HIGH POINT, N.C. — For a lot of local churchgoers, the physical connection they have with church is important, but the COVID-19 pandemic has turned the connection from physical to virtual for many congregations.
It’s not all bad, though. Virtual church is becoming a positive for local pastors who say it’s allowing them to reach people they wouldn’t have otherwise.
“Our job is not to come to church, it’s to be the church,” Pastor Frank Thomas of Mount Zion Baptist Church of High Point said.
In this day, being the church means making it available from a laptop or mobile device or even a podcast.
While COVID has forced people out of sanctuaries, these avenues are being embraced by pastors in the triad.
“What I’m doing on Sunday morning is trying to preach the same sermon that I would have preached if the sanctuary was filled,” Pastor Thomas said.
By keeping the same traditions and conveying his message with music and a smaller choir, Pastor Thomas is doing things a little differently than usual.
With a military past, he said becoming a pastor is something God called him to do. Eleven years ago, he got that call to be the new preacher at Mount Zion Baptist Church.
“I didn’t plan to. I tried to run away from it, but God had another plan,” Thomas said as he laughed.
And while it’s been an adjustment, the virtual sermons have opened new doors.
“It’s given us an opportunity to open our virtual door, and we’ve reached more people on Facebook than we ever would on a Sunday morning here in the sanctuary,” he said.
Pastor Roy Carter, of Central Baptist Church of Oak Ridge, described church as being the people rather than the building itself.
He said when it comes to doing church virtually, the gain is much greater than the inconvenience of learning different technologies and social media platforms.
“We’ve been seeing somewhere from 700-1,000 viewers that are actually viewing our broadcast throughout the week,” Carter said.
Pastors also agree that being visible in a time of darkness serves a much greater purpose.
“I’m hearing back from people in Florida, Ohio, the coast of North Carolina, Raleigh,” said Cecil Pickler with First Biker Church of America in Kernersville. “I’m hearing from people too far away to come to our church.”
Pickler is one of many of the pastors who spoke to FOX8 who said they’ve had people see their sermons online and ask how they can be a part of their church.
The group of pastors agreed it’s a valuable addition to what they were already doing.
Like Pastor Thomas, Pastor Steve Goode of North Side Baptist Church in Greensboro said that preaching virtually is something they are going to take with them post pandemic.
“People have gotten too comfortable to think that the church is a building,”Goode said.
While they don’t know what the future holds, some lessons learned in this pandemic will transcend beyond it.
“Looking at what we’ve just been through it’s like, how can you possibly say that good is coming out of this? We have to rethink this,” Goode said. “We have to realize this is where we are, and for this reason, maybe this has happened in a way that we can use it for good.”