Nearly eight weeks ago, every church in America had to shut its doors and panicked as we all moved to an online format to hold church experiences/services. For many people, including us, we have been exploring uncharted territories. Questions about engagement, groups, discipleship, giving and more has kept pastors and leaders up for many nights as they try to navigate through a pandemic that our generation has never seen before.
Today, churches are looking at “reopening” as quickly as possible. People are desperate for social interaction. Pastors are tired of preaching to a camera. And most people want life to resume back to normal as soon as possible.
Here in New York State, our situation is probably different than many of other states and countries around the world. We have seen over 321,000 people infected with the Coronavirus and around 25,000 people have lost their lives, with these numbers ticking upwards still. Despite the rising death toll and amount infected, the question people are asking is, “When is the church going to reopen?”
Should we reopen sooner rather than later?
This is a question that has come up in a lot of community circles that I am engaged with and follow. Many people have total opposite opinions concerning how and when the church should reopen. Let’s face it, no one wants the church to open more than a Senior Pastor. But how we plan and the steps we take are so important during this season.
Remember the words of Paul in his letter to the Romans, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1 ESV). Paul was addressing the Christians in Rome who were under persecution from the Roman government. Even under persecution Paul was encouraging them to be subject to the Roman authority. The reason I bring this up is because we are not being persecuted at all. We can still worship, read our bibles, share about Jesus, post videos, etc. By changing our method and approach to church, we are honoring our governing officials while protecting those that are most vulnerable.
Should we reopen?
Yes! But how we reopen is going to be crucial. I believe we have more nonbelievers looking at the church right now for a source of hope. They are looking to see how the church is going to respond or react. By stating that we are going to honor our governing officials is displaying that we are not consumed with ourselves, but that we are genuinely looking at the best interest with everyone around us, regardless of our stance on politics. This is an opportunity for the churches reopening to be a witness to everyone around us. It’s an opportunity for us to be a humble, selfless church, putting the needs of others in front of our own. (See Philippians 2)
We need to be a people that's moved by wisdom and humility before pride and emotion. When we reopen our churches, we must be clear, precise and thinking of others. I strongly recommend every church to follow the guidelines laid out by the federal and state governing officials. Wear a mask, disinfect, practice social distancing etc. This is an opportunity for us to be as wise a serpent (Matthew 10:16) and to prove to the world that we care for them above our need for church to look as it did.
If I could be so bold to say this to anyone reading this, if you feel the spirit is leading you to have church open, not follow the guidelines laid out, and do whatever you “feel” the spirit is leading you to do, it is foolish and what I would argue, against the will of God. The same spirit that inspired the scriptures is not going to inspire you to contradict the character and nature of God. Please, for the sake of those who are far from God, don’t be unwise. For the sake of those that are more vulnerable, don’t be selfish. For the sake of your influence, don’t be too hasty to ignore what has been laid out. Pastors, we need you to lead the world through this reopening. Let the beauty of the church shine bright. It is our charge from scripture to lead her well.
That is why, at City Church, we will be following our governing officials and local leaders closely during our reopening. The Federal and State government is recommending a phased approach to opening the economy back up again. I think that this is a lesson that the church can learn from and honestly, use to their strengths.
As of the writing of this, we are still on “lockdown” as a state. However, many businesses are taking steps towards reopening. I think that the church should do the same. Therefore, what I am laying out below is not set to a timeline based on dates or hopeful wishes, but based upon state recommendations and medical data.
In every phase we will:
- Follow the CDC and State Guidelines
- Practice Handwashing
- Wear Mask and provide them for those who don’t have one
- Practice Social Distancing
- Enforce that the sick stay home
- Protect our church body and the most vulnerable
We know that in New York when the stay at home order expires, many people are going to want to get back to normal. However, that is just NOT the case for our church. Upon the first day of “Phase 1” in our state, we are going to move to Phase 1 as a church.
This is a simple, first step to start to encourage people to safely gather again. During Phase 1, we are allowing the Community Groups that have been meeting online or have disbanded during this time, to open back up for in home meetings as long as they follow the CDC and State recommendations. As of now, we do not know the amount of people that will be allowed to gather together, but we are expecting it to be somewhere around 10-20 people. We will allow groups, if they are comfortable, to start meeting again in person.
Regardless of what Phase we are in as a state, our phase two will take place at least 14 days after the mandate on groups gathering has been lifted, so a minimum of 14 days after phase 1 for our church has started. This will be the most crucial stage of our reopening as a church.
We will be moving to a House Church model, where the House Churches will meet together in homes, pray, take communion, share a meal and watch the live stream together as a group. The limit to the amount of people in the home is still undetermined until we know what the state is going to allow.
We believe this will give people a chance to start gathering again on Sunday mornings while building intentional community. Our goal is to start with 8-10 House Churches, knowing that not everyone will attend once this starts.
We have a House Church guideline that will be handed out to each host home leader. They will include taking attendance, having a clean and safe home, sharing a meal together, etc. We will also provide City Kids activities for the smaller children while the adults are watching the online experience.
I will be doing a second blog and a podcast in the next week to talk about the mechanics of this structure, the guidelines and how people “sign up” while protecting the host home. I am very excited about this approach and what we believe will happen through this.
Phase 3 is not a huge change, but one that will start to build momentum. Our House Churches will continue as planned on Sunday mornings. We will move to a live audience on Sunday Mornings for our stream once the state allows groups of 50 or more to start congregating.
This will be an RSVP only through Eventbrite or similar platform, and despite it being 50 people, we will limit a live audience to around 30 people to ensure that we can practice social distancing as well as have room for our volunteers who are currently serving. (Our studio space is much smaller that our normal auditorium space). Again, I must stress that we will be enforcing the CDC, State and Local mandates for gatherings.
Our hope is that the House Church model will continue to grow during this season for people and the we can start to multiply some of them as they expand.
We feel that it is best (as of now) to not hold a Live Sunday for the entire church until we can meet together in a large group with at least 250 people. This will be the start of the “New Normal”. We want to make it feel like a Sunday Experience again, one that is engaging, full of energy, and one big party.
We will have City Kids, all of our volunteer area’s staffed, and want it to be as close to normal as possible while practicing the CDC guidelines. We understand that this will take months to get to, but we feel that this is the safest way and best way for our church to move forward.
We will continue to stream our Sunday Experiences live for those who still might not feel comfortable about coming out to a large gathering.
Our hope is that through these phases, we can rebuild community within our church as well as depth with Jesus Christ. It is a more simplistic approach to ministry than what we’ve had before, but it is also a chance for us to be very intentional about developing and creating community.
Is this for Everyone?
No, the bottom line is that this approach is not for everyone. This is what our Leadership Team feels is best for us at this time. We understand that smaller churches may be able to meet together much sooner. We also understand that larger churches may have to wait until a later time. I think what’s important is looking and thinking outside of the box of what church has been in the past.
As a church, this is an opportunity for us to model what submission and honor to our governing authorities looks like. This is a way for us to set an example to nonbelievers while inviting them into Gospel Community.
Remember, we’re doing this "For the One” above, our Heavenly Father, by reaching the one who is far from God, seeing them come into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
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