MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP) — Impact Baptist Church & Ministries of Memphis has so thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic that Pastor Michael Ellis Sr. sees no reason to resume onsite worship before 2021.
“I get this call from pastors all the time asking me what we’re going to do, and I say, ‘Hey look, our attendance is up and our offering is up. You tell me what you think we’re going to do,’” he said. “My word to everybody is we’re going back when it’s safe for our people, and it’s not safe for them now.
“I don’t think we’re going to go back before the new year. I really don’t. I think we’re going to continue to worship online.”
Impact Baptist, which drew about 200 people to Sunday worship before the pandemic, has received as many as 2,300 or more Facebook views of individual worship services and an additional $600 a month in offerings, has launched three new outreaches and has continued established ministries, Ellis told Baptist Press. Ellis finds the changes impactful for the church of about 325 members he planted in 2006 through Bellevue Baptist Church.
The only downside he has experienced is the inability to fellowship in person with members and guests.
“The building that we worship in is just the building where the church worships. We’re the church. So no matter where we are, we’re worshiping,” Ellis said. “I think worship is a spiritual thing and not a physical thing.
“… The downside obviously is [not] being able to have personal fellowship with the new people that you come in contact with. It’s just something that’s special about that fellowship time with them, because you just get to know one another. So we have to improvise with that.”
Ellis uses what he calls “Zoom opportunities” to reclaim some of the benefits of fellowship lost. Meetings, small groups, Bible studies, panel discussions and worship services utilize livestreamed Zoom sessions to include more participants on screen, in an attempt to discourage a sense of isolation. Sunday school classes are Zoom livestreamed on Wednesday evenings. Members participate in Sunday morning worship from their individual homes through a variety of input including solos, Scripture reading, leading prayer and performing liturgical dances with household members.
“And then myself or one of our ministers will preach the message, with everybody watching on Facebook and the participants in the Zoom room livestreamed to Facebook,” he said.
Several new ministries have been launched during the pandemic, including weekly Facebook “Table Talk” panel discussions and interviews on pertinent topics, onsite psychological counseling offered in partnership with the University of Tennessee, and onsite childhood immunizations provided in partnership with Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.
Established ministries continue with adjustments to prevent the spread of COVID-19, all housed from the Impact Ministry Center adjacent to the church’s worship center. A thrift store and currency-free baby store are open by appointment. Instead of cash, mothers “buy” baby supplies with points accumulated by keeping doctors’ appointments.
Two Saturdays each month, 18-wheelers deliver food that is placed on pallets in the church parking lot, bagged and loaded into car trunks as recipients remain in their cars. In partnership with a healthcare group, the church delivers food to elderly residents sheltered in their homes. By appointment, bags of food are left at elderly residents’ front doors for residents to retrieve.
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Source: Baptist Press