My family was on vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains when we learned of the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic that has taken the world by storm. We came home to a very different situation than we had left.
Our district superintendent, Rev. Aaron Sherman, encouraged us to keep moving forward in ministry. COVID-19 took our church, Monterey Wesleyan Church in Monterey, Tennessee, by surprise and flipped our world upside down, but it did not take God by surprise. We had to trust God and get creative.
At first, everything was moved online. We streamed our Sunday morning services through our church Facebook page, posted pre-recorded midweek Bible studies and held live times of prayer. We also posted puppet skits on YouTube for our children’s ministry. DVDs were provided for congregation members who were not technologically inclined. It was incredibly important to stay in contact with, as well as check on, our people. We used various means of digital communication to make that possible. Our church also sent out a weekly newsletter.
We transitioned from online-only services to drive-in services. Church attendees were excited to wave from their cars to one another. It had been such a long time since we had been together in person.
We finally opened for in-person services and meetings, and there have been some changes. We work hard to keep our people safe, making sure our building is clean and continuing to provide services online for those who do not yet feel comfortable attending and for those who may be ill.
Since reopening, we have a new appreciation for how important discipleship is. We have started discipleship classes and smaller groups. Our church is in a season of growth, not just in numbers or finances but in discipleship. A men’s and a women’s group have been started to strengthen our families.
COVID-19 has allowed us to recognize the value of smaller group settings, and from those we have seen an increase in the interest of younger couples. Our Sunday School has expanded to an online presence for our adults and will continue to be available online and in person.
The crisis of this pandemic has sparked creativity and helped drive home that ministry is less about the building and more about the people. This is something most pastors have probably spoken about at one time or another, but social distancing requirements have really encouraged people to live that out.
In July of 2018, God gave me a vision to share with Monterey Wesleyan. I told our congregation that if we would be faithful to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, we would be part of seeing 123 souls come to Christ within five years. To date, we have seen 22 people (eight since the pandemic began) transformed through the power of Jesus Christ, spanning multiple generations.
We have people who want to be discipled and others who want to disciple. We are seeing the Holy Spirit draw not just individuals but families to a closer walk with God. People have a renewed sense of joy and excitement about our various ministries.
Our ministry has been and remains largely relational. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, my family attended a birthday party where we met a young couple. We had a good conversation, and they began to be involved at the church. They soon gave their hearts to Christ. Recently, they and their two children attended one of our new discipleship classes about baptism. At the end of the class, their children (ages 11 and 16) gave their hearts Christ.
A year ago, my wife met a cashier at our local gas station and developed a friendship. Through that friendship, the cashier rededicated her life to Christ and expressed her desire for her family to know Jesus as well. Our church began praying with her. This past Mother’s Day, her children agreed to attend our drive-in service. Their interest and desire were sparked to be involved. Two of her sons and their spouses signed up for a baptism class, and through that, came to Christ. They remain involved, attending services and Bible study.
The greatest joy in ministry is when a soul is saved and transformation begins. To see six people come to Christ through two baptism classes has been amazing! We are looking forward to an upcoming baptism and have more classes scheduled. It is incredibly exciting to see not only the changes to each individual but to their family units as well. It is truly wonderful to watch parents and their children grow together. We expect to see God reach others through them.
I feel God is going to use this ministry as a launching point for new transforming presences in our ZIP code and beyond. We don’t plan to just see people saved but to disciple them, building a lasting foundation and empowering them to live out God’s purpose for their lives.
COVID-19 has not changed that vision. We serve a mighty God with unlimited power who is still able to transform and change lives. The crises around us can destroy us or grow us and move us forward. We are dedicated to growing and moving forward for the cause Jesus Christ.
We may have to think outside the box and try different methods, but the message will continue to go out. I want to personally encourage all pastors, leaders and congregation members to keep going. God hasn’t stopped because of COVID-19. God hasn’t changed because of COVID-19. He has been and always will be the answer.
Rev Ted. R Stepp serves as pastor at Monterey Wesleyan Church in Monterey, Tennessee.