Pastor John Hampton

John Hampton
Lead Pastor

A Necessary Pause

Just when you think 2020 can’t get any more wild and turbulent, a harrowing new twist on a road that none of us have travelled before causes us once again to do things we’ve never done before.

When we learned on Thursday of last week that a staff member tested positive for COVID-19, that most if not all, of our other staff had interacted with in the last several days, we all froze for a moment. At least I did. The ramifications of what that meant starting rolling over us like an aggressive wave knocking you off your feet. Truthfully, I hadn’t anticipated well what a staff member testing positive could mean to our restart effort and I accept full responsibility for not thinking that through fully.

As we sought to figure out what to do next, how to communicate effectively and quickly, as well as what the future might look like, some things quickly surfaced among our Strategic Leadership Team (or SLT, which consists of Pastors Roddy Conner, Dustin Aagaard, Jeremy Tomlinson, Harvey Carpenter, Eddie Schmidt and Christian Wilson as well as myself).

-Onsite services for the upcoming weekend would need to be immediately cancelled.

-All staff would need to be tested for the coronavirus no later than this week.

-The congregation should be notified as soon as possible.

-Staff working at home should be reinstituted for the near future.

-All plans to use the building outside of weekend worship gatherings in the coming weeks should be postponed.

As our SLT has had some more time to digest these new realities–as well as review the previous three weekends when we did meet onsite–some obvious lessons became even more clear to us:

-Assumptions we had about increasing crowd sizes each week after restarting turned out to be false. Onsite crowds actually grew smaller each successive week after restarting. Based on the crowd numbers we saw after restarting onsite services, nearly 70% of our pre-pandemic in-person crowds just weren’t coming out. That tells me that the overwhelming majority of us just aren’t confident about coming to a large crowd gathering and understandably so.

-People who did come wore masks less frequently week by week. I’m not sure why wearing a mask in public is such a contentious issue, but for those who refuse to do so, it makes it very uncomfortable for those who are trying to comply with safety guidelines outlined by numerous national, state and local health agencies.

-COVID case numbers in Florida are continuing to spike to new records almost daily now, which brings into question the wisdom of inviting the public to potentially large gatherings at this time.

-On a practical side, the number of volunteers needed to actually present a worship gathering that represents the Journey we all know and love were becoming more difficult to find week by week. Without a steady base of volunteers, churches like Journey simply can’t function. It’s as simple as that.

-Starting and stopping and starting again is not an easy thing to do for a ministry like Journey. We can’t just meet for three weeks, stop for a week and then immediately restart again. It’s a little more complicated than that. And I realize that restarting again will be even more difficult the next time.

These factors and many others have led us to put a necessary pause on onsite worship gatherings for an indefinite time period. There are many things we need to work out before resuming onsite gatherings. Unlike other churches who are guessing at what it might be like to meet in person during a pandemic, we now have some experience to draw on and we have concluded that there some things we definitely need to do differently.

In the meantime, please continue to take full advantage of our online campus. Any important ministry updates will be communicated through our website, on our social media platforms and/or in this weekly column. We will continue to invest, innovate and grow our online ministry presence over the next several weeks.

Even though we aren’t meeting in large worship formats, doesn’t mean you can’t worship with others. Many churches have adopted a watch-party strategy during this time where families and groups gather in appropriate numbers to watch the online worship service together. Some call these small gatherings a “microsite.” We think that can be an effective intermediate strategy during this new phase of paused onsite ministry. Expect to hear more about that in coming days.

We were one of the first churches in this area to restart onsite gatherings. We made that decision based on the best information we had and the current health climate at that time. But if we’ve learned nothing with this pandemic we’ve learned that things can change in a hurry! Uncertainty is a constant. Planning anything even a few days ahead, let alone a few weeks or months, is a challenge. I’m reminded again of Jesus words that “each day has enough trouble of it’s own.”

I am disappointed that we have to pause our onsite gatherings again. But I am not disheartened. We will use this time to get better and when we do return to onsite, I believe Journey will experience some of its best days of making disciples of Jesus who love God, love people and serve the world.

Always loving the Journey!

Pastor John