuals from the fellowship to record short videos that share how God is working during this time—a blessing, how God is dealing with them about something, and how He's teaching them or answering prayer. Pastor Al Fredrich will play them on YouTube on Wednesdays and Sundays.

CC Fellowship St. Petersburg, FL, has created videos with a purpose—but also with humor. “People are going stir crazy while at home,” relayed Pastor Danny Hodges. Others have commented that if your church has Internet or livestreaming capabilities, offer your facility to another church without them. During your online service, welcome newcomers through comments as you would during a physical service.

team serving by bus

Melanie Hinson and other team members from THRIVE in King George, VA, bag food to be given to families in need. Photo by Christian Rodriguez

How is God using your church during this crisis? Please send us a description of the way you are reaching out: submissions@calvarymagazine.org

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.