I’ve talked and posted a bit over the past few days around questions relating to churches emerging from lockdown. Here in Northern Ireland, buildings can be open for public worship from this week, and several churches are already well prepared for resuming Sunday worship in their buildings from this Sunday.
Nonetheless, in a recent informal poll during an Evangelical Alliance (NI) Zoom meeting, more than half the participants indicated that they expect their church to wait until at least September before opening their doors on Sunday (numbers in England are a little different). Some churches are starting with prayer gatherings rather than the full Sunday worship service – no doubt these smaller gatherings will help test practical procedures before bigger meetings take place (aside from the benefit of praying!).
I know from a couple of recent exchanges with two pastors that those who are keen to get started are not sure why others are so reticent: there is even a degree of frustration with what can be perceived as a degree of negativity around reopening.
It might be helpful to map out some reasons why some leaders are keen to get going again and some reasons why folk are more hesitant.
Why you should open your church as soon as possible!
- The Bible is clear that Christians ought not to give up on meeting together and no matter how clever your digital services have been, it’s not what Hebrews 10 had in mind.
- Churches have not been able to gather for almost four months and people have missed that: now that the government has given the green light, why wait? Older people, some of whom may have experienced a high degree of isolation, may be longing to be in the same actual room (not Zoom breakout room) as their brothers and sisters.
- Online services have not been everyone’s cup of tea and some people have opted out. I’ve heard of a couple of churches that feel they have lost a swathe of their people who have not gone online. Interestingly, while there are 80 year olds who have got up to speed with Zoom and the like, it is sometimes the younger generation who have opted out.
- For younger people, some of whom may wish to prioritise connection over content, church in person allows them to connect with their peers and they will listen to the content while they are there. A Youtube service won’t allow them to connect, so they may prefer to spend Sunday chatting on WhatsApp rather than tune into church.
- Having church online has the potential to lead to an increased consumerism. If you’re after a great set of worship songs, you might be able to do better than what’s on offer in your own church: same for the sermon – online church allows you to pick from the best!
Why you should take your time!
- Some leaders are exhausted and may like to have some breathing space before leading the task of getting the building ready for the next stage or beginning to envisage the details of how they will navigate the government guidelines.
- For some, restrictions around numbers permitted (social distancing), congregational singing, the ability to greet one another, or even tea and biscuits after the service will make gatherings seem less than normal, and so they might prefer to wait.
- While (as a friend of mine says) there are some churches who have been practicing social distancing for a long time (dwindling congregations in large buildings), well attended churches are going to have to put restrictions on numbers, requiring the need for a booking system. Unless they increase the numbers of services (with whatever that entails with regard to cleaning), not everyone is going to get in.
- This means that some kind of online service is going to have to be maintained. This will be important, not only as long as numbers are restricted, but as long as there are vulnerable people who are either advised medically not to attend, or choose not to, out of nervousness.
- There is value in pausing to reflect on the lessons from lockdown. A rush to restart – certainly a rush to fill the calendar with activity – means there is little space (or energy) for such a reflection. As someone said to me this morning, leading a busy church is a bit like trying to keep a plane in the air!