During the pandemic, Christina Altamirano went all the way from occasional attender to full-time staff member at Vertical Church in Yuma, Arizona. The uncertainty and cultural stress could have stalled her spiritual growth. Instead, she pressed on to take hold of what Christ took hold of her for.
“There’s just something different about sitting with people and praising the same Lord and devoting your life to him and being radically obedient to all his demands,” she said.
Part of her motivation comes from Vertical pastor Jason Taylor. He keeps stimulating the church to be disciples who blaze with faith and focus for Christ’s mission.
“For the most part, unbelievers in our town aren’t wearing masks, so you can invite them,” he told the staff and church. “We’re going after new people.”
Taylor said God gave him a vision to reach 3% of Yuma, or 3900 people, by 2025. Those 3900 people would boost Vertical’s impact on families, schools, students and people who don’t know Jesus.
Moreover, in July 2021, Vertical started a new church with 100 people on the core team. After that, in September at Vertical’s original site, the church funded, started and finished an auditorium worth a couple million dollars.
A vision and accomplishments like that steadily motivated Christina Altamirano. At Vertical, she grew from occasional attender to regular worshiper to volunteer, first spending two Sunday a month, later increasing to four Sundays, sometimes staying all day Sunday.
Finally, she applied to be a Vertical intern last summer while working full-time as a veterinary tech. She was accepted and served for six months. Then, when the church’s finance director retired earlier this year, Altamirano quit her job of 16 years to join the Vertical staff.
“I just wanted to be in his presence more and more,” she said.
A pandemic is no reason to stop gathering, worshiping and serving
Nancy Selgrad calls COVID-19 “a cruel, cruel mistress” after suffering from the virus in the fall.
A bass guitar player, when her recovery began, she couldn’t stand and hold her instrument. But gradually, she built up her strength. Playing again motivated her because she wanted to worship the Lord with other disciples in her Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, church.
“It was very difficult,” she said of her recovery. “But we’re still called to press on and keep serving our Lord.”
She attributes Community Church’s faith and progress to how leadership kept the Wisconsin church focused on Christ’s mission and the unity of God’s people.
“The world sees a different option to fear,” she explained. “We really just step out and live out the gospel so that people who don’t know the Lord can see.”
For Nancy and her husband, Otmar, the church doesn’t stop because of any obstacles in its way. They don’t deny there are hardships from the past two years of suffering. But the power of the gospel to save everyone is needed.
lf we're waiting on a good situation, we've wasted our life in the Lord.
That’s why the Selgrads and many other of God’s servants will keep creatively serving their community. The opportunities and need for outreach, preaching and loving neighbors with compassion aren’t ending. So, neither will the workers in the harvest field.
“Whether I’m in pain serving the Lord or in pain sitting in my house, I’d rather be in pain serving the Lord,” Selgrad said. “If we’re waiting on a good situation, we’ve wasted our life in the Lord.”
Loving neighbors is always Christ’s mission, even when it looks different
Valley Brook Church did their best to follow guidelines about masks and in-person gatherings, according to pastor Travis Albrecht. The church worships in a historic movie theater in Eau Claire, Wisconsin’s downtown district.
However, the church has stayed passionate for its purpose.
“We’re trying to reach culture,” he added.
Albrecht said Valley Brook lost about 40 percent of its congregation. However, new people have replaced the former attendees, something Jason Taylor said occurred at Vertical Church, as well.
Valley Brook has an ambitious goal. The church is trying to reach 1000 people in 10 years. So, Albrecht said some of their next steps are training disciples to make disciples. Further, they are setting up an assimilation process for all the new people who have joined since 2020.
Community Church pastor Adam Utecht said it’s hard to see people leave a church. But the church is not about to slow down on sending harvest workers into the fields.
Therefore, in March, Community Church began to offer a discipleship pathway for all disciples, especially those new to the church. The path helps people grow deeper in the faith and builds unity in the church.
“Who’s our church now?” he asked. “We need to do the best we can to shepherd the people who are Community Church now.”
Come on, there’s plenty of room in the church
It could seem churches have lost people or stayed steady in the past two years. But, in fact, Altamirano is far from the only person whose commitment to Christ deepened over the previous two years.
Taylor has seen at Vertical Church that people want and need flesh-and-blood community. So, they come to church as a reflection of those desires. He said nearly every Arizonan quit wearing masks after the earliest months of the pandemic.
We can't live in the past. I think God's called us to be a movement in this town, to help the poor, to plant more churches, to make it hard for people to get to hell.
In fact, Vertical Church discovered fewer restrictions on in-person gatherings meant more salvations. So, the church dropped pandemic policies in June 2020 and people have been coming to Christ every week.
“There’s still 80% to 90% of our town who don’t know Jesus,” Taylor said. “We can’t live in the past. I think God’s called us to be a movement in this town, to help the poor, to plant more churches, to make it hard to get to hell.”
Converge is a movement of churches working to help people meet, know and follow Jesus Christ by starting and strengthening churches together worldwide.
Ben Greene, Pastor & guest writer
Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.