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How to Be the Church When We Can’t Meet at Church

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For many Christians in America, the novel coronavirus COVID-19 was something happening “over there” just a few weeks ago. And now this weekend, many of us are holding services online because we can’t physically assemble as normal, due to social distancing.

Truthfully, though, churches in the first century and even around the world today have faced challenges related to large assemblies, often due to persecution. Their example—as well as dozens of passages in the New Testament—reminds us that the church is so much more than an assembly.*

As I teach in our new members class here at Lancaster Baptist, the church is not a building, but a called out group of people. We are the church. Now, more than ever before, we have the opportunity to function as local church bodies, even when our times of assembly are different than normal. 


Now, more than ever before, we have the opportunity to function as local church bodies, even when our times of assembly are different than normal.
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The local church does so much more than assemble. Below are eight specific functions every member of every local church can participate in:

1. Pray—God invites us to bring every need we have to Him in prayer, and in this moment, we have many needs to bring to Him in prayer. But don’t just pray for yourself—pray for one another in your church family.

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.—Philippians 4:6

2. Witness—Christ specifically commissioned the local church to share the gospel everywhere—in their communities and around the world. With the social distancing concerns of COVID-19, our efforts in sharing the gospel may be different than normal. But we are still called to do it. 

Perhaps God will give you an unexpected opportunity to talk with a neighbor or co-worker about salvation and eternity. Perhaps you can inclose a gospel tract in a bill you mail out or share your testimony on social media. 

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judæa, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.—Acts 1:8

3. Carry one another’s burdens—This is a time for churches to reach out to widows, elderly members, and those with underlying health conditions. Although we need to follow the recommendations for social distancing, this doesn’t mean we can’t help others. Buy and deliver groceries for a widow. Reach out with a phone call. Ask God to help you bear someone else’s burden. 

Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.—Galatians 6:2

4. Fellowship—Local church fellowship has always been around shared doctrine. This fellowship can’t be large gatherings right now. But it can be a phone call, text message, or note in the mail to let someone know you’re thinking of them. 

Fellowship can also happen online. Beginning this Friday at 10:00 a.m. (PT), I’ll be hosting a weekly online prayer meeting for our church family.

And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.—Acts 2:42

5. Follow Christ as disciples—When Christ called His disciples, He gave them no expectation of ease or comfort. In some ways, the next few weeks will be a test of our discipleship. Will we continue to follow Christ in the midst of a global pandemic, even without the weekly physical meetings of the church body?

And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.—Luke 14:26

6. Worship—What an amazing time in history we live in to have the availability of so many venues for online or live stream church services! And yet, in some ways, it may be more of a test of our priorities than ever before to make those living room streaming moments a focused time of worship and spiritual growth. As you remotely assemble with your church family around screens, be sure to give your attention and your heart to the worship and preaching of God’s Word. 

But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.—John 4:23–24

7. Give—God has designed the work of the local church to be carried out through the grace-filled giving of His people. Even through times of crisis, the work of the local church—both locally and around the world through missions—must go forward. So give faithfully.

Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him…—1 Corinthians 16:2

8. Serve—You may not be serving on a greeting team, helping as an usher, singing in the choir, or teaching a Sunday school class this week. But that doesn’t mean there are not opportunities to serve those same people. Perhaps think of five people you ordinarily see as you usher, and call them this weekend to see how they are doing? If you are a small group or Sunday school teacher, reach out to every member of your class to check on them. 

…by love serve one another.—Galatians 5:13

We are right now in a moment of great opportunity for local churches to be the church. Let us pray, love, give, and witness with patience as we look to Jesus!

*Several years ago, I wrote a Bible study curriculum on the New Testament functions of a local church. It is titled Real Church, and Striving Together Publications is offering a free download of the leader guide through March 21, 2020. 

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We have not cancelled our services as of yet. I encouraged our members last night to watch our midweek service on our live stream, instead we had a larger than normal crowd by far and we did not do some pickups. Granted we are a church plant so its not like we had hundreds of people. 

I know I'll probably get ridiculed for having the doors open at this time, but we are taking precautions and just doing what we believe God is telling us to do at this time.

I will not criticize any pastor that closes the doors and goes online only during this time. I believe they are doing what they feel is God telling them what to do, that's the nice thing about being Independent. 

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I agree with your approach. Below is a copy-and-paste of the posting I just put on our church facebook page.

"We are continuing to have our regular scheduled services during this trying time, as our numbers are well below the threshold recommended. However, we will be not be meeting after the service for our weekly church-wide Sunday dinner until further notice.

All of life is a balance. And we get in trouble when we get out of balance in one direction or another. God is not a God of fear, and those who live a life of faith need to fear nothing. We believe that God will lead us through the storms that we must face, and around the storms he does not intend for us.

However, this does not excuse heedless recklessness. We are commanded all the way back in Exodus, in the 10 commandments, to not tempt God. One of Satan's temptations of Christ in the New Testament was just that, to do something physically foolish and expect the Father to rescue him. Jesus' response was to quote that commandment "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God".

So we, as Christians, must follow this path in life. We do not live a life dictated by fear, but nor do continue in arrogant, religious foolishness to stubbornly continue on a path that is unwise, and tempts the Lord our God.

Be secure, be sane and love God."

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I know of 2 churches who set up the sound system and pulpit on the porch and people sat in their cars in the parking lot (still at the service and still practicing 6+ feet of distancing)for the service.

I know of another who is getting small, short range FM receivers for people in the parking lot to be able to hear better (hmmn, church a la drive in theater?lol)

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On 3/20/2020 at 5:31 AM, PastorMatt said:

We have not cancelled our services as of yet. I encouraged our members last night to watch our midweek service on our live stream, instead we had a larger than normal crowd by far and we did not do some pickups. Granted we are a church plant so its not like we had hundreds of people. 

I know I'll probably get ridiculed for having the doors open at this time, but we are taking precautions and just doing what we believe God is telling us to do at this time.

I will not criticize any pastor that closes the doors and goes online only during this time. I believe they are doing what they feel is God telling them what to do, that's the nice thing about being Independent. 

This is where we are as well.  We have been hearing rumors that our state will join the states that have already issued a stay-at-home or quarantine order, possibly tomorrow. If that is the case, we will not have services for the time. Most of our members don't have access to live-stream, so we won't be going that route. Hubs and I have discussed the possibility of his sending a letter of encouragement for folks. Not the same as a service, but still staying in touch.

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38 minutes ago, HappyChristian said:

This is where we are as well.  We have been hearing rumors that our state will join the states that have already issued a stay-at-home or quarantine order, possibly tomorrow. If that is the case, we will not have services for the time. Most of our members don't have access to live-stream, so we won't be going that route. Hubs and I have discussed the possibility of his sending a letter of encouragement for folks. Not the same as a service, but still staying in touch.

He could also print out his sermon notes in the form of a Bible study, and mail that to them as well, it doesn't need to be long, just a page would be okay.

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18 hours ago, Rebecca said:

He could also print out his sermon notes in the form of a Bible study, and mail that to them as well, it doesn't need to be long, just a page would be okay.

That thought did occur as well.  We are not yet under a shelter-at-home order, but fully expect it very soon. The gov said this morning there was none, but will be speaking tonight...we won't be surprised if he mandates it tonight (it's not constitutional via state constitution, but governors of various states aren't caring about being constitutional). My husband said he is fully expecting it to be at least before next Sunday.

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We got a "stay home" order from the govenor just today here in Washington. If it were an attack on christianity directed at the church, that would be one thing, but its not. We'll obey the law. I dont know what we will do as an alternative, I might do a recorded Bible study and post it on youtube or something. I dont know.

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53 minutes ago, PastorMatt said:

Ct has pretty much shut down everything except that which it considers essential. They are saying churches can meet as long as its not more than 50 people. 

We had the "50 or less" until yesterday. 

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On 3/20/2020 at 8:31 AM, PastorMatt said:

We have not cancelled our services as of yet. I encouraged our members last night to watch our midweek service on our live stream, instead we had a larger than normal crowd by far and we did not do some pickups. Granted we are a church plant so its not like we had hundreds of people. 

I know I'll probably get ridiculed for having the doors open at this time, but we are taking precautions and just doing what we believe God is telling us to do at this time.

I will not criticize any pastor that closes the doors and goes online only during this time. I believe they are doing what they feel is God telling them what to do, that's the nice thing about being Independent. 

Matt, who can criticize for you doing what the Lord leads you to do and the congregation obviously agreed. 

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28 minutes ago, 1Timothy115 said:

Matt, who can criticize for you doing what the Lord leads you to do and the congregation obviously agreed. 

You'd be surprised. I keep encouraging our folks to watch the live stream, but they keep showing up at church. 🤷‍♂️

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So we have our stay-at-home as ww stated above. I do find it interesting that churches are shuttered and yet pot shops and liquor stores are deemed essential. It was explained to me that it's because hospitals can't deal with addicts going into withdrawal. sigh

I don't know what we'll be doing tonight, but hubs is thinking of something. It won't be church-wide as we don't have the set up for that (nor do most of our members).

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3 hours ago, HappyChristian said:

So we have our stay-at-home as ww stated above. I do find it interesting that churches are shuttered and yet pot shops and liquor stores are deemed essential. It was explained to me that it's because hospitals can't deal with addicts going into withdrawal. sigh

I don't know what we'll be doing tonight, but hubs is thinking of something. It won't be church-wide as we don't have the set up for that (nor do most of our members).

We wont be doing anything tonight, but I am going to try to record some type of message for Sunday and (hopefully) be able to upload it to youtube and then send the link to everyone. I dont know what else to do.

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5 hours ago, weary warrior said:

We wont be doing anything tonight, but I am going to try to record some type of message for Sunday and (hopefully) be able to upload it to youtube and then send the link to everyone. I dont know what else to do.

WW, if weather cooperates how about doing an outside service. With folding chairs you could keep the required separation distances. Just a thought. if I were in that situation I would even endure bundling up clothes wise to sit through an hour long service.

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I wonder... when people go online to worship together.. are they assembled?  

I would have thought physical assembly would be a church assembly.  Not dismissing that conference calling online is a good way to still talk to and teach each-other still- but I don't think that is actually assembling.

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"Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together,  as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." Hebrews 10:25

Yes, 360Watt is correct.

Some churches are sitting farther apart in the sanctuary, some are assembling outside on chairs, some churches are meeting in drive-in theatres, some have loudspeakers on the outside of the church, some are creative in other areas, some have put up a tent; but all are assembling.

Have you noticed that all of the news media are focusing on only Christian churches in the religious realm. Not one word, at least on the main media, or on the front page, is focused on what the Muslims, or Buddhist temples, are told to do. Only the churches, so it seems, is forced into an internet setting. the politicians, as a whole, will not mention putting any restrictions on the Muslims nor the Buddhist Temples.

It almost seems like the politicians are forcing churches, or bullying, or intimidating, churches to go on a online setting. Do you know that a lot of small churches cannot afford an church web site? do you know how much money a website costs to start? to maintain? Or, they are fearful of Facebook? I do not care for Facebook nor neither do a lot of other saints care for Facebook. I am not against Facebook, nor any other technological setting, but folks are using the internet to forsake the assembling together and the politicians are using the virus situation to force, or bully, or intimidate, churches from assembling.

I did create a YouTube Channel, and a website for our church in Taiwan, and am now in the process of creating another website for my books, So, I am not against these technological advances for the ministry; but, I do not want that to replace the saints "gathering together."

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South Carolina has stated no groups over 3 people, Alaska has said no gatherings in any locations (including the woods) for religious activities, Bill DeBlassio (NY) has said the police will stop services in churches and synagogues and has threatened to close offending places PERMANENTLY (even after COVID elimination). DeBlassio is also using police to enforce distances between people in public (he didn't say if that included couples or parent/child combos walking together). Kansas declared church and religious services as essential business just as grocery stores, and Georgia declared alcohol dealers as non-essential (unlike most states).

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OFP, I read the whole mandate from Alaska's governor. While he has closed the state to all travel and mandated that people stay home, I saw nothing about specifically not allowing gatherings for religious activities. There is a list of businesses allowed to operate in appendix "A" of his mandate, but I did not see anything related to churches or religious activities.

I suppose his mandate could include churches, but the list of things allowed to stay open or having to close specifies "businesses", a church is not a business.

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There is a lot of misinformation, fear and panic mongering and irrational response to the Corona-19 Virus, on a worldwide scale, never seen before. Our Bibles warn us that times like these will come shortly before the return of Jesus.

I am providing the following link to a video for  informational purposes only. I cannot endorse this man and have no idea of his religious standing. So I provide this solely for informational purposes. It is always wise to hear all the information available, rather than just a one sided, agenda driven account. 

Covid-19 Scam

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19 minutes ago, Jim_Alaska said:

OFP, I read the whole mandate from Alaska's governor. While he has closed the state to all travel and mandated that people stay home, I saw noting about specifically not allowing gatherings for religious activities. There is a list of businesses allowed to operate in appendix "A" of his mandate, but I did not see anything related to churches or religious activities.

I suppose his mandate could include churches, but the list of things allowed to stay open or having to close specifies "businesses", a church is not a business.

Okay, thanks. I was told the above by a preacher in Alaska. The other states my wife read, DiBlassio I heard personally.

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In response to NY Gov. DeBlassio I would submit this response to his Covid-19 mandate:

Constitution of United States of America 1789 (rev. 1992)

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

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