The COVID-19 pandemic has brought church services to a grinding halt in our nation. In a dozen years, I do not recollect missing a Sunday service except for a very few times – the birth of my child, or a really bad illness. But this has changed since March 15th, 2020. That was the last Sunday service I gathered along with the saints up until the time of this writing. If you are anything like me, you are longing for the church to gather again (Ps. 42:1-4). I am no expert on pandemics, but here is what I think we can expect in the coming days:
I hope that my predictions don’t come to pass, but I fear they may. And while there is nothing more joyful on this side of eternity for me in this season, than to gather with the saints as soon as I can (Ps. 122:1), I think resuming church services after the lockdown needs to be thought through carefully. Here is a shortlist of suggestions to think through:Recognize this is a Unique SituationEarlier, most churches recognized that certain members were unable to come to the gatherings due to illness, an accident or just old age. Today, it would not be unwise to categorize the whole church as ‘shut-ins’ or ‘locked-out’ or some other smart categorization. We must recognize the uniqueness of the situation and accept it. And we must teach our people to trust God’s sovereignty and goodness during this difficult time.
Identify and Care for the Weak and SusceptibleA COVID-19 infection is more likely to be life-threatening for children below 10, senior citizens, pregnant women, and people with comorbidity – like diabetes and respiratory conditions. It would be wise for them and their household members not to immediately join the gatherings. As church leaders, we should make sure that our susceptible members are not neglected, but are encouraged by the church through phone calls, prayer and other practical ways.
Reduce Programmes and Service LengthTo start with, do not begin everything again. Go slow, build steadily. Start with only the main gathering (no Sunday schools, children’s programs, other gatherings, potluck, etc.). Keep the gathering shorter than usual. But even with the shortened service, make sure to pray the Word, read the Word, sing the Word, and preach the Word.
Follow Government and Healthcare GuidelinesAs mentioned above, when religious gatherings are permitted, they will come with some guidelines. We will do well to follow the guidelines – both for the health of our churches, and so that our churches are seen to submit to the government’s authority. This would be a good opportunity to teach our churches that we submit to the government because the government has been appointed by God for our well-being (Rom. 13:1-5).
A final note. Even as we think about making adjustments in the coming days, let us not get comfortable with smaller and shorter gatherings. Let us long for the time when all our church members can gather together as one body. And when God allows us to gather again, let us not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another, and all the more as we see the Day drawing near (Heb. 10:25). Until then, I pray that God gives us wisdom in our unique contexts for resuming church services safely and wisely.