COVID-19 Safety Team, Other Intentional Efforts Keep Ohio Church Going Strong
By Jeff Hayes
With the winds of momentum at their backs, Pastor Nate and Pastor Liz had high expectations for their second Easter at Avenue Church in Ontario, Ohio—at least until their excellently drafted plans were cast aside by the global pandemic. Fortunately, Nate and Liz were able to reorient their ministries in such a way that, even without the usual outreach opportunities, surprising new relationships were formed and strengthened. The momentum of God’s church did not wane; God guided the people forward.
In the spring of 2018, Nate and Liz Hultz moved with their two preschool children from Indiana to Ohio to begin their joint ordained ministry at First Church of God, Ontario, Ohio. The first three months were a repeated cycle of listening, vision-casting, and training. Then on September 7, 2018, First Church of God relaunched as Avenue Church, with a four-fold increase in attendance from approximately 50 to 215.
During the shutdown phase, the Hultzes were amazed at how they were able to remain connected to their community by leveraging several online social media platforms and networking. They attribute the success to God’s work and to the people of Avenue Church, whose faithful leadership rose to the occasion. The preexisting small group ministry has also proved vital. Liz experienced a new sense of community firsthand as she used Zoom technology to begin a new women’s small group in the midst of the shutdown, which included women ranging in ages from twenty to ninety.
On June 7, the church entered into Phase One of a three-phase reopening plan that was carefully created by a nine-member COVID-19 Safety Team. The team included several individuals, from various medical professions, who ensured that careful and wise guidelines were followed, and preparations were made. Rather than one crowded service, they decided to offer four services, including an early service for those most vulnerable, and a later service with two locations. The online options have also continued.
Reopening continues to move forward carefully and slowly. Several new opportunities are scheduled for August, including an outdoor baptism service at a local swim club, and a twenty-one days “Acts of Kindness” initiative. Life together is still very different, and pre-registrations are still required for most public gatherings. The Sunday morning kid’s program reopens this month, but with several revised safety protocols, including maximum number limits.
Liz and Nate know that God’s presence has been among them. They have learned powerful lessons about the importance of storytelling (testimonies), community connection, and relationship-building during this time. Liz is also aware of the toll this crisis has taken on pastoral leaders and the ongoing need for spiritual self-care and family care.
The Hultzes tell an amazing “God-at-work” story. The past months have not felt like a “great pause” for this pastoral family. Indeed, this moment in time has increased their weight of responsibility and need for greater creativity.
Pastoral leaders have had to find new ways of leading their church families while not neglecting the added pressures placed on their own family. Thank you, Nate and Liz, for modeling exceptional leadership. Both their work and testimony challenge us to keep moving forward wisely. May we take time to reflect on what God has taught the church during these months; and then pause and breathe deeply. God is sending new winds of momentum and fresh ideas our way.
Help churches like these respond to urgent needs in their communities as a result of COVID-19:
Rev. Dr. Jeff Hayes has served on ministry leadership teams in Kentucky, Western Pennsylvania, and Ohio. He recently completed eighteen years of service on the ministry faculty at Warner University and provides leadership to a new ministry, the Way of Compassion. He resides in Winter Haven, Florida, with his wife Karen.
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.