If our church closed down, would our absence be felt in the community?
This has been the guiding question for Senior Pastor Dan Steffen of Pure Heart Church in Arizona. With campuses in Glendale, Peoria, and online, this question has echoed even louder amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
The answer, especially evident in the past three weeks, has been a resounding and emphatic, “Yes!”
Boots on the Ground
“We’ve had 97 decisions for Christ in a three-week span,” Dan said with excitement. “People have been pleasantly surprised on how well the online experience has gone.”
Pure Heart has had an online presence for the past two years prior to the recent pandemic, but they’ve seen those figures grow since the Stay-at-Home order went out about a month ago.
“We’ve been averaging about 1,100 to 1,200 unique logins each week,” Dan said. “The first weekend the Stay-at-Home order went out, our numbers jumped to 3,300. And for the first three weeks since the order, we’ve jumped to 5,300, then to 6,353, and then to 7,425 unique URLs in 31 countries and 43 states.”
“We’ve had 97 decisions for Christ in a three-week span,” Dan said.
In addition to the increase of total online viewership Pure Heart has experienced in the first few weeks of the Safer at Home order, they also had 10,400 unique log-ins during their Easter weekends services.
Dan went on to explain that the increase of their online presence, as significant as it has been, doesn’t even begin to capture the kind of impact they’re making in the community—the movement from what Dan calls “boots on the ground.” Outside of Pure Heart’s Sunday services, the church has mobilized volunteers across their campuses and throughout their cities during the week.
Mental Health Ministry
One area of service to the community has been Pure Heart’s work with those struggling with mental health.
“I think the thing I am most concerned about right now is we have strong ministry to addiction, PTSD, and recovery,” Dan said. “Those folks are hurting the most right now.”
According to Mental Health of America, as the number of COVID-19 increases, so does the associated anxiety: 1 in 5 Americans currently have mental health conditions, and 1 in 2 people are at risk of developing mental health conditions during this pandemic. In the first two weeks of March, MHA saw a 12% increase in anxiety screenings.
“The mental health piece is a beast. Depression is a beast,” Dan said. “We’ve really worked hard in making sure that all of our support group leaders are calling their people personally, doing Zoom calls. We’re doing recovery meetings in Zoom, but we’re finding that there are some people who are really triggered right now.”
Pure Heart has found ways to continue their efforts and further the advancement of mental health care even beyond the crisis.
“We have a partnership with Crossroads, which is the largest private bed recovery center in the country,” Dan said. “And we stream our church services into their campus on the weekend. We’ve baptized 112 guys from their program just in the last year and half. What we’re looking to do is kind of like a triage, where people that need that community right now, they can come and check in and have a group session on our campus, because it’s a real issue for our guys and gals that are in recovery.”
Daily Meal Assistance
In addition to serving those struggling with mental health conditions, Pure Heart has also provided daily meals and resources to those needing assistance.
“One of the main things we wanted to let the community know is that we’re there and available,” said Bob Hake, Lead Pastor of Go Ministry at Pure Heart. “So we put big banners out on the main street where there are thousands of cars every hour that drive by the church. We wanted the message to be, ‘COVID-19 assistance is available here.’ We wanted people to know, right up front, that they were loved and not alone.”
Bob is also the founder of LifeBridge Community Alliance, a nonprofit organization that fosters community development in a Christ-centered context. LifeBridge believes that entire neighborhoods can be transformed by the power of God’s love expressed in tangible ways by His people. In recent years, LifeBridge has become the main arm in which Pure Heart Church impacts the community, both locally and globally.
“I know, on the other side of this, there’ll be a story told about COVID-19, and I believe the Church is going to be one of the brightest spots.”—Dan
“We have an emergency resource center. It’s well established, well grounded. Typically we would serve 650 households a month with food and resource assistance,” Bob explained. “People are able to see a resource specialist, and they’re guided into other kinds of programs and services that would be able to help them live more independent lives.”
Since the Stay-at-Home order was enacted, LifeBridge has been able to pivot its efforts toward pandemic relief.
“Now we’ve switched the focus specifically and narrowly to emergency assistance for those who’ve been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis,” Bob said. “So individuals don’t come into the resource center now. We’re actually delivering emergency food and household supplies in a drive-thru sort of set up. In two-hour windows, we’ll have about 200 households come through and receive emergency assistance. We’re doing that six days a week, as opposed to the normal three days that we were doing.”
In addition to the hundreds of families being served at the resource center, LifeBridge also mobilizes volunteers to hit the streets and go into the neighborhoods to serve even more households. Bob explained that they specifically go into distressed neighborhoods and set up mobile versions of their resource center drive-thrus. They serve up to 200 families every hour, giving away three bags of emergency assistance items that can hold a family over for approximately three days.
“We also have a home delivery program with similar emergency assistance items,” Bob added. “The focus there is on those who can’t come to us. Our work right now for home deliveries is focused on senior adults, the disabled, and individuals who’ve had their hours at their employment cut due to the COVID-19 crisis.”
“Our work right now for home deliveries is focused on senior adults, the disabled, and individuals who’ve had their hours at their employment cut due to the COVID-19 crisis.” Bob said.
According to Bob, the volume of service at their resource center has more than tripled since the pandemic broke out. It increased at such a rapid pace that Bob, Dan, and their leadership core were curious as to whether or not they could keep up with the demand.
“What’s been amazing to me is the fact that our outflow has increased three and half times, and our inflow has increased three and half times,” Bob recalled. “That means what we’re giving away, God is bringing back in. And it just proves the point that, when we share the heart of God for people in love and service, He’s going to make sure we have everything we need to do the job that He’s called us to do.”
Pure Heart has also worked with other churches and organizations outside of their immediate network to address the strains caused by the pandemic, including hospitals and healthcare workers.
“We’re serving as the lead point organization connecting churches around the valley to 74 different hospitals across the state,” Bob explained. “We’re providing chaplain support services for medical staff and healthcare workers. We’re providing care packages for medical staff and healthcare workers. And, in the packages, we’re providing things like hand lotion, snacks, mineral water, and black pens and highlighters. We’re also providing food and grocery supplies because a lot of them can’t get to the grocery stores during the hours that the stores are open.”
Understanding that the COVID-19 crisis will have lingering effects for months and years to come, Pure Heart has plans to further advance its value to make tangible change in the world well beyond the lifting of the Stay-at-Home order.
“We’re working on two other initiatives; these are pending,” Bob remarked. “One is telemedicine prescription delivery, where we actually deliver prescriptions to households that can’t go to the pharmacy and pick them up. We’re also working on drive-thru testing sights; that’s pending. Then also free immunizations when those are available through our long-standing partnership with the Walgreens corporation.”
Bob attributes the success of their reach into the community to their church membership’s desire to embrace Pure Heart’s vision and values. These services are only as successful as the willingness of their church’s volunteer core.
“I’ve been so encouraged by our volunteers,” Bob said. “We have an army of about 300 volunteers that come in and serve at our main resource center every week. We take proper precautions. They’re gloved. They’re masked. And we take their temperature before every shift. But we also have a significant and growing army of people that are finding ways to volunteer from home.”
In reflecting on Pure Heart’s guiding question, Dan marvels at how his church has persevered with servant-like hearts.
“I think there’s going to be an appreciation for community like never before,” Dan said. “I know, on the other side of this, there’ll be a story told about COVID-19, and I believe the Church is going to be one of the brightest spots.”