Imagine, for some strange reason, that during this pandemic we could still keep meeting together in person. Would the question of whether your church should keep meeting even cross your mind? Would you decide that now is the time, in this crisis, to retreat and become a ‘mono Christian’? Would you say that now is the time to be an eye or a foot or a hand on its own? Surely now, more than ever we’re to be a church body as 1 Corinthians exhorts us.
Church in COVID19
A huge felt need in COVID19 is for relationship and collective real time community. We’re experiencing isolation and a lack of community and physical contact with friends and family. We need our church family, the body of believers, more than ever before.
Throughout history, a local gathering is the most basic of all descriptions of what church is. The Greek word for church, ekklesia, means simply a local gathered assembly. There is a long history of theological reflection on what activities and qualities make a local gathering an expression of the body of Christ. But through it all, the need to gather has remained unquestioned and assumed – it is fundamental. But it is precisely this aspect of being church that is now thrown into question. Perhaps authentically gathering during Covid-19 is simply an impossibility?
Perhaps authentically gathering during Covid-19 is simply an impossibility?Tweet
Some churches have decided it is and have closed their doors, unable to move church online. Others stream services online for downloading by church members, but with little or no relational interaction during the service itself. Some of this content can be edifying. Just as a podcast or recorded talk can be – but that kind of ‘download of information’ is not most fundamentally what church is about. There are currently live debates on the validity of taking Communion online and whether we should even meet at all or instead treat this as a season of solitude.
Rejoining the body through technology
Our conviction at Community in a Crisis is that gathering is an essential aspect of what church is – and one that is even more essential in a time of crisis. We are calling on the church to strive to gather Christians as fully as the limitations of circumstances allow. Paul longed to visit the Thessalonian church in person, but when prevented from so doing used every means at his disposal to maintain fellowship with them (1 Thes. 2:17).
And we are living in a time not just of crisis but of new unprecedented technological resources. Though we cannot gather physically we have technological resources at our disposal today that Paul would never have dreamt of. As we call on doctors and scientists to push the limits of technology to heal and restore our physical bodies, so we should be seeking to use new communication technologies to rejoin the church body together as fully as is possible during this time.
Communication technology now allows us to gather remotely more fully than ever before. We believe we should use these resources to reflect the multilateral one-anotherness of Christian ministry we see in the New Testament portrayal of church in this crisis.
But if this is the case, there is work to be done. We need to think about our ecclesiology and missiology during this pandemic. We also need to do some thinking and learning on how to use technology to its best potential. How can we create the most relational, warm, welcoming events and church gatherings in this season?
These are new questions. We’ve not (in our lifetime) had to rely on tech so heavily before to do church. Part of serving our congregations has been teaching IT to those who struggle, perhaps in a way we had never thought relevant before. A friend recently commented that online church cannot work for those who struggle with technology. Here are some examples of how we’re seeing that happen…
“My pastor (70), moved to the Isle of Wight, to care for his parents. They have no laptop or internet. He comes to church by a phone number. His parents never go to church, but now for two weeks all three have been able to join together over speaker phone. They read the Bible each day & have made commitments to Christ”. Jon
“My role on a Sunday from 10-10.30am is to be available on the phone to help anyone struggling to access our church online, it’s a joy to serve in this way” Barbara tech team
The church as a body can serve each other in new ways during COVID19.
Expanding church leadership
I’d like to humbly suggest it’s time we pause, listen and respond. Please hear me right. I am very aware I am not a church leader. But the reason I am so passionate about this is that Christians in our churches are broken and they’re stressed. We need to know afresh our Comforter, our ever-present help in times of trouble. But I’d like to suggest that, as we have always done, this needs to be done as a gathering of Christians: as the body of the church. I’m not persuaded theologically that it is time for an eye or an ear to be on their own.
God is at work in new ways. One of these ways is a leadership shift. We’re used to one person or a small team leading. But we need to start to think about broadening that out. When we hit the peak, we want to have large leadership teams. I’ve noticed that many a friend who has dormant or underused leadership gifts has suddenly found significant opportunities to exercise them and serve their local church at this time. Chatting with my friend Peter Dray, he said this…
“It’s important to love our leaders well, especially at a time when they share the same concerns and frailties as the rest of us…in part I think this means bearing with pastors who haven’t become overnight tech experts. But the broader call is for those of us who aren’t pastors to step up and to serve alongside them. Perhaps God is encouraging a new generation of lay leaders to actively pursue progress in the faith and joy of our Christian brothers and sisters.”
Perhaps God is encouraging a new generation of lay leaders to actively pursue progress in the faith and joy of our Christian brothers and sisters.Tweet
Who could be in your team as you consider, for the first time, these huge questions? You’re looking for someone who has leadership gifts and has an understanding of technology or a desire to learn. Or those who have leadership gifts and are willing to learn or delegate or bring others in. We leaders need to see the problems of online church and empower our tech friends to help find the solutions. There are much better solutions out there than we’re currently using.
Never before has the sound person or videographer had a key role in the senior leadership team. I think this is a really good thing, but something to watch out for. You need a tech person who understands leadership otherwise you will be offered very good solutions for the wrong problem. If you let your tech team who don’t have leadership gifts lead your church then you may well get great tech, but I’d question long term whether the tech fits with your church values and vision.
Then again, I’m concerned for the church leader who has no tech experience. If they continue to lead their church singlehandedly with no tech help, then they won’t know how much better their church could be at meeting its peoples needs in this time.
Opportunities for COVID19 church
Many churches across the world are sharing stories that God is opening a new door, that they have seen an increase in guests at their services. Giovanni from Italy says this “Who said that this virus was causing churches to close? By the grace of God, we’re open more now than ever before.” As you pause and look at the demographics of these guests, you see that the Lord is at work in beautiful, profound and moving ways. Those that were isolated by Covid-19 are now able to attend church. For some, God is turning self-isolation on its head.
Those that were isolated by Covid-19 are now able to attend church. For some, God is turning self-isolation on its head.Tweet
We the global church need to get clear on our ecclesiology and missiology of church in a pandemic. We need to get clear on our values. What does it mean to be a gathering that actually reflects what church is -a gathering of Christians ministering to one another?
At Community in a Crisis We’re passionate about building #relationalonlinechurch during #COVID19. Visit our facebook page or on Twitter. Register here for our training materials, recordings and events. We have training on; Offering hope in a Crisis – Evangelism in the local church, Multi-Platform worship training for worship leaders and Getting your church online through Zoom.