Rev. Dr. Barry C. Johnson
At this juncture, most of America is COVID-19 depressed. We are saturated with the news of what, when, why, and how. Additionally, we are struggling with the dominating effects that the virus has on our lives. As churches struggle to find ways to worship, one of the challenges is to adapt the type and style of COVID-19 influenced worship that fits our particular congregations. Although some churches are meeting in-person, the number of members in attendance has been greatly reduced, due to mandatory social distancing, their refusal to comply with safety protocol, or their simply being uncomfortable around people.
Remember that the congregations that have opted to continue in-person worship services have done so, despite state and local health department warnings of the inherent danger of the church becoming an “incubator” or possible super spreader. Several pastors have indicated that they are worried they will lose members because of the virus and the restrictions that have been placed on church gatherings and worship. Their fear is that senior members will be afraid to attend church, as they are the most vulnerable because of their age and potential pre-existing health conditions. Indeed, everyone should have the right to make his or her individual decisions; then again, it is important to make the proper decisions that will not hurt others or infringe upon their freedoms.
Still other churches are using technological tools, such as Zoom, Facebook Live, or Free Conference Call, as worship mediums. While at face value, this choice seems to be a solution for church attendance, what is actually occurring is that many members are not attending. This goes beyond the obvious fear of in-person services, where health scares determine attendance. This particular group that some pastors fear losing is the group that does not believe virtual church is real. Since they are not participating, the fear is that this group will simply get used to not coming to church and, when the pandemic subsides, become apathetic and not return. Here is the danger: Members that are not logging into these mediums are not a part of the worship and are losing contact with their respective churches.
Members that do participate in virtual ministry have adapted to what we are using and have remained in contact with that which has become the active, worshipping membership of the church. While I cannot assume that those that are not participating in the technological mediums of the church are not worshipping God on their own, experience reveals that when one does not attend church, they become apathetic and lax in personal worship. What is lost in the most important aspect of being a part of the body of believers is losing contact with the Lord. Nevertheless, the concerns from the perspective of these particular pastors loom very large in their decisions to prevent their congregations from diminishing.
If the aforementioned members lose their connection now, how will they regain their connection when we are free of the restrictions brought on by COVID-19? I would argue that these members will fall away from the church and the Lord. If history has shown anything, “lukewarm” Christians generally do not return, leaving the classic “remnant” that remains faithful to the church. The COVID-19 pandemic is very apparent and real in every sense of the word; however, as God has wiped away other pestilences and plagues, He will cure the world from this disease.
As church leaders, we would love to have the insight to assure our congregations of a plausible timetable for the end of this pandemic; however, God has not provided this prophecy to the angels of His churches. Nonetheless, we must believe that He knows when this scourge will end. The Christian world has had to face many troublesome issues (war, and economic disparities, as well); nonetheless, it is our faith in the Lord that allows us to depend on Him and not to fear the conditions that shake our lifestyles and society.
The most obvious solution for getting through this global situation is to trust the same God we trusted before all of this happened; trust the same Jesus we worshipped before all of this happened; and trust the same Holy Spirit that stimulated our minds, bodies, and souls, again, before all of this happened. With the infusion of His grace and mercy, we will get through this contagion that has affected the body, as well as any infection that plans to destroy the soul. Even as Joe Biden stated, “He has brought me too far to leave me,” we must trust that these words remain true. As believers, we must not fail to remind the world of our faith that God is still in control.
Next month, we will examine best cleaning practices in anticipation of reentering the church. We will return to Choir Festivals, Special Concerts, and the need for special collaborations at a later date.