On Tuesday, July 21, 2020, Pastor J.D. Greear of the Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina told his congregation they would not be reopening their facilities until 2021. Instead, the leader of the multisite megachurch said it is time to move the church into member households and essentially launch a whole bunch of house churches.
“Instead of The Summit Church being 12,000 people meeting in 12 different locations on the weekend,” Greear said during a virtual church member meeting, “now we are going to be about 15,000 people meeting in about 2,400 locations.”
The Summit Church has over 12,000 members who normally gather for worship in 12 locations spread throughout the central part of North Carolina. In addition to leading The Summit Church, Greear serves as the current President of the Southern Baptist Convention.
We’ve Got to Strategize Like This is The New Normal
Coming on the heels of Andy Stanley’s announcement that North Point Community Church won’t be reopening this year, on Tuesday night The Summit Church held a Virtual Member Meeting where Pastor Greear announced that they would not gather in person at their campuses for the remainder of the year (due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 virus). In a message titled ‘Unpack Your Bags – Make the new normal our normal‘, Greear likened the current situation to staying at a hotel for an extended period of time (you’d unpack your bags if you know that you’re going to be there for awhile, but not unpack if it’s just temporary).
Greear emphasized the decision not to reopen was a strategic one, saying “This may not be a storm that passes very quickly…we just don’t want to operate week to week anymore as we have been and then wake up six months from now and look back and realize how much we missed (in making disciples) because we didn’t adjust.”
Some of The Summit Church campuses meet in schools, and due to those particular schools starting off the school year virtually, those campuses would not have anywhere to meet.
“We just don’t think that we can keep you safe if we begin to open up for gatherings on a large nature,” Greear said. Services at the Summit typically draw 500 to 1000 people each.
If a “miracle vaccine” suddenly appears, Greear said they can always re-strategize and are set up to move quickly to adjust; “but (right now) it’s time for us to move forward.”
This Doesn’t Mean That We Can’t Still Gather
The Summit Church is equipping members to be able to gather in houses during this prolonged shut down. Greear emphasized the house groups will need to follow the safety guidelines suggested by the authorities, government, and the CDC regarding how many people can gather at one time. They will adjust the weekend streaming services to better fit a house church setting so that the house churches will be more interactive and kid-friendly. Greear made clear, “We are going to gather, it’s just not going to be in large groups of 500 to 1000 on the weekend in our facilities.”
Student Ministry Has No Competition
J.D. Greear also shared what another church leader had said to him, “This is unprecedented moment for student ministry. For the first time student ministry doesn’t have any competition.” Alluding to the lack of sports and extracurricular school activities that usually take students away from gathering together, Greear pointed out this is an unprecedented time. He encouraged student ministry to get together in parks and other outdoor spaces to meet more regularly since scheduling conflicts likely won’t be a concern.
We Can Still Be the Church
The meeting closed with Greear reminding The Summit Church body that “even when you can’t come to church, we can still be the church.” He then gave two ways that they can be the church this year. The first was by gathering for worship and prayer in smaller groups, and the second was engaging others in intentional discipleship relationships.
Greear says they will remain flexible as reports come from the governor and the CDC. “God is not surprised by this. He knew that it was coming, and He is going to equip us to facilitate a movement of disciples making disciples.”
The Summit Church offers various ways to stream their services as well as a way listen to them by phone.
In addition to announcing the church’s plans not to reopen this year, Greear also addressed the discussion surrounding racial issues happening around the United States and within the church. You can watch the full meeting here.