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What Happens When We Return from COVID-19?

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Last Sunday, I made the announcement to our church that the soonest we will be able to gather for worship again would be May 31. I did my best to remind our church family that even if we resume worship that Sunday, things will be different.

Below, I've detailed a few expectations for our services so that you get a better feel for what may happen when we return.

Fewer people will attend.

This isn’t like what we saw after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Sure, people were concerned about further attacks on our country, but we were still able to attend church services in peace. I remember the attendance rapidly increased for a few weeks but then stabilized once things settled down.

The situation with COVID-19 is very different in the sense that it isn't a one-time event. Because of this, those who are older and those who have pre-existing medical issues are advised not to come to church. Though we will be "together," we will still feel disunified in many ways.

Music may sound different.

This almost goes without saying: fewer people attending means fewer people singing. Some of the members of the band that leads us every Sunday may be unable to attend, which will likely affect the song selection and the sound. For larger churches, this may mean a reduction of the instrumentation and the choir. For smaller churches, it may mean acapella services.

At First Baptist Alcoa, our hope is that, at the very least, we will be able to maintain the spirit of congregational worship regardless of the arrangement or instrumentation of the songs.

Family ministry and Grow Groups will change.

As it stands now, even if we return in the next month or two, we likely will not have Sunday morning Bible study or childcare available. This means the time of corporate worship will likely be noisier with babies and young children crying and playing during the service. It also means that access to our building will be limited.

Fellowship will look very different.

One of the things that I’ve always loved about Sunday morning gatherings is the time of fellowship. Giving someone a hug or pat on the back, or even just a smile, is a great encouragement. Unfortunately, it seems like those things will be gone for quite some time. Social distancing standards say that we need to be a minimum of six feet apart, which means we cannot do those things—even smiling is out due to us wearing masks as a courtesy to others.

The thought of not being able to have any physical contact with my church family is difficult to accept. I’ve been blessed to see some of our church members over the last few months and my first instinct is to run up to them and hug them.

Six feet of space feels like six miles. 

What do we do?

The most important thing to remember during our hopeful return is that we’re not gathering for solely for ourselves. Yes, we should be blessed by the singing, the preaching of God’s word, and the fellowship of the saints (with some restrictions, of course). But we do it primarily to glorify God. It pleases him to hear us sing and his word proclaimed. We also do it for one another. Many in our church are hurting and scared.  

1. Be patient with leadership

Church leaders are doing the best they can. No one I know has ever experienced anything like this, so we are working to make the best judgments we can. Leaders will fail and make mistakes, especially when decisions are not black and white.

2. Consider others before yourself

The easiest way to do this is to wear a mask and stay away from others. You may not like doing that, but there will certainly be people who need you to do those things. This isn’t an issue of Christian liberty—it’s an issue of caring for your Christian brothers and sisters.

3. Be flexible

No one is getting what they want right now. We’re all making sacrifices, and we all have to do things we would rather not do. Some want churches to remain closed and others can’t figure out why we stopped meeting in the first place. We all have different opinions and thoughts about what should happen. Be flexible with people who disagree with you.

4. Be careful to not make this a spiritual issue

I’ve seen and heard too many Christians say things that question the strength of someone’s faith who disagrees with them. This is not a matter of spiritual maturity or the strength of one’s faith. Though we may take it personally, it isn't divisive enough to break the fellowship we share through Christ's blood—and that is the basis of our community.