A North Carolina pastor has gotten creative in how he leads church on Sunday mornings — from the fire escape at his church.

Rev. Cameron Dockery of Robbins Wesleyan Church in Robbins, North Carolina, knew when the COVID-19 pandemic hit that his small church, with an average attendance of 64, would need to find another way to meet.

He also became concerned.

“My concern was for a loss of momentum,” said Dockery. “Our attendance had increased over the last three years. I wondered if it would now be jeopardized.”

So, Dockery set to work to find another way for people to meet.  At first, he set up a livestream option. But he sensed ” it lacked any sense of community and connection.”

He decided to try the drive-in approach the following week after consulting with local police to make sure it was okay. Once approved, a team set up a sound system, laid out new parking lanes on the church parking lot, recruited people to help with parking and passed out literature about the services.

The response to the service has been encouraging for Dockery.

“Our attendance and offering have increased,” said Dockery. (Offering is taken in five-gallon buckets, which serve as offering plates.) “There have been new visitors all but one week. Some of our senior members have elected to stay home, as they should, yet our attendance has increased. Visitors made up the difference. One family lives near the building and looked out from their windows the morning of our first drive-in service and came to check it out. They continue to come and have brought others with them.”

Recently, Dockery polled members and visitors, asking what they preferred as the state begins to “open up.” Results were mixed: some want to meet in person, while others feel safer meeting at a distance. The demographics vary on responses too.

The local board of administration (church board) voted to try something new: a multi-venue approach.

“We will host the service in our sanctuary while taking measures to ensure proper distancing,” said Dockery. “We will also set up speakers in the parking lot with ushers and parking assistants to serve those who attend that venue. We will also have our fellowship hall open and broadcast the service there through a closed circuit. Tables will be set up so proper distancing is observed and ushers will assist people in that venue.”

Dockery and the board have learned much as COVID-19 has affected its small town of 1,200.

“I told the board, ‘We’ve never done it like this before,’ should never be uttered again.”

He noted that Robbins First is a “small church with limited resources” but that the congregants and leaders “choose to be intentional, believing if we put forth our best effort, God would honor it.

“It took a biological oppression to force us out of a box in which we had been long too comfortable. God took a negative and turned it into a positive as COVID-19 pushed us to engage in a different way. This has been a tremendous source of encouragement in the life of our fellowship. Our people are excited to see God do what only he can do.”

“From the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis until now it has been such a blessing to watch pastors and congregations across our network respond with a passion to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ within their unique context, even while their buildings were closed,” said Rev. Jonathan Lewis, district superintendent of the North Carolina East District. “Robbins Wesleyan, under Pastor Cameron’s leadership, has shown us how God blesses faith-filled steps in connecting with our communities.”