SW Florida churches stay connected during COVID-19

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PALMETTO–Amid social distancing and stay-at-home orders, Florida Baptist churches in the southwest region of the state are becoming creative and resourceful to remain connected with church members during the COVID-19 crisis.

Over the past three weeks, Florida pastors have made difficult decisions concerning the gathering of the body for worship services, small groups and other events. Despite the burden of these decisions weighing heavily on the hearts of so many pastors, the Florida Baptist Convention has remained right beside pastors in providing valuable resources and praying for them.

“We don’t have a Florida Baptist Convention without you,” said Wayne Briant, regional catalyst for the southwest region. “Know that we are here for you, praying right beside you and that we exist for you.”

Many churches, including First Baptist Church of Palmetto, are streaming their worship services and Bible studies online.

Phillip Hamm, senior pastor of First Palmetto, has shortened his sermons, allowing time for a children’s message to be viewed as well. The church streams Sunday morning services online and are also providing members with daily devotionals and discussion questions via the website.

“We can look at this as a challenge or an opportunity,” said Hamm.

“First Palmetto is taking a wholistic approach to dealing with the COVID-19 by providing their people with live Bible Study groups, daily devotions and resources,” said Briant.

Mt. Ephraim Baptist Church, located in the Owens Community of DeSoto County, five miles southwest of Arcadia, has encouraged members to still attend Sunday services by providing two creative ways to attend, while still maintaining social distancing protocols. Members can drive-in and park in the parking lot or bring a chair and worship under the church’s outdoor pavilion to hear pastor Dana Spurgeon.

Led by Pastor Mitch Landress, members of Northside Baptist Church in Wauchula are sewing masks for nurses working at a local nursing home in their community.

On Friday night, the church is hosting a Kids’ Virtual Talent/Variety Show through the Zoom online app to relieve boredom during the quarantine. The children can plan a solo act or enlist the help of their parents and siblings; and are encouraged to sing, play an instrument, perform a dance routine, do a magic trick or display some other hidden talent. The church also hosts virtual Bible studies for children and women.

Crossroads Baptist Church in Fort Myers, is using COVID-19 as an opportunity to serve and love their community and other local churches.

“What we were doing in-house, we are attempting to replicate off campus,” said David Gold, pastor of Crossroads Baptist Church.

Crossroads purchased a large order of toilet paper from its church janitorial supply service to package and distribute to the community. The congregation has also reached out to their members and others in the community offering their services to pick up medications and groceries for those unable to do so.

Crossroads has also begun using the Nextdoor app to discover needs around them. Nextdoor is a social networking platform for local communities and neighborhoods that enable people to see who is directly in their community and the needs they may have. Crossroads also offered its church facilities and media equipment to any pastors needing help recording their sermons.

Fellowship Church, with campuses in Immokalee and Ave Maria, is utilizing Google Meet to create digital home groups, meeting every night of the week, to encourage members to remain in community and accountable to one another.

Along with streaming Sunday and Wednesday services on Facebook Live, Fellowship has created weekly family devotionals and resources for children and adult curriculum to send to its membership. Each pastor on staff has also been assigned a list of members to call and stay in contact with while meeting off campus.

“In a time where we are encouraged to be socially distant from one another, we are encouraging our members to not spiritually distance themselves,” said Pastor Timothy Pigg.

“We are grateful for all the things that local pastors are doing to encourage and pour into their communities,” said Briant. “Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to thinking about how to do ministry and evangelism.”

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