Church Services During the PandemicDr. John Neufeld
I recently received a phone call from a dear friend who is also a young pastor. He simply wanted to bounce some ideas off of me, regarding what to do in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. In British Columbia, churches are now permitted to have gatherings of 50 people at a time. Singing is frowned upon, as we all spray when we sing, and thus, singing can become a means of spreading the virus. Some people, my friend said, wanted to know if this was a time for civil disobedience. After all, doesn’t the Bible tell us to sing to the Lord?
I recently read about a Pastor in the US who was apologizing to his congregation for the spread of the virus during his meetings. He said, “We tried to take all the necessary precautions, but somehow, the virus spread in our choir.” One has to wonder whether he was unaware of the simple fact that having a choir and taking precautions are polar opposites during this time.
And yet, a great many Christians are concerned about what the long-term effects of interrupted church services might have. One study conducted by the Barna Research Group in the US suggests that one-third of church attenders have stopped attending church during the COVID-19 pandemic. They mean by that, attendees have stopped watching their church’s online services. Another 14% have switched to watching a different church. Indeed, Barna suggests that only 35% are still and only attending their pre-COVID church.
My sense is that these numbers are misleading. In truth, church doesn’t feel like church when you watch services online, often conducted in an empty building. I suggest these numbers may mean nothing at all. For instance, if someone has taken to listening to a number of different podcasts and online programs, but not necessarily the programs from their church, this may not mean they won’t come back when the pandemic is over.
But still, one can sense the anxiety of what such a long session of church closures might mean. And, for whatever it’s worth, here are my suggestions for churches during this pandemic:
- Since it is permissible to meet with 50 people, I would urge churches to continue services based on these numbers, provided they provide appropriate social distancing procedures.
- I would encourage churches to make masks available at the door and to encourage all congregation members to use them.
- I would encourage churches to have special music and to encourage their people to hum, but not sing. By the way, I have met with Christians in countries where they are being persecuted. They will often meet in secret places, and only whisper some of the songs, lest they be heard. I think we should tell our people about believers who have been doing this for years. We should say that these present difficulties will remind us of what our brothers and sisters have endured for years. In this way, these days will allow us to express and feel solidarity with them.
- I would encourage churches to hold multiple services to accommodate all worshippers. This might mean services throughout the week. In Cuba, when the Castro regime put restrictions around building church buildings, churches often accommodated by holding services throughout the week, to accommodate the growing number of new believers. We need to tell our people this, and so, to also express solidarity with those who have had all manner of inconveniences in the past.
From my perspective, it is time to begin services again. We can do it safely and wisely. But brothers and sisters, let’s get back to the fellowship of God’s people!