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Las Vegas, COVID-19, and the Church

How the International Church of Las Vegas is responding to the pandemic.

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Paul Marc Goulet, Senior Pastor of International Church of Las Vegas, shares practical examples on how churches can heal their communities while battling COVID-19.

What message do you feel God is giving the church through the COVID-19 crisis?

My answer is that God works all things for good – but that doesn’t mean only good things happen.

This virus is terrible. It’s bad, really bad. When my daughter got cancer, that was bad. And we can’t think that these things come from God. We can’t blame God for all these problems, because the Bible says only good comes from God. So, my word for everybody is that this virus is terrible, really, really awful and not from God.

However, God promises that He can work the virus for good. What does that mean? Does that mean He has a magic wand and He just waves it, turning the pain into something glorious?

No. What He means is that we can partner with Him to turn the bad thing into something good. He tells us, just like He told His disciples, “You go and feed the people. You go and meet their need. You turn this pain into something beautiful through your service and love.”

How has your church responded to the pandemic? What steps have you taken?

What we did is get really practical, as soon as possible. When everything started happening,

I called one of the city council members and said, “What can we do to serve our city? What can I do?”

“So, this crisis is going to work for good because we’re working it and sacrificing financially – that’s something I want to encourage every leader.  Do your part.”

The council told me, “We need blood drives, but can’t use our buildings. Can you help?” I said, “Yeah, I’ve got buildings around the city.” So the Red Cross is coming in and we’ve prepared our buildings to serve our community by being a location for blood donation.

Taking it further, you need to understand that Las Vegas lost about 200,000 jobs in one week. Can you imagine that? Our city is devastated, because we’re an entertainment city. When all the entertainment venues had to close, it completely took away our city’s economic engine.

And so we’re starting a new feeding program, a co-op. We already have our normal programs for feeding the poor, but this co-op is something different. For $30 a month, we’re going to give families food and necessities for the whole month. They’ll come in every week and they will get food and clothing. We’re also going to give them job re-entry training – people need help to find new jobs.

Our co-op is telling people, “We’re committed to help you through this crisis.” Obviously the $30 a month they pay doesn’t cover our costs, so we have to go out and find more money to pay for this. But you should see the lineups of people outside our center, coming for help. We can’t have more than 10 people in our building at a time, so we have to put up lines on the sidewalk, for them to wait to come in.

Through our programs, we’ll probably feed 25,000 people this month, possibly even more. I’ve got two semi-trucks coming in today from another ministry that will be donating diapers and other baby supplies for us to give out.

So, this crisis is going to work for good because we’re working it and sacrificing financially – that’s something I want to encourage every leader.  Do your part.

How are you going to pay for these programs? Is that a concern to you?

Because of the new regulations, we had to close down our preschool and our daycare – I don’t know where the next dollar is going to come from to pay for any of this stuff. I just know that God said that it is going to work for good.

I can’t live in fear. I’m not at home right now – I’m in my office. I have meetings that are going forward, with less than 10 people because we’re still allowed to do that. I’m going to keep doing things that will help the city through this crisis. I’m going to mobilize and I’m going to work it – I’m going to partner with God. And I’m trusting He will provide all the resources we need.

Do you have experience working through this sort of crisis before? What gives you confidence that your church is going to be able to make an impact?

When the Las Vegas shooting happened in October of 2017, 58 people were killed and almost 500 were shot in one evening. At that time, I also called the city and asked, “What can this church do to help?”

They answered us, and based on what they told us we came up with 10 primary objectives to help the city heal. We got to work on implementing those 10 things and helping a devastated community.

A year later, our city honored me and our team for the way the church responded to that crisis. They actually said we had the best response in the city, and gave us a big award. They also gave us access to the city hall steps to do meetings – it was crazy. I don’t say we’re the best at all of this, but the city recognized us as such!

Paul Marc Goulet and his wife, Denise Goulet, receiving an award from Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, Las Vegas, USA, 2018

 

The year after that, the city asked us to please come and lead a prayer meeting on the city hall steps. They gave us the city hall steps and called for people to come to the meeting – they asked us to just come and handle the rest. Our response to that tragedy enabled us to be a tremendous light to the city.

In the same way, I’m calling all pastors and leaders and believers to work this virus for good. Go with God, go with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and work it into something good. Don’t be passive, but you do the work alongside our Savior Jesus.

Have you seen any good signs in the short-term, as your church has just begun dealing with this crisis?

We have. I want to give a couple of examples of how God is helping us during this time. Our normal midweek Bible study has anywhere from 500 to 1000 people in attendance. That’s a normal midweek Bible study, which is great, right?

“Your church is going to grow during this time. Your impact is going to grow during this time. Finances are going to grow during this time. What the enemy means for harm, God means for good.”

But the virus made us shut down, so we went online and did an online program. We’re using Zoom rooms, so that we can still break up into small groups. And in the first week of our online Bible study, we had 3000 people watch and participate. We tripled our attendance.

We’re also having a great response to drive-up prayer. People drive through our parking lot and our team members pray for them. We have had so many people get touched in their cars and start crying. Many are even giving their offerings through the drive-up – we had almost as much money given that way as we did online. That’s not what you would expect, but that’s what God did. Isn’t that cool?

What last encouragement would you give to those who are reading this article? Things are changing so quickly, what thoughts would you want to leave us with?

My friend is a law professor at the University of Toledo, and just yesterday he called me.  He said, “Paul, we can’t just go through this. We’ve got to grow through this.”

I want to throw this out to all your leaders that are going to be reading this article. Your church is going to grow during this time. Your impact is going to grow during this time. Finances are going to grow during this time. What the enemy means for harm, God means for good. You’re going to have to work alongside him in some sense to see the good!

Paul Marc Goulet is the Senior Pastor of International Church of Las Vegas, a multi-campus church that has thousands of members who worship together on a weekly basis. 

Read a perspective of this pandemic from the founder of BRAVE here.