Patrice Alcindor, President of Perspectives, provides an overview of how churches are responding
Around the world, the Covid-19 crisis has plunged churches into uncharted territory. In France, churches have reacted creatively since the beginning of lockdown. At Perspectives we set up a joint platform to share the various initiatives developed by the churches in our network and this allowed us all to see different ways of “doing church”. Among the most common ideas are:
· Suggestions for a whole-church Bible reading plan, accompanied by questions or reflections
· Online prayer times (sometimes daily)
· Online services, often via Zoom, or live streamed on YouTube or Facebook
· Short videos sharing biblical reflections
Most churches had never previously tried broadcasting services online, but pastors soon learned to master the basic tools. After a few weeks, one pastor even told me: “It seemed strange to leave my new video-streaming bubble and spend time in more traditional ministry by simply phoning people up!”
In several places, churches were pleased that people who’d lost contact with them were able to reconnect through online meetings. Some churches seem to have seen more online attendance than they previously had on their premises. A certain spiritual thirst has been noticeable in many non-Christians. Another positive dimension has been a greater level of involvement from church members in terms of building one another up, sharing biblical reflections, and supporting isolated people.
However, as in the rest of the population, many people have found this time of lockdown very challenging. Many are eagerly awaiting the resumption of services and in-person encounters. The desire for a “return to normal” is palpable. But are we really going to “go back to normal”?
If churches have generally coped well with this time of lockdown, a certain weariness is beginning to set in. Even if a church’s core may have grown stronger, it’s been easier for those on the fringe to disconnect. Some church plants have suffered from this interruption of previous rhythms. It’s as though the pause button has been pressed for several of these recent projects that don’t yet have a strong core.
A major unknown factor is the impact on church finances. While 50-75% of a church’s resources generally come from a core of faithful members, we don’t yet know what the result will be of churches remaining closed for several months. French churches were often not set up for online donations. July and August are generally “fallow” months for church finances and we’re waiting to see if churches that cannot resume their services before September will be seriously impacted.
With the gradual easing of lockdown, churches must now explore alternative avenues to nourish their life together. Many churches with relatively small premises (a worship space of less than 100 square metres)will find it difficult to start services again while respecting the restrictions imposed by the authorities (1 person for every 4 square metres which, in many cases, will only allow about 20 people to gather). Such churches will therefore probably not resume in-person services until September. Outdoor worship and informal meetings in parks are all avenues to be explored over the coming weeks to mitigate what will otherwise be a long period apart from one another.
An important aspect of our evangelical spirituality is likely to be significantly impacted: the place of communal singing in services! While there is no ban on singing in French churches as seems to be the case in Germany, singing is still one of the major risk factors for spreading the virus during services. How will churches respond to this constraint? Will they be able to promote other forms of praise and worship?
Navigating uncertainty can lead either to chaos or to innovation and a renewed ability to adapt. This is the great challenge for our churches. Please join me in praying that the Lord will give us the creativity we need to learn to live by faith in these uncertain times.