Interview: Calvary chapel reopened | The trade
Ed: Brian, your website explains: "We are open." Why are you and what does that mean for the Calvary Chapel now?
Brian: After the governor's mandate in California, we suspended all personal services for three months. When this was lifted, we considered how we should provide personal services while realizing that at this point most people would rather be online.
There were people who really wanted to go back to church to be in a place where if they couldn't hug someone they could at least see another Christian and be with the family of God. Because of the limitations and the number, we decided to accommodate as many as possible while creating a safe environment.
Jordan and Lance formulated a plan. We're back about five or six weeks now. We control the changes as they come: the governor said a few weeks ago that he shouldn't be singing, and a few days ago we weren't allowed to have indoor services. We have a large room, so we're moving everything outside now.
Ed: As you know, a lot of people don't come back. Maybe 15-20 percent come. Why not just stay online?
Brian: We knew that not everyone would come back, but some people did. We have the energy, we have the workforce, so let's do that, we decided. We felt it was worth it. Maybe about 20 percent of the people came back, maybe more if you take into account those who come every other week. Everyone who came back was very grateful for the option.
Ed: How did you prepare originally?
Jordan: Six weeks ago we wanted to meet on our large practice soccer field. We saw the pictures of San Francisco Parks with the spray-painted circles for social distance. But officials said no to us. So our first iteration was a drive-in service. This has been a popular thing in Southern California since Robert Schuller started it.
Ed: When I was there on Sunday, the complexity was daunting. Talk about it.
Jordan: I spent a lot of time doing it. I was influenced by Andy Crouch, who described the pandemic as a little ice age. That challenged me to think creatively. We knew we had the space. We came up with this eight-zone approach.
Each zone has a maximum of up to 100 people according to the state of California. Each has a guest team that welcomes people, a health and safety team that rehabilitates between services, a team of ministers, and either a minister or pastor assigned to them, who can pray and encourage people with social distance protocols.
People had reserved every seat on the first Sunday. So we opened a ninth zone with space for 250 indoor and 350 outdoor areas. Now we will have 350 outside as there will be no inner zones for the foreseeable future.
Ed: What kind of preparation is required to achieve this?
Lance: The state of California has clear guidelines for the establishment of our zones. It is disheartening, but also rewarding in the sense that we are now seeing hundreds of people coming back on campus and giving them life and hope. We have staff and trained volunteers who oversee each zone. Now that we have a system, it's a pretty straightforward process.
Three months ago, none of us looked at high-contact areas such as doorknobs and toilets. The biggest adjustment for us was to look through different lenses where the potential problem areas lie, because we want to provide the safest environment we can, regardless of whether you are a low-risk person or a medium-risk person. We do not recommend visiting high-risk people, but we want to offer the safest area we can.
Ed: How can you help other pastors to know the things that people are most likely to misunderstand?
Jordan: We had people who called to say you need masks. Others said I won't come if you need masks. We had to find the best approach to meet the many different needs of people. We have a high risk zone. We do not force high-risk people to sit in this zone. But we want to honor them by saying that everyone here has to wear a mask.
We want to serve people in the many different risk categories in a way that follows the guidelines while being spirit driven and guided by our service philosophy to ultimately bring about the assembly of the people of God so that they can go out and engage you for what God has for them.
Ed: Many church leaders have told me that they are leading through unprecedented conflicts. How do you run well with these different constituencies with different opinions?
Brian: We are God's servants and we lead His people. We rely on him to give us wisdom and guidance that sometimes go beyond our own understanding of things. I leaned heavily on the Lord in prayer, counseling, and talking to our team.
I shared a private message on Instagram with employees related to the state's order to stop meeting at the house. He thought I surrender. I said,
I'm sorry you feel that way. I try my best to accept my marching orders from Jesus. The Lord gave us a strategy from the start, and He didn't tell us to do something else. We trust him. We have adhered to the things the state demands. We will control it as the spirit leads us to it.
We were not told any singing. We will not sing, but we will be creative and see how the Lord leads in other expressions of worship.
Ed: What are some of the key changes you've made to make it effective but also safe?
Brian: We continued our regular service until we received the order without singing. I said, "Let's see how God will creatively lead us to a meaningful time of worship without the church singing." The team created background music, read songs, and led people through the Lord's Prayer.
They sang about people instead of singing together. It has created some really fresh expressions. The people who weren't here were all crazy. The people who came thought it was great.
Ed: Is there a theological requirement that we should collect? What if Governor Newsom says this is so bad that we can't even gather outside? Withdraw further or say, "No, theologically we think we shouldn't give up the gathering of ourselves?"
Brian: Many people see this as a form of persecution: the government has an agenda to undermine the church. When you see it through this lens, it determines how you react. I don't think the state asked us to do anything that is against the clear commandments of Scripture. I think God is doing something at this moment that we cannot see in the present, but we will see it in due course.
Paul was my inspiration. He understood that he was the prisoner of Christ Jesus rather than Caesar. Our governor is not sovereign. Jesus is. If and when the government orders us not to follow the clear statements of the Scriptures, I will be glad to disobey the government. I don't think that's going to happen.
Ed: If the theaters and other rooms were open, I would be the first person in line to say, "You choose churches, that's religious persecution." But at the moment it is being used consistently.
Brian: We brought one or two cases from California to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court sided with the governor for that very reason.
Daniel: What are some bright spots outside of this Sunday service? What are some of the other ministries that are thriving?
Jordan: I was impressed with our childcare team who did everything. They bring our Lifeway curriculum to parents and children. You have a section in our Sunday service with a nursery rhyme and we distribute the same materials that we provide for the children to print at home.
We are considering how we can encourage parents at home to pass this instruction on. This requires razor-sharp precision.
Ed: The Calvary Chapel has always been known for its passion for evangelism and various types of ministry. How did you mobilize and motivate the church in the pandemic?
Lance: I work with the government, other nonprofits, and other churches in the region. The goal is to be salt and light and to serve and serve the people in the community. When COVID first appeared, one of our regulators asked if we would set up a pop-up pantry. We set up a table in front of our gym, where people in need can get food without conditions.
We gave the word to our church and they started giving. One table became two tables, which then became three. Families who have lost their jobs come to receive each week.
They were grateful that there was someone who looked after them enough to serve and pray with them. Now we're working with Saddleback and their pop-up pantries that serve thousands of families every week.
COVID has offered the Church several ways to show love. We believe that simply serving, loving and giving is a very strong statement at a time when everyone wants to fight and disagree.
Ed: What should a church know that you have learned to develop for its unique situation?
Jordan: Be creative. It has to start there. Our god is a god of creativity. God is still working in a pandemic. We have also tried to be very thoughtful and prayerful about things that we have been doing for decades, and thought this might be a time to talk to people about some of them that we may have to put down permanently.
The people who gather also demonstrate the larger group. As with many churches, our online reach has increased. They watch us interact.
Daniel: Brian, when you think about the future and think about the past few months, what do you see?
Brian: We see this as a time of pruning. We went into the year after doing a Strat-Op (Strategic Operation Plan). It was pretty daunting. The Lord created the strategy for us. We consider this time as a time of recalibration for future service. God cuts us down.
This season makes us a new ministry with a past foundation but a vision for the 21st century. We have a history of revival and church planting around the world. We ask, sir, what do you want to keep? What do you want to throw out We are open.
Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through the Mission Group. The Exchange team contributed to this article.
Daniel Yang is the director of Send Institute, a church planting think tank at Wheaton College's Billy Graham Center.