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COVID Christmas: Churches adapt to stay-at-home restrictions and see growth, opportunity

Reservations and live-streaming help transform services to be able to keep some traditions alive.

MINNEAPOLIS — Typically, during Christmas week, people flock to their churches for holiday services, but the pandemic is forcing houses of worship to adapt.

At Immanuel United Methodist Church the pews sit empty and they will on Christmas too. Abby Kammann was a new pastor at the Corcoran, Minnesota church and when COVID-19 hit, she had to pivot. 

"It has been quite the challenge this year," said Pastor Kammann. "I started streaming with my phone and that proved to be very challenging."

She instead invested in the latest steaming technology and now it's helping shape a new online ministry, drawing crowds and keeping parishioners safe.

"It's definitely opened a door for the congregation to reach out into the community more," said Kammann.

Finding ways to connect in the pandemic is paramount, especially around the holidays. On Christmas Eve, Eden Prairie's Wooddale Church is taking in-person reservations spread out across four different venues on one of its campuses – add in its online services and people will have at least 33 opportunities to worship.

RELATED: Mayo Clinic study: Black churches are trusted messengers of COVID-19 info to their communities

"Our creative arts staff especially have been really thoughtful about how we can create a space that can be honoring of the service and honoring to god, but still maintain safety," said Executive Pastor Kyle Robinson. "This year has really forced us to say how can we provide many different options to as many people as possible."

St. Paul's Woodland Hills Pastor Greg Boyd says his strictly online sermons are more popular than ever, sometimes reaching up to 20-thousand downloads a week. 

"Why not just pour our energy, all of our focus, into online doing what, in some ways, flexes muscles we haven't had to flex before and let's get good at that," said Pastor Boyd, who also believes in having what he called a humble, low-key and quiet Christmas. 

"I think this could be the most authentic Christmas we’ve ever had if we give up trying to make it the Christmas we used to have," said Boyd.

For some pastors, change isn't a bad a thing and despite it all, change is what's helping keep part of the Christmas tradition alive.

"I think this is the perfect opportunity to seek out light in the darkness and that's what this is all about," said Kammann who says her congregation is growing by the dozens since the pandemic started and says she doesn't plan on stopping when it's over.