Lockdowns & Online Church: Time to Evaluate?
Are we really settled with the idea that the authorities can mandate what we do as a church, who we meet with, what we wear, etc.? Is the plan to do what is commanded, or what is culturally popular, whatever the reason? Or are we making different plans to handle what may still lie ahead of us?
There are few subjects as controversial as Covid-19. Many churches are feeling the stretch of a full spectrum of views within the congregation. It certainly feels safer to not venture into writing about this subject, but I feel it is important that we evaluate what we do in church world—whatever our view of the actual issue may be. Obviously, each context is different. What my church was allowed to do will be different than the rules in your country or state. What my church decided to do may have been inappropriate for another church in the same town because of different facilities, congregational demographic or local context.
At the beginning of the global crisis in early 2020, most churches saw the situation as a no-brainer. We were confronted with a new virus and we did not know the extent of the risk (although early predictions were anticipating hundreds of millions of deaths globally). What we did know was the importance of everyone pulling together to save lives. To illegally meet as a church during those early weeks could easily have been the talk of the town (and it would have made Jesus look very bad). So for us, and probably for most churches, it was time to get creative and adapt to this unforeseen and temporary lockdown.
Now, 18 months later, we are in a better position to look back and do some evaluating. In our context we had a long first lockdown, followed by a summer of restrictions, then a shorter lockdown in October/November. The third lockdown, for the first half of 2021, did not apply to churches (although there were plenty of restrictions).
Our church experienced the sudden move to “meeting” online without a budget for setting up a high tech studio. When we were allowed to meet again, we experienced meeting in different venues because our normal venue would not rent to us during the pandemic. We met in a place where our numbers had to be limited way below our congregation size. We met in a field, actually two different fields, a large English garden, and as guests of a very kind Anglican church in our town.
Every church will have its own story. Every church situation is unique. I am not writing to criticize anyone. But we should all evaluate. We are so thankful for the way our congregation responded with flexibility and enthusiasm to the constant changes. As leaders I am sure we made mistakes during these months. We probably all did. None of us ever took a seminary class in how to do lead a church during a never-before-seen global health crisis!
So as we look back at online church under various levels of lockdown, let’s take stock of both the costs and the benefits.