Popular US pastor Andy Stanley has announced that he will be suspending in-person services at his Atlanta megachurch until next year as a result of the ongoing coronavirus.
Stanley is the founder of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, which now has several sites across the city and an average attendance of over 30,000 people per week.
Announcing the decision earlier this week, Stanley said that the recent spike in Covid-19 cases meant that the church was forced to prolong its closure. "We cannot guarantee your safety and that is a big part of this decision," he said, noting that contact tracing would be an impossible undertaking should one of his church members become sick.
Speaking in greater depth on the closure, Stanley told Christianity Today that his staff had sought to gauge the feelings of congregants as they deliberated on a decision regarding reopening. "In April and May, we surveyed our churches. We also surveyed other churches in the Atlanta area. We wanted to discover what it would take for people to come back. Then two weeks ago, we surveyed again. Here's the interesting thing: about 15% fewer people in the second survey said they were ready to come back. There was less inclination to come back, not more," he said.
"That helped us make the decision to focus 100% of our time and energy on creating community online. We are going to have some on-campus gatherings, but they're going to be smaller. They're going to be focused. So the church is not closed. We are just reallocating assets to actually impact the maximum number of people during this crazy time."
Stanley said he did not want to reopen North Point Community Church and "accidentally do something harmful to our community while gathering a whole lot of people".
Instead, Stanley said his ministry will seek to "reallocate assets and resources, to serve the community, to get more involved with our community charities that we support all year long, and to raise money for organisations".
"This is an incredible opportunity for the church to be seen doing good," he added. "This is important. It is not enough for the church to do good. The church must be seen doing good."
Covid-19 infections have continued to increase across the United States, now totalling over 3.5 million. The state of Georgia has logged 124,000 cases, with more than 3,000 deaths.