As a nurse, Grace used to find it hard to join her church’s regular Bible class because of her irregular working hours. Ironically, now that her church services have temporarily ceased, the class has become more accessible for her. Because it has gone online, there is greater flexibility in arranging to meet at a time that works best for everyone.
For Jason, online services have enabled him to join fellow believers to worship God together. A new believer, the 17-year-old had been unable to go to church because his non-believing parents disapproved of it. For many months after making the decision to confess Jesus as his Lord and Saviour, he had felt isolated and alone on his faith journey. But now, he feels more connected with the church family, and is able to grow spiritually.
Sandra, who has a special-needs child, also finds that things have changed in the wake of COVID-19. Because of her son’s behaviour, her family was rarely invited to other people’s homes and couldn’t join most church activities. But now, her church community is much more aware of her family’s needs. “In these last couple of months, churches have learned to make worship and discipleship accessible for the whole congregation,” she says.
Although COVID-19 has caused many churches to close their doors and stop physical services, it has opened up new opportunities for people to join corporate worship and to connect in new ways. As churches begin to re-open, perhaps we can look at some of the modifications we’ve made in the past few months, and consider how we can continue to help and reach out to God’s people even after the worst of the pandemic passes.
1. Going online to worship
Sharing sermon recordings online is not a new thing. But now, many churches have gone online with everything—from announcements and praise and worship, to collecting tithes and observing holy communion.
This is a huge blessing for those who can’t make it to the church building every week. Elderly folks, those with severe disabilities or cannot leave the house for various reasons, those who are ill or in hospital—all of them can now tune in to the weekly sermon, sing along with the rest of the congregation, and stay updated on what’s happening in church. Livestreaming church services allows everyone to feel like a participating member of the body of Christ, wherever they are.
As we begin to meet again in person, churches may want to consider continuing livestreaming their services, so these members can continue to participate from home. Says Senior Pastor Rick Toh from Yio Chu Kang Chapel: “It is important to extend the ministry of the church to include the virtual world. We should not wind down our online presence after COVID-19 has blown over. We should consider how to do church both in the physical and virtual world.”
2. Strengthening small groups
When churches were first told to restrict the number of people attending physical services, some quickly took inspiration from the early churches of the New Testament and looked to their small groups. Since then, many have learned to strengthen their cell groups, home groups, and discipleship groups to help members grow even when they can’t meet physically.
Some churches re-organised themselves into “house churches”, which were encouraged to meet online regularly with the help of pre-recorded videos of worship, sermons, and announcements. Some helped group leaders to lead as mini-pastors. Some even got fathers to conduct services for their own families. And many began online prayer meetings, which were well attended as they were more convenient.
This has not only enabled individual members to keep growing, but also empowered and encouraged group leaders. Says Senior Pastor Toh: “We see our cell group leaders growing in ownership of caring for their flock. Previously, we don’t have the practice of sharing our sermon responses after service. Now, we see more members sharing their response to God’s word and praying for one another.”
3. Mobilising members to reach out and connect
The closure of churches has helped to highlight the plight of older and needy members who risked being isolated because of the COVID-19 restrictions. It surfaced their needs and challenges, prompting churches to do more to reach out to them and care.
Some mobilised volunteers to call these seniors regularly to offer help or a listening ear. Some began delivering care packages to them, organised online games and fitness classes to help them keep active, or set up hotlines so that they could call for help when they were lonely or fearful.
Reverend Hambali Leonardi from St Andrew’s Cathedral, which set up a hotline, says that he found special inspiration from a quote by Nicky Gumbel, a pioneer of the Alpha Course: “Church is not an organisation you join; it is a family where you belong, a home where you are loved and a hospital where you find healing.”
The church, he says, needs to become that family, home, and hospital for the weary and exiled.
Ephesians 2:19–20 offers this glorious description of the church:
You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
In God’s household, everybody is a valued member of the family. No one should feel like a stranger or foreigner, or feel left out and abandoned. As churches prepare to restart service and ministries, let’s continue to consider how we can make church accessible to anyone and everyone.