Like most other pastors and church leaders in recent weeks, I’m in the throes of confusion. The rapid spread of COVID-19 has forced upon us an ecclesiological conundrum. What does it even mean to be a “church” in times like this? How much does it matter that we continue to gather, physically, in the midst of such fear and uncertainty? Is such a decision wise or unwise? At what point are we being resolute or reckless?
Adding to the confusion for me is that I am preparing to release a book at the end of March in which I suggest, in no uncertain terms, that the church has always been and will always be an analog reality—a community that bypasses the conveniences of digital “connections” in order to commune with one another in real time and space. My critique of video-venue and online church is now colored in a new and unexpected way.
In light of recent developments, here are a few thoughts to consider as we navigate these anxious days.
Compromise, Not Convenience
Given the rapidly escalating COVID-19 crisis, many churches will find that directing people toward online meetings is not only a viable option, but also a necessity. In many locations across the world, government-mandated shutdowns of large gatherings are forcing our hand.
This is becoming increasingly true where I live and serve. The local university just shut down in-person classes for the rest of the quarter. Public schools of all sizes are beginning to do the same. So far, churches like ours have only been given a strong recommendation in this direction, but the trajectory is heading toward ceasing all sizable in-person gatherings. Social distancing seems to be the only feasible solution to stopping or at least slowing the spread of the virus.
Given the rapidly escalating COVID-19 crisis, many churches will find that directing people toward online meetings is not only a viable option, but also a necessity.
As we temporarily direct our congregations to these online spaces, it is of utmost importance that we clarify this digital reality as a temporary compromise rather than an ongoing convenience. Our clarity along these lines, or lack thereof, will be formative one way or the other. Make no mistake, sitting in the comfort and safety of our homes to watch a sermon on our television or computer will be convenient. And convenience has a way of quickly undoing the work of long-held disciplines. If we believe gathering as the church in real time and…