By Andrew Scarborough
Ministry Director – Youth for Christ Australia
COVID-19 has wrecked havoc on events, meetings, celebrations, and religious services all over the world.
It was recently announced in Australia that all places of non-essential businesses and venues would now close. The same is true across almost all nations that are COVID-19 (Coronavirus) hotspots. And now, no more than 2 from separate households are allowed to meet in a public space.
Churches are amongst the many institutions completely blindsided by these restrictions.
The number one question for many church leaders is, “How do we keep doing church if we can’t gather?”
The majority are moving to online services, my own amazing church among them. Often the messaging is essentially, “Don’t worry, nothing’s really changed, we are just moving online" as churches scramble to replicate weekend services in an online experience.
It’s an opportunity to reimagine what church should be…
But what if COVID-19 is actually giving the church the most incredible gift of our generation?
Now hear me on this, before you read on, I’m not saying the virus itself is a gift, but what I am saying is that maybe just maybe, God can work some good out of this! In fact I know He can (Romans 8:28) .
We have a great opportunity in front of us. It’s an opportunity to reimagine what church should be…
The opportunity to get back to basics. To meet in homes, to reach out to our neighbours, to gather for communion as family units, to spread the love of Jesus in our groceries stores, to make the gospel go more viral than COVID-19.
Here are three gifts that I believe COVID-19 has given the church.
1. An Opportunity to BE the church.
Being forced out of our buildings and services means that we are being forced into our homes and neighbourhoods. This is an incredible gift, if we can embrace it as such. What if this month became your church’s local missions month. Can’t gather inside? What if we went on prayer walks outside, and asked people we meet how we can pray for them and blessed them (from a distance of-course!).
What if this month instead of hoping people will somehow find our church services, we went to the people, leaving notes in their letter boxes, letting them know how they could join us for an online service, but much more than that, we also offered practical help where they need it.
What if, instead of going to music practice, men's group, women's group, toddler group, senior's group, craft group and all the other groups that we can’t go to anymore, we invited some neighbours over for a meal and found out what they love doing, and did that with them, whilst planting the seeds of the gospel? (I know this is no longer permitted in some regions, but we can improvise while following the current government restrictions. Why not start a Facebook page for your street and post a daily prayer?)
What if, instead of simply consuming sermons at this time, we lived out the sermons that are already in us? What if we went out into the world and lived our faith out?
Already I know of many many stories of Christians who have seized this opportuniy to be the church rather than simply attend it, from making up hampers for neighbours, to giving store workers hand written thank you cards with boxes of chocolates and praying with anxious shoppers. Check out this video of the church being activated in this time!
2. An Opportunity to Innovate.
Regardless of how much we like to pretend that the current mainstream Western attractional church model is effective in reaching the world, sadly, often it quite frankly is not.
That isn’t just my opinion, that is the findings of multiple researchers all around the globe. The reality is that the modern attractional church models, where people come to a service on a Sunday, are seeing a rapid decline and have been doing so for years (See Pew, McCrindle, and Barna researchers for a start).
All Christianity trends in nations that still do church this way are heading down.
I have often said, that continuing to do church this way with the knowledge that it is actually resulting in less Christians across our nations, is like continuing to model cruise liners on the Titanic, when we know how that story ends.
The reality is that churches are GROWING where there is less emphasis on gathering, and more emphasis on making disciples who make disciples (Kind of like what Jesus modelled in the Bible!).
Iran, China, and Indonesia are just three nations that serve as incredible examples of this. These countries have some of the fastest growing churches in the world. But I’m not talking about churches the way we know them in the West, with steeples and bells, smoke machines or projectors, I’m talking about movements that often you can’t find on a map, you find them in peoples homes and out on the streets. (Check out this amazing documentary on the church in Iran)
What if at the end of this pandemic we actually CHOSE to keep our buildings closed? I’m not saying we should, but what if we did, because we had found a more effective way to do church during this season? What if, when we reopened our building they were completely repurposed to reflect a new (or maybe old – think Jesus’ and His disciples) revelation?
So let's take some time to reimagine church in this season.
Get on your face before God. Lay your model, logo and ego on the altar and ask King Jesus, how do YOU want to build YOUR church moving forward?
3. An opportunity to PRAY like never before.
So often, we are so busy doing, that we don’t stop to simply pray.
What if in this season of less meetings, less set up and pack down, less driving and less activity, we spent more time in prayer? We can pray for COVID-19 to die in Jesus name. At this stage there is no cure for COVID-19. But prayer can achieve the miraculous! We can also pray for the lost, pray for revival, and pray simply to get to know God more!
Think about it, you have an opportunity in this season to be Mary instead of Martha (Luke 10: 38-42). In this season where you aren’t serving as much, you have an opportunity to simply sit with your first love, Jesus!
If that isn’t a gift, I don’t know what a gift is!
Come on church, let’s embrace this opportunity.
Come on church, let’s embrace this opportunity.
In the words of Australia’s Prime Minister, “This is a once in a 100 year event.” The opportunity will come and the opportunity will go. We can either get better as a result of this pandemic and the changes it has thrust upon us, or we can keep sailing as we have been thinking, “Not even God could sink this ship!”
Or could He? My guess is if we keep sailing towards that iceberg, He won’t need to.
It might be time to change course.
PS- Just to be super clear: I’m all for the equipping of the saints for ministry and for gathering. I LOVE THE LOCAL CHURCH! In fact I’ve been leading in local churches for most of my Christian life. The point of this blog isn’t to say “don’t gather” or “don’t get equipped”, it was to help you to ask, “how can we embrace this opportunity, rather than simply have it pass us by?”