How one Jacksonville church is thinking outside the “pews” to bring its congregation together

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Churches have had to re-think their Easter Sunday celebrations, and Shepherd of the Woods Lutheran Church is finding safe alternatives while making sure everyone feels included.

It’s Easter Sunday and for many Christian-based churches, it’s a big celebration.

Local News: Clay County Fair sees packed Friday afternoon, expecting large crowds in 11 day stint

But in times of COVID-19, many churches have had to think outside the box -- or in this case, outside the pews. That includes Shepherd of the Woods Lutheran Church on the southside.

Sandi Wagner has been attending their services for the past 20 years.

“Having faith in God is really important, so I try to be here every Sunday,” she said.

This is Wagner’s second time attending an in-person service, where masks and social distancing are still required.

“I missed a lot of the people that are here,” she explained. “So, this is a chance for me to kind of re-connect and see the people that I’ve known in the past.”

Until recently, she was out in the parking lot, tuning in from her car.

Last March, Sheperd of the Woods saw a 30% drop in their indoor worship attendance each week.

So, last April on Palm Sunday, they added a drive-in worship option, and attendance is bouncing back.

“It was really good because I never missed a service last year which was, I thought, pretty significant,” Wagner pointed out.

The church is doing its part to make sure no one feels left out.

“We want to be caring about those that are high-risk,” Pastor George Johnson emphasized.

Melissa Anderson attended Sunday’s drive-in service with her parents.

COVID-19 Vaccine: “One and done”: Where to get your J & J vaccine this weekend, no appointment needed

“For our family, specifically, we have some health problems recently and so it’s really nice to be able to still enjoy church,” she said.

Wagner is grateful she can enjoy this too – in the way that works best for her.

“In today’s society, it’s so important to have something to hold onto,” she said. “And it’s important for me to be here today.”