On the one hand, this has not been a difficult decision. The time-frame for easing restrictions continues to be pushed out with the end of the year referred to more frequently, but beyond that, the logistical effort required to conform to a COVID Safe Plan (e.g., sign in, temperature checks, physical distancing, cleaning between services) and the “cost-benefit” (e.g., all that work to only have 100 people, wearing masks, sitting 3 metres apart, not singing and without mingling) made this a simple decision.
On the other hand, this has been a very difficult decision. We miss the social interaction and are weary of our online experience and the setting of a potential return date in 2021, regardless of how rational that decision might be, seems unduly pessimistic. Besides, lots of other churches are going back to some sort of face-to-face gatherings, why can’t we?
It is this reality that makes this decision much, much more difficult. At the beginning of the restrictions all churches were the same; they all shut down. Now, in-line with government restrictions, some churches are finding ways to meet. And even if it is a pale reflection of what we did in February, it is still deemed to be better than nothing.
Smaller communities of faith were able to go back more quickly, but even some larger churches have now begun to return – with ticketed services, or “rosters” of people who are able to attend each week. The potential of losing people to churches that have gone back is part of what made this decision hard.
There are, however, two overwhelming reasons why I believe that this is the right decision for us to make. First, we face issues as a community of faith that a return to face-to-face gatherings will not solve. More specifically, we have connection issues and discipleship issues. These are not new, but are pre-COVID. And they are complex issues with no single root cause and no silver bullet solution, but returning to what we did before is not one of them. Gathered worship plays a role in connection and discipleship, but, in order to play its part effectively, must be complemented by other, more apt, solutions.
Gathered worship provides a front door to who we are, marks the beginning of relationships, and contributes to our discipleship, but on its own can only provide a space for small talk and, unless we are deliberate and intentional, can become a place where we outsource our discipleship rather than where we are resourced for following Jesus.
To be honest, while it would be disappointing to see some of our community begin to attend another church, our concern should be for those who drift away entirely from faith and end up nowhere.
The resources that would be required to return to face-to-face meetings (and they would be significant) are better channelled to develop the complementary ministries we must have if we are going to see lives changed by Jesus moving forward.
This may very well be different for other communities of faith and their decision to return may facilitate exactly what they need. For us, however, our commitment must be to “solve” these critical issues while we can and we cannot lose heart or our resolve to do so or simply react to what everyone else is doing. We have been given what we hope is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to allow God to birth something new among us that will transform all we do.
This decision allows us to be intentional and On-Purpose about what we do and this leads into the second exciting reason I believe this is the right decision. We are being invited to rediscover our identity as the church; as sent followers of Jesus. Gathering together is part of what we do, but it is only part of it. In a very real way, we are most “the church” when we are participating with the Spirit’s invitation at work, at school, and at home.
This is, of course, going to require work and in what follows I want to provide an overview of what we are hoping to do and what you can do. This is not a comprehensive list, but a representative one outlining the general direction.
In general, there are three areas we are planning to quickly lean into.
1. To Resource Life Groups.
We want to disciple, resource, and equip Life Group leaders and Connect Group leaders to lead our groups to be our primary source of connection, care, and discipleship.
What you can do:
- If you are not in a Life Group have a look at the Life Group Page on GBC Links and see if there’s a group you can join or express your interest in getting involved.
- If you have led a Life Group before or would be willing to be equipped in how to do so, let us know so that we can begin to explore that opportunity.
- If you are in a group, make it your first priority each week. If there is one thing you don’t miss, make it your Life Group.
2. To Refresh our Online Services.
As our online services will continue to be the primary way we “gather” for the next few months we want to refresh what we do with an eye towards the future.
What you can do:
- Continue to participate in the online services.
- Be intentional in inviting people to your home for church (and maybe lunch afterwards).
3. To Do Things Together.
We want to create a sense of community by doing the same things (even if we are not together). For example:
- To set aside Tuesdays as a day we fast and pray. We may not all fast for the same length of time or pray at the exact same time, but we will, nonetheless, be doing it together.
- To hold a donation drive for Hopefield on the second Sunday of every month. Initially, this would be a drive-thru donation drive like that which we held in March. This provides an opportunity for us to serve our community and to do something together.
- The Carols Committee is planning to stream “Carols in the Backyard”; an exclusive carols by candlelight experience that can be watched by anyone anywhere.
What you can do:
- Get involved with these initiatives and share your involvement when and how you can (e.g., invite friends or neighbours to carols in your backyard).
There are other things that we are exploring as well that will take longer to implement and will be communicated as we go. There is also going to be some experimentation along the way and some things that we begin may not continue. The goal, however, will remain the same: to do all we can to facilitate connection and discipleship in our community of faith.
What you can do:
- Pray for our leadership (for wisdom, discernment, and courage).
- Pray for our community of faith (that we might grow in our faith and sense of connection).
- Pray that these things we do would have a disproportionate impact through the “all-things-possible” power of the Holy Spirit.
This feels like a significant turning point for us and one that has tremendous potential to shape our expression and experience of faith forever. In the midst of our feelings of resignation, disappointment, and sadness at the delay, I hope and pray that you will also experience the hope and excitement of this opportunity and join us in making the most of it.