The Summit Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Durham, North Carolina, whose pastor is the denomination's president, won't be holding services for the remainder of the year due to COVID-19. Instead, they will be hosting small home-based gatherings in a push toward making disciples.
In recently posted guidelines on its website, the church noted that the central idea "is to equip you to be the church in your homes, in your communities, and online in order for you to continue being disciple-making disciples. So even when you can’t come to church, you can still be the church."
Greear said he believes the shift toward home-based gatherings amid the pandemic is rooted in loving one's neighbor.
"In North Carolina, our state has done a good job of respecting the First Amendment right of churches," Greear told The Christian Post. "We've also learned from other churches exercising responsibility in the decisions they are making in regards to their own gatherings. Our church has used state guidelines to inform our decisions in order to protect our congregation and the public at large as we see this as the best way to love our neighbor and be a good witness to our community.
"The message we seek to send to our congregation and to our community is that, even when we are unable to gather as a large church on the weekend, the Summit Church is not 'closed' because the church exists everywhere the members of the church live," Greear said. "Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love God with all of our being. He commanded us to make disciples.
"We can and will continue to do that by how we live our lives in the community throughout the week, even if we are meeting in small gatherings in homes utilizing online resources on the weekend," he added. "We're focused on serving others, making disciples, and demonstrating the love Christ has for others during this pandemic."
When asked what precipitated the decision to shift to home-based small gatherings and whether this is this something Summit and the SBC as a whole will expand after the pandemic passes, the North Carolina pastor said they are adjusting their thinking as to what they consider "normal." Instead of waiting for what they have previously known as normal to return, the church has decided to focus on being the church in this new reality and reiterated the emphasis they're placing on disciple-making.
"This doesn't mean we don't miss gathering together as a larger community for worship and teaching, and we do hope to be able to enjoy those opportunities again soon," Greear explained. "But we do see this as an opportunity to send our members, through smaller gatherings, from their homes, into the relationships they have with their neighbors and into the communities in which they live, to be The Summit Church throughout the week, to grow as disciples, to disciple one another."
The novel coronavirus led to church closures and forced congregations across the United States to meet online. Some churches continue to hold online-only services while others have opted to reopen.
"We believe this could be a great time of growth and ministry for our church. When this pandemic is over and we are praying it will end soon, we believe we'll have a more equipped and practiced movement of disciple-making disciples, ready to live on mission individually even when we can gather corporately again," Greear added.