Is the church nonetheless the church?

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The COVID 19 crisis could prove to be a great blessing for the Church. Not being able to gather in church buildings for worship or programs can prove a long-term benefit to God's work.

Pastors and other church leaders had to use creativity and initiative to effectively teach God's Word and make meaningful connections with their people.

In addition, ministers have responded to the current order to stay at home by using low-tech methods such as phone calls, personal letters or notes, and simple care packs to keep in touch with needy members.

The Church has taken this opportunity – and can emphatically say: "Yes, the Church is still the Church!"

Church programming priorities

In recent years, many churches appear to have focused on viewers attending the weekend service and not necessarily on people's attendance.

Members and seekers have gathered for weekend celebrations where on-stage programming is the primary priority of the Church.

Next, the development and implementation of small groups was probably important so that people in smaller congregations could gather as part of the larger church.

Again, the current quarantine has prompted small groups to use technologies like Zoom to meet in online forums. Of course, peer ministries such as youth groups and children's ministries also had to fight to connect to children and their families on the Internet.

After all of these services (worship, small groups, and age group programs) went online, church leaders had to learn to use Internet-based technologies like Facebook Live, Google, and Zoom to accomplish these aspects of their services.

Positive results from COVID-19

The current government orders to stay at home have had an enormous impact on the Church. In many ways, the church has left the building – and that has brought many positive results.

1. The church can communicate effectively online. Several churches have recently published a new slogan or focus on various social media websites: "Don't just go to church – be the church."

Perhaps this is one of the positive results of this corona virus. People who attend services personally have changed to a new practice of seeing services online instead.

Church members and potential visitors, especially younger generations, are already online, and the churches have now recognized that weekend programs need to stay online.

Pastors have also accepted the new reality that social distancing in the near future can have a significant impact on the way churches congregate. Coffee stations, greeting teams or greeters, ministries (such as Sunday school and initiation) and even church sitting practices need to be adjusted and changed.

2. Churches can connect with their people online. Small groups and peer ministries have also shifted their programs to technological platforms.

Ministry organizations and new industries have emerged to help youth and child workers use Internet-based programs (such as Zoom and Go-To-Meeting) to connect creatively with emerging generations.

New zoom games have been created, a web-based curriculum has been created, and parishioners of all ages have learned to stay in touch with newer technology. The use of social media for these purposes has also opened up a new world of contacts for churches.

Due to the nature of platforms like Facebook and Instagram, people can share their church's feeds for worship and news with their own personal networks of friends and neighbors.

This practice not only gives the churches the opportunity to share the gospel online, it can also open a new door for evangelistic contacts to the church once the COVID 19 directive on staying at home has been lifted.

3. Churches can meet the needs of their congregations with high impact using low-tech methods. Another important opportunity for the Church to stand up for the Church has emerged from the pattern of social distancing.

The Church has returned to services that can be achieved through high-tech, low-tech methods to meet the needs of people in their congregations.

Churches have distributed food and meals to needy households, helped the elderly with errands, sent care packages to people in their neighborhoods, asked church people to call other members of the Church, and offered counseling and other forms of help to hurt people online.

The current emphasis on using technology for communication has also helped the churches use other, more personal means to connect with people.

Features of the church The church

There are some key features of the Church that are difficult to achieve effectively online, especially in the long run. Despite all of the circumstances in culture, the Church must show these vital characteristics in order to really be the Church.

It is clear from the Bible that the following functions can only really be fulfilled if the Church gathers in community.

1. Teach. Church service was probably the simplest function to perform online.

Pastors moved into free auditoriums or empty offices to record or stream their weekend news to a waiting audience of church members and others who watch on social media platforms or websites.

Of course, the Church's teaching service is of paramount importance. Ephesians 4: 11-16 understand that God's goal for his people is to grow towards spiritual maturity. In fact, the core of the scriptures is to help believers grow in Christ (2 Timothy 3: 16-17).

Perhaps other Church teaching services (such as children's classes and adult Bible scholarships) have suffered somewhat in the days of social distancing. Pastors and other church leaders need to consider how to restart these programs once the days of isolation with the corona virus are over.

2. Worship. One of the things that many believers missed immensely during the pandemic was the practice of uniting with others in musical worship. Many churches have acquired the license required for their worship teams to legally play music online.

However, this is not tantamount to combining voices with others for lively and meaningful worship. Verses such as Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 teach that musical service between believers ("speaking to one another") with Christ as the center of worship ("making melody in your heart to the Lord") was and is imperative for the Church .

3. Community. Meeting other believers has always been one of the main characteristics of the Church (Hebrews 10:25; 1 Corinthians 11: 17-34). God designed His followers to need fellowship with other believers in the local church.

This was a major dilemma in a world where the churches had not physically met in one place for several weeks. God's people have to connect. Both peer ministry and intergenerational relationships are critical to the Church. These human connections can hardly be carried out on the Internet.

4. Service. COVID-19 has virtually closed a variety of local church services. While some programs have continued online, other service options have been literally discontinued. Churches can offer virtual Bible studies, but it is much more difficult to mobilize people to serve the Lord and serve others unless there is a physical connection.

Passages such as Romans 12: 3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12 emphasize the importance of God's people using their God-given spiritual gifts in certain areas of ministry, most of which are very difficult to reach without coming together .

5. Evangelism. Several churches have figured out how to use social media to reach their congregations in the days of isolation from others. These pages have given many believers the opportunity to electronically share the gospel at a time when they cannot have face-to-face conversations with their neighbors, co-workers, and friends.

Numerous churches have also organized innovative ways to meet some physical needs in their congregations, which has opened the door for other evangelistic contacts. These churches should be commended for their initiative and creativity in difficult cultural difficulties, but effective evangelism requires personal contact with other people.

Today's Church can follow the example of the Apostle Peter after Pentecost in Acts 2: 14-47, Philip's evangelistic endeavors with the Ethiopian in Acts 8: 26-40 and the method of Paul and Silas to Christ with the Filipino prison guard in Acts 16 Share: 16-34. All of these opportunities required personal contact with the recipients of the Gospel message.

6. Administration. The importance of giving the Lord through the local church seemed to be an essential feature of the early church.

This was true in 2 Corinthians 8 and Philippians 4: 10-20, where giving is taught by the local church as the main focus in the New Testament church. The patterns of giving have already fluctuated greatly during the short duration of this pandemic.

Initial reports showed that giving to the local church was higher in the first weeks of social distancing. However, recent statistics show that the trends in donations have decreased significantly in recent weeks.

When things return to a sense of normalcy after the pandemic, the Church is likely to face a new normality of giving and administration that needs to be evaluated.

7. Leadership. God designed a leadership structure for his church with clear roles for pastors or elders. Pastors can “feed” the flock over the Internet (1 Peter 5: 2); In a sense, without personal connections and relationships, an online message is just a lecture.

Pastors also need to take care to “equip the saints for ministry” (Ephesians 4:14), and that too is difficult to achieve through social media.

What does that mean?

During this coronavirus emergency, incredibly positive things happened for the church, and the church is still the church. In many ways, however, it is time for the Church to meet personally and as a community so that these great and biblical functions can really be performed.

An online church seems to be an artificial version of reality. Churches are to be commended for their efforts and innovations in a very difficult time. However, God's Church is designed to gather his people as he allows (Hebrews 10:25; Ephesians 4:16) to accomplish their purpose.

© SparrowStock

Mel Walker is President of Vision For Youth, Inc., an international network of youth ministries, and youth pastor of Wyoming Valley Church in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Mel has been active in various aspects of youth service for over 40 years. He is also an author, speaker, and advisor to churches. For more information on his speaking and writing service, visit www.GoingOnForGod.com. Mel has written 12 books on various aspects of youth ministry and speaks to hundreds of teenagers and parents each year. Mel & Peggy Walker are parents of three adult children, all of whom are employed. You can follow him on Twitter: @vfyouth.

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