In many events where audiences crowded in prior to our universal Covid19 “experience,” video now shows “Cardboard Cutouts” in the seats where fans previously occupied them. These are the enthusiasts, folks who once filled the arenas, stadiums and conference centers. There is no denying that caution must be taken and that for some who are at greater risk, the wiser course is to remain in waiting until the virus is completely erased locally or we are confident that an immunization is readily available and successful.
It’s a matter of personal conscience as to when the right time to gather in sizable venues is best for an individual. I won’t judge you and you offer grace to me. Fair enough? And it is certainly no cause for the throwing of stones or other derision as differing decisions are made about health and safety. After all, we are not privy to people’s medical or emotional well-being and even if we were, who are we to provoke someone who has a legitimate fear? Add to that the caution many must take due to the “at risk” populations within their family, work and social circles. To be biblical about it, let’s not allow personal preference to become a “stumbling block” to others. (Rom. 14:13) Why create division over something as personal and practical as that? Loving one’s neighbor should cause us to rise above criticism. Loving one’s neighbor should also cause us to take into reasoned account how we can avoid adding to their concerns or fears.
There will be scores of empty seats around the world when churches reopen en masse. Reliable researchers estimate from 25% to even 35% of the people attending church pre-Covid19 will not return to church after Covid19 is no longer a threat. Churches in the U.S. stopped assembling together as early as February 2020 and many will stay “closed” and livestream at best at least until the end of the year. Every group feels they have agonized and have sound reasons for their decisions and I would venture to say they have the best interest of their people at heart . . . not some lightened work load. To be honest (well, all of this has been honest), ministry in many ways has been more difficult during the pandemic.
As to whether this means they will also terminate online viewing, this is still in question, but obviously there will be more available seating “in-house” than one would wish giving us the opportunity to help fill them through outreach. While this may be a startling prediction to some, there is a bright side to consider. The core of a gospel family, an individual church, has always been its strength. Persecution, even hard times, even a pandemic, have the capacity to galvanize a people. The early church in Acts is a perfect illustration of how commitment to God and each other can result in both spiritual and numerical growth!
Super-sized challenges, ones in which we acknowledge we need to press closer to God and to the family of God are vehicles God uses to fortify our faith and enlarge our trust in what our kingdom venture is all about. In many ways ministries will have to adapt to new and creative measures which will actually improve what was previously offered. Certainly we will want to enhance our capacity to reach people through virtual means and find exciting means to move in outreach and evangelism. These are positives, aren’t they?
As a Pastor, I hate the thought of anyone leaving my church and not coming back. It will happen, but I still hate the notion. I have talked with some in our gospel family who for very legitimate reasons need to avoid social opportunities while there are still viral or during future health threats. Understood and affirmed. But for some, this season of isolation has created the opportunity to grow cooler, not warmer in one’s faith. Some folks are already “drifting” from God and from church. I pray you are not one of these but are far from that mindset. Drift is slow and sometimes undetected. Swimming back against the “current” will very likely give excuse for one to just give up. I pray this would not be you. Be careful. This is subtle.
These are tense and stressful times for a lot of reasons. We all know that. Some of us experience more turmoil than others. And we want to help in any way we can to encourage your forward motion (and maintain sanity). I will ask you to do one thing. If it will be some time before you feel able to gather with us again and you will allow us to call you or even visit (health permitting), would you just drop a quick email to firstname.lastname@example.org and invite us to contact you, pray for you or do whatever for you? Aloneness and separation are not healthy long-term and we want to stay connected in any way possible. Just a quick note. Maybe an update. Let’s never allow Covid19 to be a back door for anyone’s faith life and relationships. Let’s not become a permanent “Cardboard Cutout.” Think About It.