Funny thing, I don’t really like long titles, but what’s a guy to do?
In my previous post I promised that in the next I would “address ways that churches (including the one I pastor) can use this current crisis to turn us into the effective, healthy Church Body we should have been all along.”
But before I get into that, I would like to give an answer to the question I suggested many people are going to be asking: “Why do I even go to church?”
I know there have been some very well-written and scholarly responses to the above question, and, for me, it all comes down to a command from Jesus Christ. Regardless of what I can get out of it, going to church (gathering with other believers in a biblical, congregational, ecclesiastically-sufficient context, not simply a home Bible study) is an act of obedience and worship. But what is the answer going to be to this generation?
One reason I believe the question will be asked is because of perceived value: “What am I really getting in return for my investment?”
When people who attend only sporadically, at best, come to discover they don’t miss much through this crisis, the likely response will be to quit going. And who could blame them? If their only reason for going was a religious one, one that satisfied their conscience and offered a visible sense of faith, then why go through all the effort to go to church and be around people they see but once or twice a month? Why not just watch online?
But when people who attend regularly begin to see very little difference between being in church and NOT being in church, what will justify going back? In other words, if while not allowed to attend corporate worship no one gives them a call, sends them a note, checks on their family, or in any way recognizes their personal worth outside of a number on an attendance roll, why be a statistic?
The reality of the human condition is that people want to be loved, respected, needed, and wanted. What I see happening is many church-goers figuring out through this absence that the relationships and friendships they thought were real were only facades meant to perpetuate an institution. Given enough time to think, many will conclude the only reason they were being asked to go to church was to fill a slot, keep up the numbers, or satisfy the ego of someone who didn’t even care to call or check on them.
Revitalizing the Value
It is in times of crisis that we find out who we really are, what we are made of. When it comes to the Church, specifically the local congregations, we have the opportunity to discover if we are more than a weekly social club with voluntary dues and free potlucks.
Go to the sixth chapter of the Book of Acts and what do you see? You see believers who walked through life together, not just on Sunday, but throughout the week. They were a community, a family, one that took care of each other OUTSIDE the walls of any structure. Did they regularly meet at the temple for instruction? Absolutely! Daily, even! But they were also there for each other through struggles, breaking bread in each other’s homes and meeting temporal, tangible needs.
And note: all of the above, as listed in Acts 6, was done BEFORE persecution came. This was the model of church life that would carry them through the truly difficult days just around the corner.
Folks, what we should have been doing all along is making sure there is a legitimate, tangible, temporal value to being a member of a local body of Christian believers. This means more than offering a nice place to sit for an hour, generic smiles, and a sweet, full-color, take-home bulletin with built-in sermon outline. It means genuine inclusion into a Family that loves you, values you, walks with you through the good and bad, and has your back when no one else will.
If we churches don’t want to lose members after this pandemic, then we need to be working overtime to do everything possible to revitalize our sense of family and our duties as a community of Believers. If we simply wait until we are allowed to gather again before we acknowledge each other, then we are hypocrites.
What Bethlehem Is Doing
In some ways we are unique, but in other ways we are well behind the curve. However, every church, to some degree or another, is having to do some new things.
Regarding questions of real and perceived value, let me share with you what we at Bethlehem Baptist are trying to do or improve.
1. Expand our social media footprint. Long before the COVID-19 crisis erupted, I stressed to our church that we needed to make every use of social media and the internet. Some folk were a little skeptical, as you can imagine. Yet, a few others took me seriously enough to get to work on a website. Unfortunately, the initial energy waned, thereby leaving us with a handicap at this time.
However, one thing that I was able to do early on was drastically increase our presence on Facebook. This is still a work in progress, but increasing posts and promoting the content has brought a good deal of fresh attention to Bethlehem Baptist. Believe it or not, there is not a local television station in our county! Therefore, social media is the only real-time media in town. Not taking every advantage of its usefulness would be tragic.
Even before this crisis, I had already been posting videos to YouTube, then to our church Facebook page. So, when we couldn’t meet as a congregation, going live on Facebook was second nature to me – I’d already been doing it on my own. I even created a county-wide community Facebook page which could function as one more channel through which we could reach people.
2. Make contact with member families. If we can shake their hands or hug their necks on Sunday (we still do those kind of things down here in middle Georgia), we’d better be sure to make a call (or visit, if possible), send a card, or do something. We’ve got to show that we appreciate people and miss them when they are not here.
The worst thing we can do to people is allow them to go unnoticed.
3. Seek out needs to be met. There are still a lot of people down in this part of the country who don’t like to ask for help, and many of them are the elderly. However, that doesn’t remove the responsibility of the Church to care for those in need; it mandates that we should be looking for ways to serve.
Too often the complaint leveled at Christian churches is that all we want is people’s money. Of course, that is patently false. However, even though perception is NOT reality, we need to prove to our own members, at least, that it’s not what they put in the offering plate that makes them special.
Like I’ve said before, when life (or China) gives us Coronavirus-lemons, make holy lemonade. And by that I mean that we should look at this as a cutting-edge, next-generation opportunity to engage our communities with the Gospel. Even more, we should up our game and engage the world!
We used to sit around and talk about what the Church was going to look like in the future, how we would operate, and how we would maintain our cohesiveness. Then, right out of the blue (or Communist red) came this tiny little virus that has rocked the world-wide community, including Christians. Doing “church” like we’ve always done it is no longer an option and no longer up for debate.
I’m looking forward to once again gathering in our beautiful old sanctuary, but I praise God for the shock to our traditional system! And what’s even more exciting than seeing congregations stepping up to the plate and swinging is the feeling that this could be the beginning of a new era.
As we re-evaluate, God may be sending revival!