Fresno's places of worship plan online services for the holiday season

Virtual holiday services will likely be the way thousands in Fresno will worship this year.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Places of worship in Fresno County have been allowed to have indoor services for more than a month, but on Friday, Fresno County officials said they expect a return to the 'purple tier' next Tuesday.

The downgrade means only outdoor services would be permitted.

Many churches see their highest attendance during the holiday season.

But if the change to the purple tier really happens Tuesday, it would mean online services would be the only option.

Already, some churches are thinking of ways to serve up a meaningful message online.

"We're taking it day by day but also we're making some changes as well. For example this year we will not be having our Christmas eve services inside. I just communicated that last weekend to our church. Last year there was close to 9,000 or 10,000 people here for those services," says Brent Deffenbacher of Cross City Church.

Adds Peoples Church lead pastor Brad Liebe:

"The problem is now that the weather's having freeze warnings, and things like that. That is not conducive to young families, it's not conducive to senior adults, it's not comfortable for anyone. We're not saying we won't do that again, but that's not something that we're looking at hard at this point."

Some congregations like the Temple Beth Israel in Fresno have never returned to in-person services during the pandemic.

The parking lot is also empty at the Islamic Cultural Center in Fresno. The Friday afternoon service used to draw close to 100 people.

Based on the local coronavirus cases, leaders have decided no in-person meetings are warranted during this vulnerable time.

"So if we're protecting the human being, if we're protecting the congregants, if we're protecting the general public, the safest way that we see to do that is to not bring them into harm's way, to not bring them into even a small gathering," says Reza Nekumanesh of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno.

The online meetings have obviously impacted donations and tithes offered at churches and other places of worship. Along with that, many fundraisers have also been canceled. So many churches, synagogues, temples, and centers are operating on tight budgets.

Despite this, church leaders say they are reaching out and connecting with members on the phone or by Zoom. The business of serving others is continuing, even if it's not in person.

At Cross City Church, pastors plan to play their Christmas message every hour from noon Christmas eve until midnight Christmas so they can reach as many people as possible despite the circumstances.

Many churches have banded together during the pandemic to share ideas and brainstorm.

They are accustomed to changes and are making tentative plans now for the probable tier change.
Copyright © 2020 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.