Inside The Outbreak: Church In A Time Of Coronavirus

Congregations across the U.S. face grueling choices: to close or not to close because of the virus?

In Matthews, N.C. (a suburb of Charlotte), pastor Kevin DeYoung said Christ Covenant Church—a congregation of several hundred—wouldn’t meet for worship in its building on Sunday. DeYoung plans to preach from the church’s pulpit, and leaders will livestream the services online Sunday morning and evening. Smaller churches may not have as wide a slate of high-tech options, but could join congregations already livestreaming, or explore ways to conduct sermons or services on Facebook or other online platforms.


On Thursday, leaders of Capitol Hill Baptist Church announced the suspension of Sunday worship for the first time in 102 years. Pastor Mark Dever said the last time the D.C. congregation canceled worship was during the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918.

“Let’s pray for God’s mercy and grace on us and our community in these days,” he wrote. “And for it soon to be safe for us to meet again.”

It’s a stirring example of a sobering dilemma facing churches across the country (and the world) as authorities try to mitigate the spread of coronavirus: To meet or not to meet?

For now, many will meet, including some megachurches. First Baptist Church of Dallas averages more than 3,100 attendees a week, and pastor Robert Jeffress said the church would go forward with services this weekend.

Others will cancel: In Houston, pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church—with its 17,000-seat capacity in a former sporting arena—will suspend gathering this weekend, but livestream a service online.

Advice and directives from state authorities differed: In Washington state—a hotspot for coronavirus—Gov. Jay Inslee announced a ban on gatherings of more than 250 people through March in three counties.

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