Church Planting in a Pandemic

Portland pastor testifies to God’s faithfulness in the midst of stay-at-home orders, virtual services, and mask requirements

After three years of prayer and planning, Door of Hope Northeast held its first worship gathering as a new church plant on March 1, 2020. That same month, the COVID-19 pandemic brought in-person gatherings to a halt in Oregon.

“Two weeks into the life of our church, we were asking ourselves, ‘How do we continue on as a fresh church community without a typical Sunday gathering?’” recalls Cameron Heger, lead pastor at the Northeast Portland church.

It wasn’t the start that he expected or hoped for, but as Heger looks back on two years of pandemic ups and downs, he is full of gratitude for how God sustained the church through many dark and frustrating days.

“The ‘A’ story for me has been God’s faithfulness and provision,” he said. “We’re still here and we’re still growing.”

Maintaining unity hasn’t been easy. Like many churches, the elders at Door of Hope Northeast had to prayerfully navigate ever-changing COVID guidelines and recommendations. Heger believes that in some ways being a new church plant put them in a good position to stay unified.

“There were certainly a few conflicts and disagreements—some more intense than others—but we have a great core of people who had really counted the cost and signed up for the challenges of a church plant. I don’t think anyone expected these exact challenges, but people were by and large very gracious and understanding as we navigated changing circumstances.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, the church moved to online services on Sundays while offering small groups for those able to meet in person. Heger encouraged his congregation to lean into community as fervently as possible. The Western Seminary graduate credits his seminary training for providing a theological framework to help him think through complex issues as a church planter.

“At Western, I had to think through questions like ‘what is a church?’, ‘what is a pastor?’, ‘what relationships do elders need to have with the church?’ These convictions instantly came to bear as we started a new church, and it has produced a lot of health.”

Specifically, Heger’s commitment to his understanding of church was put to the test by pandemic restrictions. How was he supposed to affirm the importance of gathering together (Heb. 10:25) in light of stay-at-home orders and in-person limits?

At Western, I had to think through questions like ‘what is a church?’, ‘what is a pastor?’, ‘what relationships do elders need to have with the church?’ These convictions instantly came to bear as we started a new church, and it has produced a lot of health.

“I have a fair amount of skepticism for online services in general,” he admits. “But my ecclesiology led me to value the gathered assembly of our congregation right alongside being deeply considerate of the needs of the most vulnerable among us.”

Heger tried to balance these two beliefs by offering Zoom meetings while encouraging those who were able to meet in person to do so. Even when services went online, he reminded the church that virtual interaction misses out on the fullness of gathering together in person with brothers and sisters in Christ. Once the church was able to resume large group Sunday morning gatherings, they asked their members to wear masks out of concern for those at greater health risks.

“Masks seemed like a minimally invasive way to make gatherings safely accessible for more people,” he says.

Two years into its life as a church plant, Door of Hope Northeast is continuing to lean into the mission of its founding church (Door of Hope Southeast) to be a family of churches in Portland “that exist for Jesus as a movement of grace for revival in the city.” Despite pandemic challenges, the church’s commitment to this vision remains strong.

“We want to fulfill the great commission and see people baptized and discipled into maturity,” says Heger.

Heger’s experience in pastoral ministry has reinforced the value of theological training, leading him to continue his education in Western’s Master of Theology program.

“Once I became a pastor, I realized I still have gaps in my knowledge. The ThM is sharpening me as a preacher as I think through things on a deeper level. I would not be the pastor I am without this program."

Cameron Heger bioCameron Heger is the lead pastor at Door of Hope Northeast in Portland. He completed his MA in Biblical and Theological Studies at Western and is currently working towards a Master of Theology. He and his wife Susanna have two boys, Lane (5) and Ezra (3).