Last Sunday in New Zealand, we set a record for the lowest church attendance in living memory. Next Sunday will smash that record because we have just begun a four week lockdown. No one is going anywhere.
In an attempt to curtail the spread of COVID-19, many governments are banning public gatherings. Churches, along with schools, restaurants, shops, and cinemas, are closing and no one knows when they will reopen.
What should we do? How should we adjust?
My strong conviction is that we are on the threshold of an unprecedented opportunity. As the world slips into the Valley of Shadow, the church has a chance to shine brighter than ever. People are hungry for hope. Their distractions have been taken away, and they want to hear good news.
This is the church’s time to step up and display the manifold wisdom of God (Eph 3:10). Here are three needs and three corresponding opportunities that weren’t so keenly felt a month ago:
1. People are scared
We need peace. Fear and anxiety are assailing us from all quarters. Every day, the news is bleak and the numbers are bad. The stress we are facing is greater than our ability to face it. What can we do?
The church has a powerful opportunity to demonstrate an alternative way to live, one based on faith rather than fear. We can show people how to find supernatural peace in the Prince of Peace. We can teach them how to fortify their minds in his Word. We can show them how to pray and cast their anxieties on the One who cares.
It is often said, “People are too busy for God.” Guess what. Suddenly we’re not so busy. Unless you’re a healthcare worker or an essential services provider, you probably have more time than ever. Redeem the time. Draw aside and connect with God. Help others to do the same.
2. People are isolated
We need connection. Locked away in our homes, away from schools and workplaces, our sense of isolation and loneliness is greater than ever. We need to reach out (without touching), and connect (without infecting).
Often we wear masks pretending all is well. Guess what. All is not well. But that’s okay, because Jesus is here. When we are anxious and stressed, he welcomes us with comforting arms.
Sadly, the church has a reputation of mask-wearing superficiality. We have an opportunity to put an end to pretending and proclaim the good news of God’s radical acceptance. “You’re not okay, I’m not okay, and that’s okay because Jesus is with us. Come as you are to the throne of grace in your hour of need.”
3. People are lost
We need saving. Thank God for good government and wise leaders. But when your ship is sinking you need a greater Help than that. Life is more than lockdowns and hiding inside. When you’re in isolation, free from your usual distractions, you have time to think. Why am I here? Where am I going?
The church has a golden opportunity to highlight the things that matter. True, Christians get distracted just like anyone. We wander and forget our First Love. But when the crisis comes, we know which direction to run.
And how are we going to tap into these opportunities? Not with formal programs and church committees, but with the sort of unbridled creativity and good humor that is springing up all over the world. This may not be the time to stage large rallies in rented tents. Nor is it the time to go door-knocking (unless you’re checking on your neighbors; definitely do that).
This is the time to experiment, engage, and – dare I say – enjoy the moment. Or at least live in it, fully human, free from fear. Yes, storms are frightening. But those who have Jesus in their boat have nothing to fear.
COVID-19 is an unprecedented storm, but we have unprecedented tools for connecting with others. We have social media and Facetime and Hangouts and Livestreaming and Instagram and Tik Tok. We have phones, letters, texting and messaging. And we have prayer! Grab your weapon of choice and go fight for someone. Strengthen those who are weak-kneed. Lift up those who are down. Lay proverbial hands on the sick and heal them.
Best of all, we have the Holy Spirit. Why not ask him right now for a word of encouragement for someone and then deliver his message?
Church attendance may be down for a season, but the Church has not quit the battlefield. Not by a long shot. By the grace of God we will win this war and lead many to freedom. I fully expect the Church family to grow as a result of this present crisis.
We will sing for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners. (Psalm 20:5)
If this post has inspired you, go, set up your banner. If you have sensed the creative nudging of the Spirit, run with what he gives you. Tell us what you plan to do in the comments below. And if you see other opportunities for the church at this time, let us know about those too.