Its a Sunday morning and I’m sat at home on my own with COVID. Its been circling for awhile, like a bird of prey, waiting to dive and snatch its next victim. Since December 21st someone in our home has tested positive. We’ve had back to back isolations, a bit like a busy night club where its a one-in-one-out kind of system. Its tiring and relentless and adds to the exhaustion of the last two years.
Although I’m isolating, I’m not isolated. This morning I’ve been with my church family, we sang together, learnt together and had a decent catch up. All this is possible because of what we’ve learnt as a church through the pandemic.
For the last two weeks the numbers of people coming to our “in person” church service has been significantly lower than normal. In the UK approximately 6% of the population has COVID, so this shouldn’t be surprising at seeing less people come to our Sunday gathering . Other churches are experiencing this too. In a recent twitter poll 26% of church leaders said they had less people attend church over the last two weeks. So we have an acute problem due to soaring COVID rates, but lets not be fooled. Our lack of preparedness points to a chronic problem that the church needs to face.
This isn’t the first time in my life where I’ve had to miss our gathered church on a Sunday. For years I struggled. As a young mum I was isolated from main services due to caring for a child or feeding. This was followed by chronic illness and later on a time of caring for a child with anxiety. Yes I appreciated individuals and homegroup. But I missed the gathering of God’s people and the collective nature of church.
It seems like we don’t know how to welcome the sick, the depressed or the chronically ill to our gathered church. We have forgotten that we’re one body in sickness and in health and deep down I wonder if the church is actually for the sick or just for the healthy?
I have many questions and few answers, which is why I’m writing, I am looking for your thoughts and wisdom both for the acute and chronic problem that I see. What would it look like for church to be accessible? How do we welcome the sick & chronically ill? And why oh why did so many object to online church when for some, it meant church was finally accessible?
There is so much irony in what we learnt as a church during the pandemic. We were isolated yet became more accessible, we were scattered but learnt how to be a body, we were on our own yet somehow one. Could it be that there is still much more to learn? How can we let this acute problem draw us back to God himself and help us see that the church, just like Jesus is to be a people who prioritise, value and welcome the sick.
Here are three things that I think will help churches in the coming weeks. I’d love to hear your ideas too.
Remember your Oneness
I want to explore more the theme of Oneness and in particular Oneness in sickness. I’m struck by the relevance of these words “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health”. These are familiar words to many, I’ve known the truth of these vows for 17 years in my married life but I am only beginning to see how this works out in my church family.
Those vows taken when two individuals become one body and continued as a commitment through life. The same metaphor of the body, of oneness is seen in 1 Corinthians 12. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” But what does it look like to faithfully commit to each other as one body? Could it be that we are called to live out these vows not just in marriage but as a church?
Prepare for less people
In the coming weeks expect that less of your regulars will come along to church in person. This could be for a whole host of reasons. If we’re to expect less people at church in person, then we should prepare to welcome and engage more online. Since Easter 2021, we’ve continued to live stream our church services. Yet my gut feeling is that we treat those online as second class citizens. We remember to welcome them or leave the odd comment about those watching online. But we could do so much more.
Merge your audiences
Increase your social interaction and engagement between your in person and your online audience. Here are some simple tips that I’ve used over the last few weeks…
- Welcome the online audience first
- Encourage the inperson audience to turn around and wave
- Ask questions in your sermon and encourage discussion and opinions through an app like Sli.do
- Open up a Zoom room at the end of the service for those watching online
- Livestream everything; prayer meetings, sunday gathering, homegroups
- Have a church whatsapp and encourage everyone to respond after a Sunday gathering; how has God spoken to you, write up a prayer for the church, share an encouraging Bible verse.
- Notice who is missing from church, send them a text, give them a ring, pop round on the doorstep, acknowledge that we’re scattered but one body.
God longs for us to be one, one with each other and one with him – for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health.