Bethel Church in Redding, California, and Elevation Church in North Carolina have joined a growing list of megachurches shifting to online services amid growing concern about the new coronavirus pandemic.
Bethel explained in a statement from the church Thursday that their decision was prompted by a request from local government officials in Shasta County seeking to manage community spread of the virus.
More than 150 people in California have already tested positive for the new coronavirus.
“Bethel Church will postpone all weekend services at all campuses this weekend. We invite everyone to join us for church online at www.bethel.tv streaming at 8:00 AM, 10:30 AM, 1:00 PM, & 6:00 PM PST this Sunday, March 15. Bethel continues to remain in close communication with Shasta County Public Health to be aware of their recommendations for Shasta County, especially as it pertains to church gatherings,” the church said.
Aaron Tesauro, Bethel’s communications director, said he was grateful for the technology that will allow church members to stay connected in this period when they are unable to meet physically.
“We’re thankful for technology that allows us to host church online and stay connected as a community during this time,” Tesauro said.
The church further noted that they were also asked by Shasta College to cancel their annual student basketball game that was scheduled for Saturday in the Shasta College gymnasium.
Earlier this week, Bethel canceled all student missions and ministry trips from March 10 through graduation day in May.
“Public health officials in Shasta County suggested that we cancel all trips not deemed as essential travel. We appreciate and deeply value the efforts of our government leaders to do the best they can to lead with wisdom, as well as the positive impact that science and the medical community have on all of our lives. The leadership of these groups benefit all of us and we want to cooperate with their efforts,” Dann Farrelly, the Dean of BSSM, said of the decision.
On Thursday, pastor Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church announced that they were also shifting to online services after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner issued a health emergency.
“In consideration of today’s public health emergency declaration on COVID-19 by Houston Mayor, Sylvester Turner, along with the fact that Lakewood draws such large numbers of international visitors each week, Lakewood’s leadership has decided not to hold public services this weekend,” Lakewood said in a statement.
The Charlotte-based Elevation Church in North Carolina, led by pastor Steven Furtick, also announced a shift to online services. Coronavirus cases in that state stood at 17 at the time of the announcement.
“Elevation Church will be moving their worship experiences to online only this weekend. Following the recommendation of the NC Governor to cancel mass gatherings and prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), we are canceling church at all of our physical campuses,” the church announced in a statement late Thursday. “We will continue to monitor the situation week by week and hope to resume normal weekend services at our campuses as soon as we are able.”