In Washington, Gov. Inslee has banned large gatherings (250 or more) from meeting within the Seattle area in the hopes of preventing the spread of the Coronavirus.
However, I cannot help but wonder how this is going to impact churches? Did any of us ever think that there would be a day when we would witness a governmental entity look to a church and say “you are not allowed to worship together”? We would expect this to happen in China, or the Middle-East, but in 2020 America?
No, I am not wearing a tin-foil hat when I am writing this but if the State can prevent churches from meeting over a perceived viral outbreak, what other “reasons” will they give to shut churches down?
Only time will tell and we should be aware that this sets a very dangerous precedence.
As I observe and look ahead to the future, the banning of large churches from meeting together reinforces the idea that the mega-church model is unsustainable. When I say “mega-church model” I am referring to the popular understanding that the way we do church is to get as many people in the sanctuary we can. According to this model, “church” is a numbers game and the more numbers you have attending a Sunday service, the more successful you are. This model of doing church is pervasive within modern evangelicalism and I would assert, distinctly American, where “Bigger is always better.”
Yet take a look at what has happened in the past week. One executive order from the State and those large churches are banned from meeting together on the Lord’s Day.
So, what are these churches to do? Well, either they can cave to the government and shut down or they could defy the State and keep their doors open.
But still, there is another option: a move toward the small.
It is situations like the one we are in that I hope causes us to reevaluate somethings like, “Is bigger always better?” and the level of commitment we have concerning gathering with others to worship God. Will we stop worshipping because the government says we can’t or will we gather into smaller and more intimate groups, where the worship of God is present and the Bible is taught?
Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not entirely against large churches. I have spent much of my early days in ministry serving in one and I praise God for that experience. However, one of the maladies concerning large churches is the problem of connectivity and accountability. Often people go to be a spectator rather than a participant and it is easy to hide within a congregation of hundreds or thousands.
On the other hand, it's difficult to hide in a small gathering of 10 or 20. Small fellowships enjoy a Christian intimacy that is difficult, generally, for larger churches to pull off. In these small and humble gatherings, you can look at your brother or sister in the eye, know them and their struggle but also see and experience how the Holy Spirit has uniquely gifted them for ministry. Furthermore, smaller gatherings are a bit more flexible and scrappier than larger ones. They don’t have the added pressure of maintaining numbers or trying to move behemoth like programs and infrastructure to get gospel work done. From what I have witnessed, they just get the work done with, dare I say, supernatural expediency.
When I think of a move toward the small, I am reminded of not only how it was in the early days of Christianity but also that this is the present reality for most Christians in the world today. The majority of churches in our world do not have the luxury of meeting in places that hold thousands. Rather, they meet in homes or caves, often fellowshipping in secret to avoid persecution. Although these gatherings are small and with very little resources, God has used them to multiply disciples and spread the influence of the gospel in places like China and Iran, where you could be imprisoned or killed for being a Christian.
In some ways, this Coronavirus and the executive order by Gov. Inslee is a good thing for the churches in Washington. It should wake us up to the times we live in but also to spur us to evaluate how we do church and cause us to be courageous in taking the exhortation “to not neglect to meet together” (Heb. 10:24) seriously.