North Point Ministries, led by Pastor Andy Stanley, has announced a “phased approach” to reopening in-person Sunday services after it suspended such services for most of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The nondenominational multi-campus ministry based in suburban Atlanta announced on its website the staggered reopening plan for in-person adult and student services but assured that to create a socially distanced environment, it will continue to make adult services available online and on-demand.
Bill Willits, North Point’s executive director of ministry environment, told The Christian Post in an email that North Point’s churches “are beginning to reopen slowly, thoughtfully and carefully with COVID protocols in place.”
According to Willits, three of North Point’s seven churches — Browns Bridge, East Cobb, and Woodstock City — are hoping to reopen fully with live adult services in February.
“Our other campuses will be reopening when we can ensure a safe experience and adequate spacing for adults, students and kids at the same time,” he explained.
The executive director stated that due to the size of most of North Point’s campuses, the churches can’t simply “open as usual” with 6 feet of spacing between individuals.
“So we are starting with a staggered approach focusing on our children and student environments,” he explained. “Of course, anything we do is predicated that there [will not be] a rise in the number or severity of COVID cases, school closings and hospital bed limitations.”
Currently, North Point’s children’s ministries are meeting on campus twice per month while the student ministry meets weekly.
According to Willits, middle school students meet in the morning and high school students meet in the afternoon. Each group meets in “larger than usual areas to insure proper spacing requirements.”
“For example, our student environments are actually meeting in our adult auditorium and our children environment is meeting in our student space for this reason,” Willits wrote.
North Point’s churches are among many worldwide that have navigated the waters of the COVID-19 pandemic by switching to online-only services to mitigate the spread of the virus.
As many state and local governments have issued orders limiting the size of public gatherings, including religious services, some churches have openly defied ongoing lockdown orders, arguing that continued government restrictions on their services violate their First Amendment rights.
In August, the 62-year-old Stanley responded to critics who claimed he was “bowing to Caesar” because North Point suspended in-person services.
“We did not suspend services because of government pressure; there was none," Stanley, a well-known Christian author and the church’s founder, said in a video message at the time. "We’re not afraid, we’re not bowing to social, cultural or political pressure.”
Stanley also said that he got voicemails, emails and letters from longtime church members who told him they were leaving North Point because of the decision to suspend services.
“This is the version of Christianity consumed with winning,” Stanley said at the time. “It’s a version that sees itself perpetually under attack and consequently feels the need to attack back. It requires an enemy for sustainability.”
The decision to suspend services for the remainder of 2020 was made as North Point was hoping to begin gathering again in early August. Stanley told the church community in July that a large part of the decision to suspend was because the church could not guarantee the safety of attendees.