Covid-19 is no slouch. The pandemic that has ransacked the world and is projected to cost the world economy close to $2 trillion this year (not to mention claimed thousands of lives), has also impacted the way that local churches operate.
From a logistical standpoint, we’re seeing the effects of those changes right now (recently, Ryan Goodwin of East Shelby church of Christ did a fantastic lesson on this subject, which you can listen to here). Churches are implementing technology to livestream services, having compartmentalized services of no more than 10 people at a time, and even meeting in parking lots. Some of those changes will carry over once we’re able to meet together again; some won’t.
But what will be the lasting effect of this Covid-19 be on individuals?
As Amos said, “I’m not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet” (Amos 7:14), but even I can see some of the writing on the wall. This quarantine, or lockdown, or social distancing (whatever you want to call it) has changed the way that Christians behave. Maybe forever.
Will Livestream Services Give Us an Excuse to Stay Home on Sundays and Wednesdays?
Without a doubt, one of the biggest changes to most church’s order of worship has been to do everything online, for the time being. Not because of persecution or lack of desire, but because we’re doing our part to contain the spread of this despicable virus.
(If it were about persecution, governments would have targeted religious gatherings specifically, instead of listing them as “essential services” as they have in Texas, and in other states).
There’s precedent for this type of activity in the Bible. In the Old Testament, those who couldn’t partake of the Passover during its usual time on the fourteenth day of the first month, because of impurity, had an opportunity to do so a month later (Numbers 9; 2 Chronicles 29-30).
Not that any of that should matter when we are able to once again assemble with our brethren. With lockdown orders lifted and a manageable solution to the pandemic in our hands, we should be able to resume normal operations.
But will we? No doubt, some people will see this as an opportunity to stay at home, because, after all, virtual services are “just as good.”
They’re not. A change in logistics during a period of extraordinary circumstances does not then become the rule when it becomes “ordinary” again. No matter how much it’s rationalized, a livestream, virtual service is not the same as being in person, lifting our voices together, studying together, and shaking hands or hugging.
These are not ideal times for us, and nobody wants this to go on any longer than it’s necessary, but the lingering question in the back of our minds is: Who will show back up once the doors are opened again?
What Will Our Hospitality Look Like?
It’s truly awe-inspiring to see our world come together during a time like this. The whole point of social distancing is to keep space between us in order to stem the transmission from one person to the next. It’s a huge inconvenience, but if it’s not done as a group, then the whole plan falls flat.
Moreover, people have shown hospitality in other ways: making masks for complete strangers, delivering groceries/supplies, doing drive-by “parades” to say hi to someone else, if even for a few seconds.
During the early chapters of Acts, the church was defined by this type of hospitality (Acts 2:44-45; 4:36-37). Other passages in the New Testament testify that this type of mindset continued for decades (Romans 12:13-20; 1 Peter 4:9; Hebrews 13:2).
The one-two combo of quarantining and social distancing has created within us a longing to be together. We yearn to show hospitality and love to one another – partially because that’s the type of people we become as Christians, and partly because that’s what God calls on us to do.
So when we all finally get together again, and we don’t need to pick up groceries for each other on a regular basis, or have drive-by parades, what will our hospitality look like? Will we still show creativity and initiative in our desire to help one another?
Will We Still Be Creative About Evangelism?
If you’ve been on Facebook during this quarantine (and let’s face it, who hasn’t?), you might have noticed that several churches and individuals are much more active on Facebook than usual. People that I’ve known for years and have never posted anything, are now posting not only pictures of their kids and favorite pound cake recipe, but also inspirational/Scriptural quotes. Preachers that didn’t know Facebook live existed four months ago are now old pros at it, reaching hundreds, and in some cases, even thousands, of people with their daily or weekly studies.
Why the shift? Easy: we were forced to. With the option to go up and knock on someone’s door or teach a dinner-table Bible study taken away from us, we now are forced to think outside the box as to how to evangelize.
In some ways, this is both a blessing and a curse. So many doors are opening for people to talk about God, but it can also give us a crutch in the future. No matter how many live studies we get, nothing can replace talking to someone directly (if possible) and helping them learn about God. It’s easy to hide behind a computer and spread the Gospel, believing that you’re making a huge difference (which we very well are), but shrink at the first sign of actually talking to someone face-to-face.
But still, there’s no doubt that a number of creative solutions for evangelism are making their way to the forefront at this time. In so many ways, it mirrors what we read about in Paul’s missionary journeys, where he preached in synagogues (Acts 17:2), schools (Acts 19:9), a mountain-top full of philosophers (Acts 17:22), and in front of a Sanhedrin that absolutely hated his guts (Acts 23). To put it simply, Paul spoke everywhere and anywhere he could.
When this quarantine is over, and we are able to evangelize like we always have, will we still be creative and find ways to reach people that are more unique, and, possibly, more effective?
Remember, Paul once said that “to the Jew, [he] became as a Jew, so that [he] might win Jews” (1 Cor. 9:20). In other words, he got creative and found ways to reach people that were tailored to their unique situation. We’re in a unique situation now, but soon we won’t be. Will we still try to be creative to reach more people?
These are questions that only time will tell, but I can’t wait until we’re all back together again to hash them out first hand. As we slowly inch towards a reunion where we can all worship together in the same place again, let’s not forget the lessons that we’re learning now. As I saw one writer put it, “don’t waste your quarantine.” Allow it to shape our growth as Christians instead.