With W MI churches empty, preachers go online for Easter

WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — Churches across West Michigan sat empty on Easter Sunday, a day they would normally be filled with thousands of people.

Due to the coronavirus and social distancing orders aimed at slowing the spread, many churches did not meet in person. Lots of area churches offered services streaming live online. 

“It is a little bit of a challenge when you don’t have the energy to play off of people, but still it’s greater now to see the response we’re getting from around the world,” Pastor Sam Rijfkogel with Grand Rapids First Church in Wyoming said.

A deserted Grand Rapids First Church in Wyoming on Easter Sunday. (April 12, 2020)

Grand Rapids First Church can normally seat 4,300 people, but on Sunday, it remained closed to visitors. The pastor said that despite social distancing orders, his church has been able to reach more people than ever before. 

“My format has changed from what I’d normally be doing on Sunday. We have exciting music, we have the powerful teaching that’s relative to where people are today,” Rijfkogel said.

This year, Rijfkogel says the church livestreamed services at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Facebook and its website. He said those garnered nearly 20,000 viewers on social media alone. 

“It’s spreading greater, wider, going into more states, not just in our city, other nations of the world because we’re on a livestream path. So really what has happened is we’ve multiplied our reach,” Rijfkogel said.

The church also started a hotline that church members can call for help, prayer or someone to talk to. Rifjkogel says it’s important to keep the congregation’s faith strong. 

“Things take you by shock all of the time: the loss of a loved one, the layoff of a job, and so many times we treat faith like a spare tire that when we’re finally in trouble then we try to go get it,” he said. “There’s only one thing that will not fail and that is your faith in Jesus Christ.”

To learn more about the church, you can go to its website, GRFirst.org