Magazines 2020 May - Jun Viral church

Viral church

25 May 2020 By David Guretzki

Spreading love, good words and deeds in Jesus’ name

We’ve all seen viral videos. They’re a unique phenomenon of the social media age. Often shot impromptu or in an unexpected circumstance, they circulate quickly and widely on social media feeds worldwide, racking up millions of views in just a few days or weeks.

The mathematics of how viral video spreads and how COVID-19 quickly became a pandemic are similar, but that’s about it. The former is trivial, changes little and is quickly ignored. The latter is serious, changes almost everything and won’t be easily forgotten. Between the time I write and you read this, the pandemic could be worsening, or by God’s grace we’ll be asking the question, "Now what?" Truly only God knows.

COVID-19 has forced the Church worldwide to figure out how to carry on when requirements for social distancing and bans forbidding large group gatherings have become the (temporary) new normal. I’ve been seeking to monitor, as closely as I can, how Canadian churches have been responding. And what I’ve seen so far has been deeply encouraging.

viral church

The first order of business was to figure out how to hold Sunday morning worship when gatherings were no longer permitted. Some opted to go with live feeds of a sermon or a small group leading worship. Others sent out prerecorded messages or written reflections and home liturgies to be read in family or home settings on a Sunday morning. And Zoom, I presume, made a mint in new subscription revenue.

Whatever churches did I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to do it. I’m just glad we tried to discern what the Spirit wanted for each local situation.

That’s heartening for me because in whatever way it is done, it is a public sign that the Church can’t forsake assembling together (Hebrews 10:25), even in crisis. Evidently, we have a deep spiritual intuition, not easily quenched, that we need to gather in Jesus’ name.

I’m also glad to see how this experience has opened many of our eyes to what it must be like to be someone who can’t easily gather with God’s people – homebound or elderly, disabled or poor.

Ironically, some of these people are now able to access church gatherings in new ways – precisely because of the Church’s quick-thinking improvisation. It’s good to have our eyes opened to the experience of those on the margins and I hope we’ll remember them when (if?) we go back to normal.

This all causes me to ask: What future may the Lord be preparing us for? Perhaps there will be more pandemics to come. Or maybe we’ll find our own worship curtailed for other circumstances beyond our control, whether they be legal, environmental or simply practical considerations. We just don’t know. But gather we must – and I’m confident we will.

But beyond carrying on gathering together in new modes, I predict one of the silver linings coming out of what is unreservedly a global tragedy will be a Church (re)awakened to the reality that it is not just about gathering, but about what we are doing between weekly assemblies. Gathering isn’t merely for its own sake, but a critical means of preparing Christ’s body for ministry when we’re scattered.

Many have said this for a long time: The Church isn’t just what happens on Sunday morning, but what goes on during the week. And let’s face it, the great majority of the time the Church is scattered in homes, businesses, hospitals and schools; on buses, trains, planes and automobiles; and in grocery stores, banks, malls and hockey arenas.

We’re the Church there too. So the current crisis, I believe, is a major test for how effective our gathering prepares us to be the Church while we’re scattered. By no means do I claim to know the mind of God on COVID-19. Yet I can’t help wondering whether He is using it to help us get better at being the Church when we aren’t together, no matter the reason.

What an amazing thing it would be if, after this crisis is over, the traumatized public would say, as the 4th-century historian Eusebius once remarked, that in the midst of crisis, "The deeds [of Christians] were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the God of the Christians." (Such words are of course reminiscent of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:16.)

May the Church become, with increasing measure and for the common good, a viral Church – irresistible and immensely appealing – spreading love, good words and deeds in Jesus’ name to everyone we come in contact with.

david guretzki
David Guretzki of Ottawa is executive publisher of Faith Today and serves The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada as executive vice-president and resident theologian.

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