TYLER, Texas — As the COVID-19 omicron variant moves through the nation and East Texas, local houses of worship are working to make sure their congregations maintain their faith, whether it's in person or from a distance.
Green Acres Baptist Church Pastor Michael Gossett said recently their church has taken a hit in its attendance due to rising infections, similar to when the pandemic began. The 18,000-member congregation has about 80 to 85% of its pre-COVID-19 attendance.
“We have not experienced a post-COVID world yet,” Gossett said. “As we were heading in a very positive direction, we got hit again with this omicron and it’s almost like when we got hit the first time this came around. The omicron variant has been very dramatic to a lot of churches in our community and in talking with other pastors, they’re experiencing the same thing.”
Like other houses of worship, Green Acres has maintained ways for members to attend church service virtually if they’re not feeling well or are hesitant about going in-person.
"We still offer a really great online service. Obviously, nothing is as good as being in person but we try to offer an alternative online that people can still worship and hear the message and participate in the biblical community with us,” he said. “People are taking advantage of that.”
Gossett said he has no worries of people not returning to church after the COVID-19 surge declines. He expects and hopes people will be back in full swing in a few months as the virus spread reduces.
“I don’t have any concerns about that because we’re still maintaining contact with them. It’s just that they’re unable to worship in-person with us,” he said.
Green Acres is continuing to stay consistent with protective measures implemented earlier in the pandemic, such as asking people to spread out if they can, having extra hand sanitizing stations, not passing out offering plates and doing communion with single cups for each person, Gossett said.
GABC broadcasts its interactive online services through its website, Facebook page and YouTube channel. They also offer Zoom for small group classes.
Gossett encouraged people to stay safe and use wisdom. He added “don’t neglect gathering with God’s people.”
“So whether that’s in person or online, at Green Acres we’re going to make it available to you no matter what. If you’re sick or you’re healthy, we have a place for you,” he said.
Pastor Rodney Curry, of College Hill Baptist Church in Tyler, said his church offers multiple ways for members to view church service, such as social media, livestreams and a podcast.
“We’re using every medium that we possibly can to get the word out and stay connected,” Curry said.
Curry said the church feels the need to continue ministering amid the waves of the pandemic.
Members give tithes and offerings through mobile apps to send money virtually. When the pandemic began, the church closed for about a year.
“That 13-, 14-month span was a lot and to come back together, it was a shift psychologically. I went from preaching from eight to 10 people, then to people back in the sanctuary,” he said.
Curry added the church adapts and changes for its congregation, while also remembering those affected by COVID-19.
“We’re continuously praying for everyone sick, all that have been affected by this pandemic. I know what it is. There’s people who have really championed through this. We’re going to get through this,” Curry said.