Shift to online services creates unexpected benefits for Metro churches

ATLANTA — Everyone and everything has adjusted to pandemic life in different ways. For many Metro Atlanta houses of worship unable to hold in person services, it’s been a complete change. Online services have become the norm for many of them, and this Easter weekend, they’re all counting their blessings.

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On a Sunday morning in late March, Cumberland Church Pastor Courtney Harkness was alone in the altar, delivering his weekly sermon to an empty room. It’s something he’s done now for almost every single Sunday for the past year.

“On a scale of 1 to 10 I would give it like a 9.8. It has been a really difficult year,” said Harkness.

Harkness is one of four Metro Atlanta religious leaders Channel 2 Action News Anchor Justin Wilfon spoke with over the past few days. All of them told Wilfon the pandemic has likely changed worship services forever.

“I think overall we take a step back from the moment and the season I think we’re going to look back it on it and view it as a time when the Lord kind of nudged the church forward,” said Harkness.

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Cumberland Community Church streams all of their services online. Pastor Jamal Bryant does the same thing at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Stonecrest.

“We’ve actually hired a full time internet pastor whose responsibility is to have exchanges and interaction with what we call our virtual members,” said Bryant.

Monsignor Dan Stack of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Alpharetta told Wilfon services were never online, until the pandemic hit.

Stack has found fun ways such as incorporating guitar music to reach his congregation on social media.

“It has forced us to do a lot of things we kept saying we were going to do but never quite got to,” Stack says.

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Simon Mainwaring, Rector at All Saints Episcopal Church in Midtown took things a step further by adding the choir on a Zoom call.

“We have been able to pivot and find ways to tell our story, the Christian story, the story of the kind of world that we live in of justice and peace, through the internet,” said Mainwaring.

Despite the outreach online, church leaders worry that even after the pandemic ends, some of their members may never come back to the pews.

“They have found the comfortability of praising God while wearing pajamas and eating pancakes so now to get them to get dressed and get their children ready will be a whole other variable.” said Bryant.

“You build relationships with people and you hate to see them leave and you hate to see them go. But you always have to balance people leaving with people coming,” Harkness said.

All tell Wilfon that after the pandemic, they’ll continue putting their services online to make them available to anyone, at any time, not just on Sunday’s.

“I think the Lord is saying to his people, hey I created all the other days too. And those days are important to me as well. And this season has forced us to really take advantage of some of those other days,” Harkness said.

See the second part of our look at how church has changed for many during the pandemic Saturday night on WSB Tonight at 11pm