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Andy Stanley, senior pastor at North Point Community Church, announced Monday that it has suspended in-person services for the remainder of the year at its campuses around metro Atlanta, including Browns Bridge Church in Forsyth County, because of the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in Georgia.
North Point had planned to reopen Aug. 9, but it made that announcement in May when the number of new cases being reported in Georgia was flattening.
On Friday, July 10, the Georgia Department of Public Health documented a single-day record of more than 4,400 cases of COVID-19.
"Even if we did reopen," Stanley said in a video message, "we certainly could not create a quality adult or children's worship experience with social distancing protocols in place."
North Point's decision is a stark contrast to other churches in Forsyth County and Georgia that have begun reopening after months of virtual services to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
St. Brendan the Navigator Catholic Church in South Forsyth was the first to resume services locally in late May. Others have followed, most recently Mountain Lake Church, which welcomed back visitors this past Sunday.
Stanley said North Point also considered results from an attendee survey and experiences of similar-sized churches around the country that recently reopened to make its decision.
One concern: contact tracing. Stanley said if an adult, child, or volunteer tested positive for the disease, the church would be responsible for tracking the potential spread of the virus.
"That'd be the right thing to do; that's the responsible thing to do," Stanley said. "But that would be pretty much impossible to do."
Instead, North Point is developing new online programs as well as "a strategy for limited physical gatherings."
"I believe that the church and our local churches will not only survive this," Stanley said, "but I think ultimately we’re going to thrive as a result."