This story was written by Billy Hardy at Leaf River Baptist Church in Illinois.
I began serving the people of Northern Illinois at Leaf River Baptist Church in July of 2019. As you can imagine, being a pastor for less than a year when COVID-19 hit caused a lot of uncertainty. Like almost every other church in the country, we were left scrambling to learn the best ways to do things. We had already begun an online ministry before Covid, so we were somewhat ready for that transition. However, not really–our tools and abilities were greatly lacking, but our desire and focus were on Christ every step of the way. We temporarily paused all in-person worship and small group gatherings like everyone else. We remained online only for 13 weeks, looking for ways to be a blessing to the community around us. During that time, we worshiped and fellowshipped together online, like most churches.
When we relaunched our in-person worship on Father’s Day 2020, there were 25 people in attendance. I will say that as the lead pastor, this was incredibly discouraging. However, I had been there before. In the first month I was the lead pastor in 2019, there were only around 40 people in attendance. Throughout the rest of 2019, God brought people into our doors, and the church grew to a regular attendance of approximately 75 people. When we reopened the doors after COVID, there were only 25 people–that was hard to see. I felt as though the work God had done previously was being torn apart. However, God never actually stopped working. You see, throughout the time that we were closed to in-person gatherings, we not only continued to reach our budgeted giving, but we SURPASSED our needed giving levels. After meeting in person again, our giving levels continued to grow, which allowed us to spend our resources in the areas that we felt were necessary–missions and external ministry. We were able to add missionaries to our commitments throughout this process. However, it was not only the giving levels that grew. God continued to grow the in-person attendance, allowing us to receive 13 new members in 2021 and leading most of our regular attendees to return to our worship gatherings.
With these new members, we grew back to our pre-Covid attendance averaging around 75 people again. There have, unfortunately, been a few families that have decided not to return to worship with us. Some of those families found themselves worshiping at other churches that they felt fit better. There have also been a few that have not returned to worshiping anywhere. We have seen that those who were not genuinely committed to church have since left the church altogether. While it is heartbreaking to lose families with whom we have built relationships, it is encouraging to see the depth of growth within the others who attend LRBC. These last two years have been a fantastic time of deepening discipleship within the life of LRBC.
Now in 2022, we are about to welcome a few additional families into official church membership. Covid has not been a fun experience, but we have seen God work within the life of LRBC and those that call it their home. The spiritual health has increased, the financial health has increased, and the community impact has increased. While there are churches around us that are suffering, even coming to a place of almost closing–God is blessing LRBC, and we don’t know why. Research shows that many churches are closing, and many pastors are retiring early or leaving ministry after the last two years. The social and political upheaval has been too much for many. However, I firmly believe that when we remain faithful as pastors (and believers), God will remain faithful to us in ministry.
How have you experienced the faithfulness of God over these last two years? We would love to hear about it! Send us a message here.