In the video announcement sent out to his congregation, Stanley explained that even if North Point resumed services, only a small portion of the church could or would attend, and the church could not guarantee safety from the virus. Holding Sunday gatherings would also put leaders in the logistically difficult position of contact-tracing should an outbreak occur. Instead, postponing their reopening allows staff to focus their efforts on creating programs to reach and engage people now, including through upgraded digital offerings and smaller, limited in-person gatherings.
When churches first canceled in-person worship services in March, virtually no pastors expected their sanctuary doors to still be closed at the end of the year. Those projections are quickly changing, with megachurch pastor Andy Stanley announcing Monday that his Atlanta-area multi-site church will not resume in-person worship services until 2021 due to the coronavirus risk.
North Point Community Church was the first major congregation to push back reopening plans as far as next year, but Stanley is not alone. In a Barna Group survey conducted over the past week, 5 percent of pastors said they didn’t expect to reopen this year. Just two months ago, none of the respondents were thinking it would be long.
For much of the pandemic, church reopening plans have shifted month to month or week to week, depending on regulations and local outbreaks.
North Point, which gathered 38,000 attendees across locations during a typical pre-pandemic weekend, had announced in May plans for an August 9 reopening; when church leaders decided they would need to delay beyond that date, they opted to postpone for at least six months rather than wait and see what happens with the virus in the fall.
“Wait and see puts the organization at the mercy of circumstances. Wait and see is no way to lead,” Stanley told CT. “People want certainty. We cannot provide certainty. Clarity is the next best thing.”