I've seen a lot of talk over the last week about when and how the church will reopen.
There are checklists, webinars, roundtables, and “expert” opinions.
We know it’s going to be different, but we want to meet again. We want to get back to “normal.”
If we're being honest, we've had enough of this isolation thing. It's taking a toll. The economic implications are starting to wear on us. And as believers, we have a desire to be with our people.
We miss gathering on Sunday. We miss that part of church. It’s more than human nature—there’s something theological happening here, too. The church is supposed to gather. Christians are supposed to meet.
But as states lift Executive Orders, I actually want to encourage you NOT to open up too soon. Even though we want to. Even though our people want to. Even though there’s something inside pushing us to.
Here are three reasons not to rush back to meeting.
Reason #1: You don’t want to be labeled reckless by the community.
Public perception is a big deal.
I’m seeing way too many churches and pastors in the news for the wrong reason.
Lawsuits, threats, protests. These are words I’m reading in news stories about CHURCHES. The media is focusing on these negative stories (because that’s typically what the media does), not the stories about churches serving the community, meeting needs, and being socially responsible. If you’re labeled reckless, much of the good you’re doing will be glossed over.
And your story will contribute to a meta-narrative. We share in each other’s successes and we share in each other’s shortcomings. To the outside world, many churches are all the same. So, what we do affects the whole. This isn’t just a church issue: businesses, states, and programs that open up too soon run the risk of being labeled reckless.
Medical safety aside, there’s a big perception risk.
Even though you want to get back to meeting and your people want to get back to normal, this is not a race. There’s no prize for being first. In this case, those who go first might suffer even more of a public backlash.
Reason #2: You don’t want your church members to get the wrong idea.
The second reason I don’t think you should rush back is that this is not only the perception of the community but the perception of your church members.
For years and years, we have preached that the church is not a building. We’ve told our people not just to come to a service but go into the world. There are churches that have signs on their doors as people are walking out that say, “You are now entering the mission field” or “go be the church.” Even as we moved online, we encouraged our members to “be the church,” warning them against reducing everything to a livestream or online service.
So, what does it say if on the very front end when we can meet again—even when lots of people were advising against it and having questions—we rush back?
One of our ministry coaches, Matt, posted this in our Facebook group. He said, “Those churches that hurry back to worship will give members the perception that they need the public gathering to truly be the church. So all the things we've been telling them all along about church happening, wherever you are, we'll sound hypocritical now.”
I know we want to gather. I know we want to meet again. And that's a good thing. But if you make it all about the meeting, then we are reinforcing the opposite of what we’ve been trying to teach.
It doesn't mean that the gatherings are unimportant or that they are not crucial to who we are.
But don’t give your people the wrong idea that we can't be who we need to be without gathering in a building.
Reason #3: You shouldn’t exhaust your resources solving temporary problems.
The third reason, and perhaps the most important reason, is you shouldn't exhaust your resources trying to solve temporary problems.
There is a thankfulness that will emerge out of this time as a lot of churches are rethinking what they're doing. They are looking at their strategy, their ministry, and their programming in light of cultural change. There’s a bit of a reset happening
Five years from now, when we look back on this time, we will realize we re-evaluated quite a bit.
We redefined the term “essential.” We built muscles we didn’t even know we had. We learned a lot of things we didn’t want to learn but they turned out to be helpful. We figured out how to expand our digital footprint. We learned how to build a community online. We learned how to be incredibly responsive. We flexed an innovation muscle.
But what if we paused during this intermediate time and thought more deeply now? In the time between when we can legally gather and when we should gather, what if we leveraged our time to continue getting good at things that can help us for years to come?
These new skills and muscles we're developing will help us for years to come, not just the last few weeks.
Yes, we could rush back and quickly figure out changing guidelines, investing tons of man-hours and resources into solving a temporary problem. Or we could continue to build digital momentum, holding back the tide, until it’s not just safe but when it can truly kickstart momentum.
Build skills that you can use for the long haul; don’t just scramble to solve problems that only provide a quick fix.
We should view this pause as an opportunity to reset, not just rush back because we miss what we had. Of course, we miss our gatherings, but let’s not just run back to what is comfortable and familiar. Let’s embrace this time of learning and experimenting
Alan Hirsh said this…
“If you want to learn how to play chess, you should start by removing your own queen. Once you’ve mastered the game without the most powerful piece, then put the queen back in and see how good you are! For the church, the Sunday service is our queen. We’ve been relying on it too much. Now that the queen has been taken off the board it’s time to rediscover what all the other pieces can do.”
When you gather again, you will have new skills. You will be better.
It's not that we want to forever do church without the gatherings. We want to have those things, and we need to bring those things back. But it’s okay to temporarily build other parts of a healthy church. It doesn’t make the queen unimportant, it just means it’s not all about the queen.
Maybe this time of waiting is an opportunity.
And to come back better.
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