ATLANTA, Ga. (CW69 News at 10/CNN) — One of the country’s largest megachurches said it is suspending in-person worship for the rest of 2020 due to coronavirus concerns.
Atlanta’s North Point Ministries, which counts over seven locations in and around the city, including Buckhead Church, and hosts over 30,000 people every Sunday, will host digital services for the rest of the year, ministry founder and senior pastor Andy Stanley told parishioners in a video message.
“Even if we did reopen, we certainly would not be able to create a quality adult or children’s worship experience with social distancing protocols in place,” Stanley said.
North Point came to the decision because of its size and the difficulty that poses for contact tracing, Stanley said. If a church member is diagnosed with coronavirus after attending a service, North Point would be responsible for contact tracing, or identifying anyone who could’ve been exposed to that sick person.
Stanley said contact tracing would be an “impossible thing to do” given average church attendance.
The multi-site megachurch is exploring creating a strategy for “limited physical gatherings” in the future, but for now, Stanley asked members to stay home or join socially distanced friends to participate in virtual services and volunteer in Covid-19 relief efforts.
Places of worship have weighed closures during the coronavirus with varying outcomes. Pastors in Florida and Louisiana were arrested for continuing to host services in the beginning of the pandemic, defying stay-at-home orders. Several churches have since seen clusters of coronavirus cases after infected parishioners attended services.
But many more religious leaders are following coronavirus safety guidelines. An Alabama pastor said this month he’d take services back online after several staff and church members tested positive for coronavirus when his church reopened.
Many Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints temples have reopened, and Mormon leaders have asked church members to wear masks in public to protect each other so all of its services can resume.
©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN contributed to the story.