Megachurch Pastor Andy Stanley suspends in-person services until 2021

Andy Stanley preaches to an estimated 33,000 people every Sunday at North Point Ministries' five metro-Atlanta campuses. His television program, Your Move, is viewed by an audience of nearly one million each week. | (Photo courtesy of North Point Ministries)

Andy Stanley, leader of the multi-campus North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, announced Tuesday that in-person services have been suspended until 2021 because he cannot guarantee the safety of members in the wake of increasing coronavirus infections.

“Based on the uptick in COVID-19 cases, the results of our attendee surveys and the experiences of churches that have already reopened we’ve decided to suspend in-person adult worship services for the remainder of the year,” Stanley announced on Facebook.

He explained that it was a difficult decision to make as the church was hoping to start gathering again on Aug. 9 but the pandemic disrupted that plan.

“Now as you would imagine, that was not a casual decision. In fact, back in May when we announced a possible August 9 reopening, the COVID numbers were actually moving in the right direction. That has changed. Consequently we cannot guarantee your safety and that’s a big part of this decision,” Stanley said. “Even if we did reopen, we certainly would not be able to create a quality adult or children’s worship experience with social distancing protocols in place.”

He noted that he is aware that some people may judge his faith for the decision of support him for it but explained that he studied the experience of comparable megachurches which tried to reopen in recent weeks.

“This is based on the experience of other similar-sized churches around the country that opened two or even three weeks ago. If we open and a volunteer, child, student or an adult who attends any of our environments tests positive after the fact, we are responsible for doing all the contract tracing. And that would be the right thing to do, that would be the responsible thing to do but that would be pretty much an impossible thing to do,” Stanley said.

“If you’ve been a part of any of our churches for any length of time, you can imagine how difficult, again next to impossible, that would be and honestly, that’s just one of several unforeseen factors that other churches are running into. So the truth is, I actually have a lot of faith. I have so much faith that I’m absolutely confident that the Church and our local churches will not only survive this but I think ultimately we're going to  thrive as a result.”

While seven weeks ago, there were no church leaders that indicated they would wait until 2021 to start in-person worship services in their buildings, the latest data from Barna’s Church Pulse survey shows that at least 5% of pastors are in line with Stanley’s decision. Around a quarter plan to open July-August and 21% plan to restart in-person services in September-December. Forty-nine percent of pastors said they were already conducting in-person services as of July 14.

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