Fervent in Fairfax: Victories in Virginia Eclipse Coronavirus Complications
By Carl Stagner
It never crossed anyone’s mind. Closing the church’s doors to the public for weeks, even months, was an outlandish notion to Church of God congregations at the beginning of the year, as pastors and ministry planners finalized upcoming programming, events, and activities. Clarity—2020 vision—suddenly became remarkably blurry, as churches discarded strategically planned schedules, yielding to the uncertainties of a global pandemic. With just a little flexibility, however, congregations like Fairfax Community Church in Fairfax, Virginia, forged ahead by faith. Months later, while it’s still full-steam ahead for Pastor Rod Stafford and the ministry team there, a brief pause to reflect on what God accomplished reveals valuable lessons learned and a few victories worth celebrating.
For Fairfax Community Church, the COVID-19 shutdown began the weekend of March 14 and 15; by no means, however, did the life-giving ministry, for which the congregation is well-known, come to a halt. With various forms of technology already in place, Fairfax was able to adjust pretty rapidly to 100-percent online operations. At that point, Easter was on the near horizon. Like churches everywhere, Fairfax had to trade plans and expectations for a new reality that was beginning to set in. Prospects for a big blessing this Easter may have appeared grim to some, but God had a big surprise in mind. An astounding 6,200-plus people tuned in to watch Easter services streamed from Fairfax Community Church and 345 people were reported to have made decisions to follow Jesus! This was on the heels of a reported 236 souls saved the week prior.
“During this season, we’ve had several hundred commitments to Christ,” Pastor Rod Stafford explains. “We saw God at work in some really powerful ways. It was a render that, while we give lip service to the fact that the church is more than a building, we definitely saw this in action. People ended up engaging with us remotely, and they engaged a lot.”
Rod explains that one of the factors leading to the broad participation was a broad embrace of the challenge to invite others online. “In person, we were geographically limited,” Rod reflects. “But we have a number of folks connected all over the United States and the world, inviting friends to be a part of it all.”
And this description doesn’t just represent Sunday morning worship services. Pastor Rod notes the trending phenomenon to invite had a remarkable effect on small groups, too. Still, the “weariness factor” would ultimately come into play as the newness of well-crafted online experiences dissipated and Zoom fatigue grew. In-person gatherings resumed over the Independence Day weekend, starting outdoors and moving indoors the following week. The change again breathed new life into the congregation, filtered safely through face coverings required for entry, of course.
“Being decisive was really important each step of the way,” Rod recalls. “We had to be decisive when we went online-only. We had to be deliberate when we started back. Going into the COVID season wasn’t too hard, as everyone was unified. Culturally, coming back the decision to come back was a bit more divisive. We had conversations, did surveys and, once we made the decision, we really wanted to be very clear on what we were doing and why. We’ve made a big commitment to be ‘dual-platform,’ from here on out. So, if you’re comfortable joining us in-person, here are the guidelines (facemasks, social distancing, etc.). If you’re not quite ready, we have a great online experience and we’re committed to both.”
The church has also implemented online registration for weekend services to manage capacity. Pastor Rod reports that attendees have adapted very well to the process. He’s thankful that the re-gathering experience has gone relatively smoothly, but he’s especially thankful for the ways God has utilized his ministry team to weather the storms of this season.
“I think the challenges of leadership during this season have been higher than ever,” he concludes. “As I look at what leadership looked like prior to this, the demands were higher because you didn’t have that in-person experience to fall back on. The lesson for me has been how important it is to pour into the staff. We’ve been more intentional about nurturing our staff, and about staff development. It’s been amazing to watch: never have I seen our staff be more collaborative than they are now!”
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.