Many churches in China are in the process of resuming regular worship services in the wake of COVID-19. What precautions should these churches take as they prepare to open their doors? In this article from Gospel Times, Pastor Mu Xi gives six steps things to consider as churches re-open.
What Should We Pay Attention to When Churches Re-open?
Looking back, our church has been closed for over four months in cooperation with efforts to contain and prevent the spread of the pandemic. As of now, churches in many regions are re-opening in an orderly manner. So, what do we need to pay attention to in this time of orderly re-opening, as well as in the time following?
First, we need to adapt to re-opening measures. Although the majority of churches within the country are slowly re-opening, in reality we know that they are not completely open as they used to be, but are opening in a limited capacity, taking many precautionary measures.
These precautionary measures include limiting the number of people allowed at a venue, requiring reservations for gatherings, etc. These are measures not used in the past, and may have a great impact on our experience of gathering. We may not be able to get used to them right away. But that is what it is. These are the prerequisites for churches to open, and we must learn to adapt.
Second, we need to adapt to adjustments in ministry. Many churches have made vast adjustments in their ministries, so as to allow churches to re-open more quickly, and to pastor believers well to the greatest extent possible. These adjustments and arrangements of ministries are a completely new beginning for believers and church staff who have ceased gathering offline.
We must gradually adapt to our roles in our areas. First, we must adjust our schedule and understanding, and keep up with the pace. Second, we must quickly familiarize ourselves with the flow of the service as well as the roles we play. Third, we must intentionally cooperate with other staff and teams to increase understanding and agreement.
Third, we need to put aside the weakness of our hearts. For over four months, our gatherings have all been held online. Though it seems like we have built a big group of 500 people, where everyday someone is singing hymns, praying, reading the Bible, and preaching, but in reality, what is the believers’ level of participation? What are the actual numbers? Anyone with experience of online gathering knows that the number of people actually attending a gathering is smaller, maybe only a third of the number of group members.
Furthermore, some believers were not even in the groups. Throughout the entire pandemic, they might not have attended any form of gathering. These people who did not attend gatherings will necessarily be weak, and at the appropriate time, we need to put aside the weakness of our hearts, and the church also needs to provide timely offline care.
Fourth, we need to return to the church building. During the pandemic, many churches began gathering online so as to allow brothers and sisters to continue to receive pastoring. As churches begin to re-open, the method of online gathering can cease for a time, or be adjusted.
The past several months of online gathering has helped us to realize in depth that offline gathering is far better because offline gathering is more real. People can truly communicate with one another, and encourage one another, in ways that are impossible in online gatherings. Therefore, we know that online gathering is incapable of replacing offline gathering. Once we are able to gather offline, then we should quickly return to our church buildings.
Fifth, we need to avoid church splits. Church splits can happen at any time, but the probability of it happening during unusual times is clearly higher than normal. The church is one big family. Although it is a community set aside to be holy, it is also a community made up of sinners. There will be different opinions, and even conflicts. This is unavoidable. Before now, the existence of these problems may not have caused church splits, because the time was not yet right.
But with the pandemic, gatherings have stopped for over four months, and are now followed by limited re-opening, not full re-opening. These factors may give church splits an opportunity to happen, so churches with a weaker foundation of unity must pay extra careful attention.
Sixth, we need to be careful of wicked people stealing the sheep. One characteristic of online gatherings is that it is not bound by geography the same way physical churches are. Online, believers can gather by joining any group they want, and even commit themselves to it. With the re-opening of churches, it is possible that brothers and sisters will make a choice to gather somewhere else that they think right, that they think will benefit them. This is something that had rarely happened before. But as brothers and sisters have been away from physical church for a time, no one can be sure what choices they will make. So, what we can do is to carefully guard against heretics and cults using this as an opportunity to infiltrate. We can protect our sheep well, so they are not harmed by wicked people.
I believe that once churches re-open, we will face a multitude of challenges. There will surely be many more challenges beyond what is listed above, and there may even be challenges that we had not expected and are incredibly difficult.
However, we also firmly believe that no matter how many challenges there are, there will be the same number of opportunities, because the other side of challenge is opportunity. Furthermore, we firmly believe that God is faithful, and his grace is sufficient for us, and his grace will make us more than conquerors.
Image credit: Thomas H. Hahn Docu-Images.
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