PLYMOUTH, MI – For most of us, Covid-19 now has a face - the face of someone we know and love. What started as an invisible virus in a faraway place encircled the globe and walked through our neighborhoods. We are grateful that the overwhelming number of people who are infected will recover and experience no lasting physical effects. “Overwhelming majority” is not all, and our hearts go out to all those who lost family, friends, and neighbors. We pray God’s peace and comfort will surround them during this time.
It’s remarkable how quickly and completely the Covid-19 Pandemic affected our lives. We felt its impact not just physically, but financially, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. For weeks, the leading medical professionals in our country have been telling us to socially distance ourselves from others. In message after message, we have been warned that it is potentially dangerous to get closer than six feet to another person. We listened and complied for our own safety and the safety of others. The nation basically shut down as we work together to “Flatten the Curve.”
As God’s people, we experienced another staggering reality of Covid-19: For the first time in more than 2000 years, the church could not gather corporately to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. We made the best of it with the many digital technologies that made it possible for us to celebrate the resurrection online. Even so, this has been a tough season for us as believers. We long to worship and serve with our brothers and sisters in Christ as the church gathered.
That day will come, and we rejoice in that expectation. But it is becoming more and more apparent that we will not gather like we did in early March any time soon. Most, if not all, churches will not pick up where they left off. People, even the most faithful believers, will be leery of meeting with large groups. It’s only natural in light of what the experts have told us about social distancing. Much of the media is speculating that there will be no large gatherings at sporting events or concerts for much of the year. It is likely that people will return to our worship gatherings gradually as the infection rate slows and effective vaccines are discovered.
If that is the case, here are some discussion starters for churches to consider:
Prepare your facility
It’s reasonable to expect that the number of people attending corporate worship gatherings will be smaller in the days to come. The six-foot rule of social distancing will last for the foreseeable future and that will affect our gatherings. Our buildings need to reflect that possibility. What does it look like in your facility to follow the six-foot rule? Can you remove chairs or pews? Are there spaces you can set up as overflow? Do you need to have multiple smaller services?
Create a new greeter assignment
By that, I mean have someone with a contagious smile and love for people have the ministry of welcoming people to worship and opening the door for them. Not everyone needs to touch the door. Strategically place people by all entrances to greet people enthusiastically, and open the door for them like they’re royalty. Spoil them and protect them at the same time.
Replace handshakes and hugs
It’s the most natural thing in the world to hug and shake hands at church. It’s how we affectionately greet one another and express our joy at being together. Some are speculating that these customs need to go away. I doubt that will be the case, but they do need to go away for this season. Create a new greeting in your church. Use the deaf sign for “I love you” or lift your hands over your shoulder and shake them - the deaf sign for applause. Come up with your church’s greeting.
Protect the vulnerable
Special precautions need to be made for those with pre-existing conditions and the elderly. I am particularly concerned for the many senior adults in our churches. After Michigan Governor Whitmer issued her Executive Order, Shar and I worshiped at home online with one of our churches. Several members of our family, all much older than us, physically went to their churches despite our concerns. We admire their dedication, but the Coronavirus threat is real. It has been devastating among senior adults. In pastoral love, we may need to proactively encourage the vulnerable to worship with us online for a season or make other appropriate opportunities available to them.
Keep your digital presence
Based on my conversations with Michigan Baptist pastors, more people are connecting with their church services online than were attending in person. That means that more and more people are hearing the Gospel! This pandemic has caused many people to ask questions about their spiritual lives. Your church’s online presence gives them the opportunity to explore their spiritual lives from the comfort of their own homes. And later, when they feel comfortable, they may decide to attend in person.
How we are doing church is different now, and for the immediate future. Our methods are adapting, but our message remains unchangeable. When Jesus gave the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations to the first disciples, He knew that there would be vast oceans to cross, mountains to scale, and arid deserts to face. And yet, the church overcame all those obstacles to spread the Gospel. He also knew the challenges we would face with Covid-19. By His grace and guidance, we too will overcome all obstacles to spread the Gospel.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Durbin is the State Evangelism Director for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before joining the state convention staff, Mike served as Church Planting Catalyst and Director of Missions in Metro Detroit since 2007. He also has served as a pastor and bi-vocational pastor in Michigan, as well as International Missionary to Brazil.