It would seem fair to say that 2020’s pandemic (and its ongoing impact) took us all by surprise. Governments were left scrambling to address the panic and chaos that began to emerge from the threat of Covid-19. Industries (such as the hospitality sector) looked to meet the looming challenges threatening their various existence due to the imposed lockdowns. Hospitals and clinics were being overrun by the raw demand placed on them because of the pandemic. And our beloved churches were not exempted nor excepted from being impacted terrifically by this wave of horror.
We not only began to lose dear members of our church, but we also found ourselves having to close, to stop meeting together for encouragement, guidance, and training. Many saw the imposed closures of our churches as indications of the end-times having come. Dire predictions and postulations were made regarding what was next, and a great bemoaning befell our congregations, as many howled mournfully that the devil seemed to be winning.
And some terrible results have come about since that fateful time. Even though about a year later, it was allowed by law to begin regathering in person (with precautions), congregations everywhere appear to have been diminished. Some had lost members to the disease, while other churches found that people who used to come now longer were in attendance. Some chose not to go for fear of catching or spreading the disease. Still, others decided to remain home, virtually attending online church services hosted by the churches they had previously attended in person. And yet still others chose to “go elsewhere”, visiting churches virtually back in their countries of origin, or perhaps churches that they used to frequent as children but no longer lived locally. Perhaps one of the most tragic happenstances is that many people seem to have just “given up” on the church.
Whatever the rationale, several people chose to “opt out”, thereby impacting the functioning of the local church in its ministry. And all of this has had the cumulative effect of impacting churches negatively in so many ways. People that used to help to serve the church (e.g., opening and closing it up, setting up chairs, helping prepare the potlucks lunches, running the media desks, serving the communion bread, gathering the offerings, etc.) were now often missing. Ministries that used to be carried out faithfully and regularly are now silent and inactive. The pressure to meet local needs has substantially increased upon the few who remain serving.
However, allow me to sound a note of positivity. Despite all that has transpired, there are also things that we can thank God for sincerely. Many of our churches have now begun to use a hybrid service, inviting members to attend in person while also streaming the service to those who may still wish to view it online (whether members or visitors). This increases the “outreach” factor our churches can engage in and should be celebrated. Of course, we will want to ensure that the services we stream are also done with excellence (see Colossians 3:23-24).
The challenges we have been struggling with concerning active participation can poignantly remind us of our need to rely on the Lord for strength. We too often forget that it is not about might, nor power (nor numbers of people in the pew), but by the Spirit of the Lord that we shall overcome whatever challenges are facing us, whether corporately or individually (Zechariah 4:6).
As our church leadership and body begin to realise the “atrophy” that many of our churches have experience, we can start to hear a renewed call from God to engage in ministry that matters. It is time to seek to (re-)connect with our friends and loved ones, the local communities and all those needing a loving touch and word in the name of Jesus. Like those coming out of Babylon, we are given a chance for a fresh start, to rebuild and progress in a direction that gives glory to God and blessings to our fellow human beings. I pray that we take this call seriously and pray for the opportunities God can afford us (Colossians 4:2-6).
Pastor Jerry Smith currently ministers the Norwich and Kings Lynn churches and enjoys looking for ways to connect better with our communities for Jesus.