For a while, it was the world’s favorite saying. Every time I scrolled through social media, it was plastered on about every third post. Even people that I knew hadn’t seen the inside of a church building in years were sharing it. I know you saw the grand announcement, too. “The Church,” it declared, “has left the building.”
Now, I get the point, but I’m not sure I embrace the unspoken insinuation.
The point is that the COVID-19 pandemic forced Americans into isolation, and we are temporarily unable to attend church. As a result, most churches are streaming their services, flooding social media with an unprecedented number of worship events. That’s the point.
The unspoken insinuation is that before China shipped us this scary sickness, the Church was a self-centered and ineffective civic club, knowing little and caring even less about the world beyond its closed doors.
The silver lining in all this social distancing, purveyors of this pithy proclamation propose, is that the Church is being forced to worship and work in the public square where everyone can see and participate. They point to bathtub baptisms and coffeeshop prayer meetings that are spontaneous responses to streaming worship services. While every conversion and move of the Spirit is to be celebrated, those things were already occurring every week when churches were meeting in their buildings.
I’m not interested in hosing down the spark of revival, but I wonder if the churches that were already reaching others kept right on, while the churches who weren’t doing much continued doing what they’ve always done, as well?
Now that we are slowly climbing out of this forced seclusion, we will soon find out if the Church did in fact leave the building, or if its members just went home.
It sounds like I’m preaching at you, but I’m not. I’m sharing the convicting thought that landed in my heart late the other night as I was preparing for bed. As part of the Church, am I ministering more outside the building, or during this crisis, did I just go home?
We’ve produced lots of online services and devotions over the past few weeks. We’ve created some exciting things for our children that we’ve never done before. But our focus has remained right where it always was: on us. Oh, there have been hundreds of folks who have looked over our shoulders at the videos we’ve posted, but most of them have been other Christians. We’ve not spent any more time reaching for the unsaved then we did before all this happened.
I’ve enjoyed the photos families have posted of themselves in their pajamas while attending “church” in their living rooms, but I can’t help but wonder how much that may reflect our collective attitudes during this time. Have we really engaged in the broadcasted worship and sermons, or did we sip our coffee and add a running commentary while scrolling through Facebook? Did we spend time in earnest prayer, or were the notes we posted on social media good enough?
I’m afraid that too many of us just went home, and in those familiar surroundings, found a comfortable but false sense of security.
Now that we are going back to the building, I’m determined that I’ll let what I’ve learned create that new normal for me that folks have been talking about. I’ll pay a little more attention to the people God places in my path. I’ll plug in a little better to the disciple making habits I’ve been taught. I’ll constantly remind myself that the spiritual image I can create on social media will not be sufficient to meet my needs in real life, and it will certainly not enable me to bring hope to a scared and hurting world.
We’ve made a lot of noise and improved our digital skills during these past seven weeks, but we can’t fool ourselves into thinking that we ruled the day. However, we can view these weeks as a trial run for what lies ahead. We’ve tested our systems and found that we can do more and reach much further than we thought.
The world has never slammed the breaks on its economy and progress like we’ve witnessed these last few weeks. God is preparing us for something. I’m not sure what the future holds, but the experiences of the past two months are yelling at us to be committed to apostolic living and praying so that when the next crisis hits, the Church will have already left the building — and they didn’t just go home.