Well I’m certainly not on the cutting edge here. I’ve tried to do more listening than reacting lately (and just trying to keep my kids alive which is harder than the 2 full-time jobs I normally work.) But I’m going to make a case for why churches need to start opening up. I know many have (including mine). I know several churches that never closed. Honestly, the smaller churches had some distinct advantages in this area. But some churches have hesitated from resuming live services and several local municipalities have slowed churches and other larger size gatherings from opening their doors. There are some very compelling reasons to do this. Spread of the virus, protecting those most vulnerable to COVID-19, and other similar arguments are obviously great rationales. So why re-open? Wouldn’t it be safer to stay closed? The answer to that question is a resounding “yes.” So why would I write a blog on why churches should reopen? Well, I have 3 reasons. I have a spiritual reason, a social reason, and a scientific reason. And here we go…
1) Spiritual Reason
There’s real value in gathering together as a church. The Bible warns not to forsake the assembling of yourselves together. The reason for this is to spur on love and good works amongst the brethren. Obviously, the writer of Hebrews wasn’t aware of Zoom meetings or Facebook live. But I think without a lot of intentional strategy those won’t level up to the goal of people seeing needs, meeting needs, and being encouraged by others. I often say that the primary reason you should go to church is for others, not yourself. Your ability to help others is greatly diminished in an online setting. The single mom whose microphone is on mute might be because she has a crazy kid running around who isn’t able to pay attention to the pastor’s sermon yet. How do you know the person who turns off their camera isn’t balling their eyes out? I got other examples but the key is, the less spiritually mature person isn’t going to be volunteering certain vital pieces of information. That information needs to be drawn out. This is most easily done in community fellowship. I’m thankful that we are not under some sort of divine law that would punish us if we need to not meet a while for church. I think there was great wisdom in shutting down churches. The question is, for how long?
2) Social Reason
People need people. We are a social creation. Friends and family are important. Having a job is important. Going to church is important. Everyone’s social circle is different. You don’t know what someone else might be going through at this time. There are so many who have so few in their lives. Objectively, those claiming stress, anxiety, and depression have skyrocketed to over 50% of the US population. Alcohol sales are up over 50% (online sales over 250%.) Drug overdoses are up 16% (other stats claim much higher). Suicide rates are expected to be 2.5 times last years’ numbers (many attempts citing loss of jobs and economic issues). The church is actually really good at meeting those needs. The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it’s connection. Gathering together helps make connections. It provides purpose and meaning to so many. Naysayers might call church a “crutch” but crutches are really helpful to broken people. This pandemic is breaking people. There’s the actual loss of loved ones. Then there’s the issues not as easily seen with the naked eye, but equally as real. During the 1918 pandemic there’s tons of stories of nuns and priests taking care of the sick. I fear the church this time around has distanced themselves from both the sick and the healthy. Again, this was good for a short time, but now we are entering into a new dynamic. How long will the church forsake assembling together? Until it’s safe? Well, then you need to define terms. Driving in a car, eating sugar, and shaking hands all hold a certain amount of risk. We do risk assessment constantly. And we need to do risk assessment during COVID-19. What infection rate is low enough in your area for you to meet again? What death rate is low enough? These numbers CANNOT be “0,” because the truth is, they will never be “0” and have never been “0.” This might be a new coronavirus, but we’ve been dealing with coronaviruses for years. There are bad ones like this one, and there are less bad ones like the common cold. But infection and death rates are never “0.” There are some people whose immune systems are so poor they cannot leave vacuum sealed rooms. Others have to take extra precautions like regular hand-washing or masks. The church should never guilt people into attendance. I believe the infection rate might still be too high for some particularly vulnerable populations and they will need to wait a while. Maybe a long while. But honestly that’s up to them. Churches should provide as much virtual care as possible. But they’ll need to make a decision for themselves. The difficult challenge pastors will have in the coming months is who to encourage to show up. Who is living with a spirit of fear and not a sound mind? Not easy stuff. But churches need to figure out what church is going to be like. Are you going to do multiple services and spread out? Are you going to go to a house-church model? There are tons of great ideas out there. The question is what are you and your church going to do? And if you are going to start attempting to operate in this new world we now live in, are you going to try next month? Or the month after that? Eventually you are going to have to try something, and it will be too early for some people. So, determine what will the impetus be to say “now” is the time.
3) Scientific Reason
Now disclaimer: I have a doctorate but it’s not in medicine. I worked in healthcare but I was a chaplain. But I believe everything I say here can be backed up by the scientific community. This virus is never going to go away. That’s not what diseases usually do. And coronaviruses are particularly tricky from everything I’ve read. The idea of waiting for an effective vaccine might be longer than you think, and the word “effective” will take even longer than that to determine. The point of the lockdown was to flatten the curve – prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. Praise the Lord, that was accomplished. The next step should be to protect those that are most vulnerable. Not as easy to accomplish, but we have to do our best. With schools opening we are now entering the stage where people are going to get this virus. A majority of people who get the virus won’t even know it. This is both good and bad. Bad because they can spread it, but good that they’re fine and hopefully will have some strong anti-bodies and will be immune (at least for a while) and unable to spread it in the future. When enough people get this, it’s called herd immunity. That’s the goal. Whether naturally or with a vaccine, herd immunity is what will allow life to normalize. I’m sure in the midst of the bubonic plague where some estimates say almost half the world’s population died in a few decades; or in the aftermath of the Great War (i.e. WWI) and the Spanish flu where over 5% of the world died; it must have seemed like nothing would ever be “normal” again. But there were new health practices, inventions, and innovations that changed the world and “normalcy” set back in. The church is both a part of the fabric of society and totally separate from it. So, the church’s only way forward (as it always was) is to engage its surrounding community bringing hope to the hopeless and to build up and edify believers in every capacity it can. Even if that capacity is in secret or opposition.
The only goal of this writing was to encourage and remind. Encourage you to think soberly, righteously, and godly in this strange present age we find ourselves in. And to remind you of the importance of gathering together for church. It’s easy as time passes to forget what is truly necessary in our spiritual lives. After a couple weeks of not going… you miss church. After a couple months without church… you think you’ll be fine without it. After a couple years without church… you think you never needed it. But when you go, you’ll remember how special it really is to just be with other believers. It’s awesome to be with people and pray together, worship together, and study the word… together.