Would your church survive a pandemic? The viral outbreak reminiscent of the H1N1 one in Wuhan, China has the world talking. That, and watching Pandemic on Netflix got me thinking about churches’ potential responses.
There’s what we should do as the Church, then there’s the response of local church communities. Imagine there were restrictions on movement and gathering.
I’ve visited cities where there was a ban on gatherings due to a potential viral outbreak. Churches that had planned a city-wide outreach campaign paused their plans.
How would discipleship, and serving one another in your church and community work? How would your church respond to pandemics in your city? How would you continue being the church? What if, restrictions and shutdowns went on for a long period?
The Way We ‘Do Church’
Of course we must be the church and not just do church. No matter how you look at it, there will always be practical and logistical things to consider. Think about a typical church’s activities. While ‘typical’ is subjective there are a few things to think about.
There are Sunday (or weekend) worship gatherings. These make for many points of contact with fellow and potential Christ followers. Various teams that ‘make Sunday happen’ gather. Hospitality, worship, production, children’s ministry, pastoral / elders / deacons teams and so on meet. They finalise the weekend plans and pray. Then the services start.
The hospitality team welcomes people and children might check into children’s programs. People will shake hands, and, depending on relationships and context, hug and kiss. People will gather in sizeable confined spaces.
During the week various meetings / gatherings will also happen. Volunteers will have meetings, different courses or support groups happen. Small groups are another norm.
Hospital, home, work or coffee visits will happen. In general , pastoral care may also mean people will sit together in the same space; in person.
In Person / IRL Interaction
Except for online and VR church, in person / IRL interaction is the reality for most churches. Looking at things this way has made me think: Big church gatherings must be a nightmare for ‘proper’ germaphobes.
So much about our faith and spirituality has gathering together. Occupying the same space at the same time is at the heart of our spirituality for many. Yes, Hebrews 10:25 encourages us to gather. For some it’s inconceivable to share a meal without sitting at the same physical table.
Church brings people together to wouldn’t usually meet or mix.
For many, so much of church life means being in each other’s space physically. This makes it easy to pass germs, viruses, or spread other illnesses.
Would Your Church Survive A Pandemic If It Meant No Gathering?
In an upcoming post we’ll explore the other ‘spiritual’ side of things. I thought it would be important to touch on some practical things. These practical actions acts are equally spiritual. Part of being in community means caring for each other. Jesus takes it further and challenges to love all our neighbours.
How we, as people part of the church cover some of these practical things is serious.
Standards and Violations
Don’t skimp on the standards your church needs to meet. Building codes relating to fire, ventilation etc. shouldn’t be something any church violates. Do our churches meet health and safety requirements of our cities / countries? These might help minimise spread of disease.
For example, are those who serve in catering and hospitality well-trained? Some cities require people ‘working’ public kitchens, to meet certain minimum training or criteria.
This is not only a matter of integrity but also our witness.
Hygiene & Contagion
Do you have soap or antibacterial solution dispensers in the toilets and other places in your building? These simple, yet important things can be one of the most neglected and overlooked.
Personal hygiene is a matter of loving your neighbor. This is because if you’re unwell it is also possible to make others unwell too. If you’re not well, it might be a better idea to catch online streaming than risking infecting others.
Practical Responsibilities & Responses
Pray for those who aren’t feeling well. God still heals, and at the same this doesn’t mean you should make others sick. Also find other practical ways to care for them, like meals or helping with their medical bills. Help care for their children. You get the idea.
Recent pandemics remind us of how vulnerable individuals and communities are. Churches need to take responsibility in a practical way in prevention. It also means making sure they comply to health and safety standards.
And, if anyone in our community succumbs to infection we ought to pray for them. Beyond that, need to make sure we care for them as best as we can. This is part of loving our neighbour and being responsible citizens.
The next post in this two-part series will explore aspects of how “church life” can thrive in and through a pandemic.
Question: what practical / backup measures does your church have in place to survive a pandemic?