by Adam Dolhanyk
It won’t be this Sunday, but soon our churches will begin to hold public services again. How soon will it happen? What changes can we anticipate? Today’s blog is by Adam Dolhanyk, Director of our Church Health Team and pastor of Faith on Hill in Milwaukie, Oregon. Here’s his perspective on how we should approach getting back together!
Unlike the shutdown in March, which happened rather quickly, our re-entry into public, in-person ministry will likely be a much slower progression. But this re-entry process can be an incredible opportunity for our churches if are willing to submit ourselves to Gospel work, with the foresight to plan ahead, through the leading of the Holy Spirit.
While none of us know exactly what re-entry will look like, we can make some common-sense assumptions and follow some broad, general principles. Here are four guiding principles that our churches can follow in our re-entry:
THE HUMILITY TO LISTEN. God has established our governing authorities, and short of sin, we should submit to their authority (Romans 13) and pray for them (1 Timothy 2:2). Churches and individual Christians should humbly heed the advice of our public health officials and reject the sinfully rebellious spirit of our age. So, as we begin our re-entry process we need to proceed under the biblical authority of our elected officials and public health experts. At the time of this writing, what this means is that none of our churches should be planning to open before June and possibly even as far out as July or further in some cases; with plans in place to maintain public health guidelines.
GET AHEAD OF THE CURVE. The wise plan ahead, and our churches need to be wise (Matthew 10:16). It is likely that by the time we reopen our buildings, they will have been largely unused for several months. Almost certainly we will be under social distancing restrictions that will likely extend for 1-2 years. Finally, we have been connecting with new people through our online platforms, and we need to ask: are we ready to receive them? Our churches must begin to plan now to be ready for re-entry. Everything from a pre-reopen deep clean to social distancing policy, to what changes need to be made to minister to new people we have connected with virtually should be thought through.
STAY TRUE TO OUR MISSION. God has called our churches to be a witness of Jesus and make followers of Jesus (Acts 1:8, Matt. 8:19-20). Our churches have been forced to shed all but the most essential things during this pandemic. The sacred cows & untouchable programs have been offline for weeks and somehow our churches are still here. A church that is inward focused is likely unhealthy and almost certainly not fulfilling our mission to the lost. Unhealthy churches will seek to return to the status quo but healthy churches shed the things that have distracted us from that mission going forward. For healthy, gospel-focused churches, there is no going back to normal.
MOVE FORWARD IN PREPARED FAITH. Only God knows what the future holds but we can be prepared. As we have already said, it is very likely that we will remain under social distancing for the foreseeable future. There will be those who can’t come back to church right way, there will be those who won’t come back to church right away. For these reasons and others, our churches will need to maintain a strong online presence such as live streaming and online giving. We will need an active outreach to those who are isolated and a clear plan to connect new people with the things that matter most: The Gospel and God’s family.
BEFORE YOU GO
One of the things I kept saying as we shifted to online church was that “we don’t need to get it 100% right the first week.” But we only had a short time to get ready. While re-opening our churches well might seem like a daunting task, we have time to prepare. People need the victorious hope of the gospel in these dark days and Christ-followers like ourselves can be ready and able to bring that hope.