Citylight Family – in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, churches everywhere are working through how to respond to this developing situation. How can we effectively minister to the needs of our congregations and the community around us when we can’t gather together? How can we encourage people to look to Jesus in a season of fear and uncertainty? And how can we prepare our churches to weather this building storm? We wanted to share some of the things that Citylight Family churches are doing to respond to this situation to help and encourage our church family and other ministries.
How Are You Doing?
We cannot effectively lead our churches without first setting our own eyes on Jesus, and this is all the more important in the midst of a crisis. Though the threat of this virus is very real, let us remember that Jesus is still on the throne, the tomb is still empty, and God is still working all things together for the good of those who trust in Him! Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
The Gathered Church
Necessary measures to help halt the spread of this virus will mean that traditional Sunday gatherings won’t be possible in the weeks and months ahead. Even after mandatory quarantines and recommendations are lifted, it will take some time for things to return to ‘normal’ as this pandemic is expected to remain an ongoing concern for the next year or two, particularly for the most vulnerable among us. We must find new and innovative ways to take the gathered church into the homes of our church body for both this current season and those to come. Livestreaming worship and preaching through platforms such as Facebook and YouTube is a step in the right direction, but we must also consider how we can expand upon those tools to not only take worship services online, but also the many personal interactions that happen at a Sunday gathering.
Social distancing practices which will help halt the spread of this disease also have the unfortunate potential of leading to social isolation from community. With Sunday mornings and City Group gatherings off the table, we must find new ways to personally connect with and encourage the people of our congregations. Facebook’s live comments section can be a great place to interact with and respond to people during a livestreamed gathering and promoting an email address for prayer requests can provide a way for people to reach out and then get a follow up call later in the week. Additionally, Citylight churches have been working to take proactive steps such having pastors and staff call or FaceTime church members during the week to check in and encourage them.
Over the past week, we’ve seen a heightened desire for community and regular connection in our church bodies. Citylight Omaha’s livestreamed prayer and worship had a noticeably bigger online audience than typically attend their regular monthly gathering, with many people interacting in the comments section during the event. They’ve decided to continue hosting online prayer and worship as a weekly event to provide an additional connection point during this season. Several Citylight churches are also exploring livestreaming regular conversations with their pastors where people can comment and interact in real time.
The Scattered Church
Social distancing recommendations have also made most City Group gatherings impossible or inadvisable at this time. Rather than ceasing to meet, we’ve seen many City Groups start to use tools such as Zoom video conferencing to continue to safely gather as a large group and in huddles, while other City Groups have chosen to multiply into smaller groups of two or three families. Pastors and staff members are equipping and encouraging City Group leaders through these changes via video conference calls and one-on-one FaceTime or phone calls.
In responding to this crisis, the scattered church has an unprecedented opportunity to take the lead in demonstrating the love of Jesus to one another and to a watching world. By sharing groceries with neighbors and strangers in need, preparing encouraging gift packages for isolated seniors in assisted living homes, and dozens of other tangible acts of service, Christians are finding ways to share the hope of the Gospel. Though church doors may be closed for a time, the doors of The Church are opening to love those around us in the face of fear and uncertainty.
With church offices closed and in-person gatherings on pause for some time, staff members are now adjusting to working exclusively from home. Short Zoom and Google video conference calls at the start of each weekday morning have proved a helpful rhythm for fighting against isolation, continually reminding each other of the hope of the Gospel, and sharing new ministry approaches and opportunities. Staff members are constantly exploring new ways to engage with people via social-media, messaging, and FaceTime and phone calls. We’re encouraging staff members to spend more intentional time with the Lord. We also realize that many of our staff members have young kids at home due to ongoing closures of schools and childcare centers, so we’re working to give each other greater flexibility throughout this season.
This is a time of economic uncertainty and we expect significant impacts to the financial health of many churches. In the absence of in-person gatherings, we want to clearly communicate this need through our livestream gatherings and weekly emails and intentionally communicate how people can sign up for online giving or mail a check. Churches are also working to exercise good stewardship by reducing their operating expenses and freezing discretionary purchases while remaining open-handed in continuing and expanding benevolence support at a time where there is great need in our congregations. Additionally, programs such as the Small Business Administration’s low-interest disaster loans may provide support to help shore up the financial stability of churches against longer-term impacts.
Though we do not know what the next six weeks or six months of this pandemic may hold in store, we press on with an unshakable hope in the person and work of Jesus. He will continue to build His Church, and the gates of Hell will never stand against it! As Paul declares in Romans 8:38-39, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen!