Darius McDonald and Erin Shulhan recently sat down with Team Tithe.ly to talk about the challenges and opportunities present for churches during the coronavirus pandemic.
When officials from the local government showed up at their Sunday morning service, the leadership team at The Summit Church in Alberta, Canada, was rightfully nervous.
In the age of COVID-19, health and safety protocols for any gathering have taken on a new level of seriousness. No one—especially a church—wants to find themselves completely shut down by order of the local municipality.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen to The Summit, a church that has had to rethink how it approaches its ministry in Edmonton. “We’re in this together,” says Erin Shulhan, a woman who wears many hats at The Summit. She serves as executive administrator, creative team director, and worship leader, so she’s seen just how nimble her church has been in its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
When it comes to the government representatives who nearly closed the church to the public that fateful Sunday, Erin tells us, “When this whole thing is over, it's not going to be us versus them. We want to show them that we honor them, and we love them, and we're trying to do the things that they want us to do.”
A God-Honoring Approach
This approach has given the team at The Summit license to rethink how to engage their church family while also reaching people in their community. Darius McDonald, a native of Florida who relocated to Canada to join the teaching staff at the church, remembers the days following the beginning of the lockdown. One of the pastors on staff told him, “We, as a team, just need to pray for the creativity of heaven, because we're going to choose to really engage and help model an answer for the world.”
Fast-forward to today, and The Summit is doing just that. Current regulations in Alberta allow churches to operate at 15% capacity. So, in addition to the church’s livestream, The Summit offers several in-person, socially-distanced options throughout the city. These fifty-person gatherings allow for people to experience community while staying safe. And since the government of Canada requires churches to register attendees, the team uses the Tithe.ly church app to keep track of who’s showing up where.
While some churches have resisted their local lockdown measures, and others have gone completely virtual, The Summit has chosen a third way: complying with everything their local and national leaders have asked, while also finding ways to continue meeting in person and online.
A Mission That Doesn’t Change
Behind it all is love for the Lord and love for neighbor. Erin says, “For us, the biggest system that we run and the machine that holds it all together, actually, is family. And so putting family first and putting relationships first—that's the most important. We’ve noticed the loneliness and depression and anxiety that comes with this time. We're fully aware of what people are going through. And so, for us, it was a conviction to keep our doors open until they tell us we have to shut them.”
Darius nods in agreement and adds, “To be honest, I feel like a lot of people have had this idea that when it comes to church, and when it comes to raising leaders, they need to build a brand. But I'll be honest: that hasn't done anything. And truthfully, what happens [when you do that] is you begin to create a business instead of creating a culture of family where the Lord can really reside.
“There are a lot of people who haven't known what to do [during this time], because all they know is how to stay relevant. Our whole mission, our big idea and purpose, was, How do we keep people burning? How do we keep people connected with the Lord, connected to this place of family, even during this time?”
The staff at The Summit uses the dedicated church app to share video devotionals throughout the week, communicate prayer needs, and to let everyone know what’s happening in the community. Though Erin and Darius readily admit that technology plays a big role in helping The Summit continue to reach their community, the church app, messaging, and other tools are just that—tools. Their value is in how they allow the church to facilitate ministry.
The pandemic has created a difficult season for many people. But, as Darius happily reports, there are some good things happening too: “God is still moving. People are still getting healed. People are still getting saved. People are still having breakthroughs in their body, financially, and so on. We get to see that and celebrate with people.”
Erin smiles and agrees, “We spend a chunk of our time during our staff meetings just reiterating positive testimonies of things the Lord has done. The Lord is still moving during COVID. God is still getting the glory during COVID.”