Church Invests in Unreached, Takes Creative Paths through Pandemic
By Joy Sherman
In a time when many churches wonder whether the COVID-19 pandemic will force their doors closed for good, Pastor Terry McKinney and his congregation in Springfield, Ohio, are finding more open doors for the future. McKinney came to Hillside Avenue Church of God in 2016, tasked with starting a work to reach young families. Then senior pastor Larry Cook knew if a Next Gen ministry was not launched to reach the immediate population surrounding the Hillside Avenue church, the congregation would struggle to survive.
With a church planting heart, McKinney and wife Amy launched Restoration at Hillside. The McKinneys and their core group of thirty-five prayed and planned for months before launching on Easter 2017. That Sunday, they welcomed 185 people to their service. Eventually the number stabilized at 80 to 85 people.
Restoration saw sustainable growth during the next three years. Volunteers helping lead worship and youth, and a part-time children’s ministry director brought added leadership. Life Groups serve as their primary means of discipleship. A move to a missional-minded elder board also helped solidify the ministry’s momentum. Four years later, Restoration is almost 200 people strong (adults and kids) with full support from Hillside’s older congregants.
“It’s all a God thing,” McKinney says. “We’ve had forty-five baptisms in the last three years. The older population at Hillside is very supportive. They show up and give of themselves. They pray for the success of this ministry.”
When Cook retired in January, McKinney transitioned into the role of senior pastor, continuing Restoration while also inheriting leadership of the more traditional fellowship. Assuming this mantle became more difficult with the viral pandemic.
Like most churches, the COVID-19 crisis necessitated creative means for connection. McKinney says, “We use three words for ministry: Crazy. Messy. Exciting. And those were our words before COVID!” Life Groups and children’s ministry used Zoom, and services moved online. But most people longed for more. “Our folks don’t really love technology. They love being together.”
One open door for togetherness came through Pack Shack, a ministry helping volunteers pack up to 12,000 meals at a time. “It’s already a very sanitized operation so we can continue to serve now to help feed our schools and families in our area.” When Hillside folks volunteer for one hour, they keep asking, “Can we stay and do more?”
Another open door came via Restoration’s Easter service. The parking-lot gathering witnessed 200 in attendance. McKinney preached from the rooftop! “It sounds weird,” he said, “but that way the neighborhood could see and hear it all.” The best part, he continued, was seeing new faces because of some unique outreach.
“The church put out a social media all-call before Easter. Folks from Hillside drove through our church to get supplies to ‘egg’ local homes if parents wanted an egg hunt for their kids. Parents waved from windows as church members, masked and gloved, left eggs in yards around Springfield. Pictures from #hillsideeggedmyhouse showed sixty-five homes blessed by an act of “socially distanced” kindness. At least three new families joined the Hillside family on Easter as a direct result of this personal touch.
McKinney says those touches matter—connecting with people, not projects—as the church moves forward. “I see the church after this as ‘different.’ We will be smaller, but bigger at the same time. More groups doing life together. At Hillside, we want our building to become a ‘life center,’ used for serving people every day of the week.”
Help churches like these respond to urgent needs in their communities as a result of COVID-19:
Joy Sherman is lead pastor at Community Church of God in Mt. Carmel, Illinois. Along with husband Steve and son Elijah, Joy loves to share the Word, serve God’s church, and spend time with people.
Learn more about the response of Church of God Ministries to the coronavirus (COVID-19), including resources for you and your church, at www.jesusisthesubject.org/theway.