Mar 142020 13 Responses

Why Community Bible Is Changing Services

In response to Covid-19, Community Bible Church is moving to an online-only format beginning March 15 (beware of the Ides of March). Here is an explanation of the reasoning behind the decision.

Last week we watched as the virus spread across the nation and was first found in our state. Our expectation was that near the end of the week, a confirmed test would be found in our community, schools would announce an additional week of Spring Break, and we would move to an online format. However, Friday came and went, no confirmed case was found in our town, schools vowed to stay open, and we were left with a decision to make.

The assumption was we would continue to meet, but I could not shake an uneasy feeling. Even though no confirmed case was in our area, the Governor said the State was only able to process twenty tests a day. Was the virus not present or were we simply unable to test enough people to know? (See: A Dangerous Assumption About God’s Will)

We were still moving forward with services but two major issues stuck with me:

1. The chart showing the difference that one day can make regarding the slowing down of the virus was impactful. We wanted to meet this Sunday because we assume we will not be able to meet for several (if not more) weeks. We hoped to get one more week in. However, in it’s early stages, just one day difference in social distancing does have the ability to greatly reduce the speed with which the virus spreads. We know we can’t stop the virus, but we can slow it so our community has the resources to help those who are sick.

2. Through several conversations with church members, I got the feeling our senior adult population was not taking this virus as seriously as they should. They shouldn’t be panicked, but they shouldn’t attend a large gathering during this time. Yet I kept talking to those in the vulnerable population who said they would see me Sunday. Some of the most faithful volunteers we have are over the age of 60 and my fear was that if the church doors were opened, they would be there. I actually debated announcing “No One Over 65 Allowed.”

With these two factors in mind and considering how easily we can transmit a service via technology, I sought the advice of several within the medical community. All four said to cancel. So we moved the services to online only.

Late in the week, a group of like-minded pastors began to communicate. We knew each of us would have to make our own decisions, but we wanted to be on the same page regarding communication. I let the group know we would cancel. Everyone understood even as most decided to continue to meet in person. That was also a decision I understood.

Answers to Questions

Here are the answers to some of the questions I’m hearing. Feel free to comment with a question and I can add it to the list.

1. Since it isn’t here yet, can’t we just meet one more week? 

Probably. We may be jumping the gun, but it’s better to move a day too early than a day too late. If no one accuses us of overreacting a bit, we probably aren’t being responsive enough to the situation. In watching the news and seeing the difference between those countries who practiced social distancing early and those who did not, it was convincing enough not to try to get in one more Sunday. (See: God Isn’t Just the Man Upstairs)

2. Isn’t this a decision made out of fear when we are supposed to be acting out of love?

Absolutely not. This is not a decision made out of fear. We aren’t afraid of the virus. The message of Jesus actually frees us from the fear of death. This is about loving our neighbors well. If the decision were made out of fear, we would have had the services. Fear tells us not to appear as cowards, not to act so that we could be criticized, and not to change our routine. But love compelled us a different way. We have far too many vulnerable people among us–the elderly, those recovering from cancer, those with other underlying medical conditions–for us to risk their lives because of what we want to do.

3. Shouldn’t we be careful of not to “forsake the gathering.” 

Of course, but this is not that. We should never carelessly stop meeting together because of the “cares of this world.” However, it is more than appropriate to miss a few Sundays together because we are trying to love our neighbors well.

4. Can my family attend the live-stream filming in person?

Yes. We won’t turn people away when we are filming the worship service. If you want to join us at 9:15 in Fort Smith, you are welcome to do so. We won’t have any children’s ministry, coffee/doughnuts, etc, but you are welcome to attend.

What I Hope You Do

If you are a member, regular attender, or just a friend of Community Bible, here is what I hope you do.

1. Make a concerted effort to watch the online service with your family. Show your children or loved ones that you value corporate worship. Remind your church that you are invested by involving yourself. Share the Facebook Live, send in a question when we do Q&A, leave a comment to let us know you are watching.

2. Make wise choices regarding your small group participation. If your group is over 65, don’t meet. If your immune system is compromised, FaceTime into the meeting rather than showing up personally. Other groups will decide to meet while some will not. Just make the best decision you can.

3. Let us know if you need help. If you fall into the group who needs to self-quartine because of exposure or having a suppressed immune system, let us know. We have people who will run to the pharmacy or grocery store. They can drop off the supplies on your porch. If need be, the church can reimburse them for the costs. If you need help, say something.

4. Find ways to bless those whose work lives are impacted. Give a $20 tip to the Wal-Mart worker who is doing to-go orders. Buy a gift certificate to a local restaurant and give it to a nurse who will likely be working extra hours for the next few months. Shop local when possible. Identify hourly workers whose time might be cut because of social distancing, send them a meal or hire them to do something around your house.

5. Don’t panic but also don’t downplay the situation. I’m all for funny memes, but be careful about conspiracy theories. This isn’t just a media-hyped event. Yes, it’s crazy that people bought all the toilet paper, but it’s not silly to stop shaking hands or to intentionally distance yourself from others for a time. Realize that mocking the process could shame someone whose immune system is compromised to make a bad decision.

6. Socially distance, but emotionally draw close. Even as we create physical space between us, be intentional about not emotionally isolating yourself or others. Make phone calls. Check on the elderly neighbor. Find the phone number for the older couple who sits on the same row as you at church. Be more aggressive about reaching out to others and checking on them.

What We Know and Don’t Know

We don’t know if we have made the right decision or not. We simply know we have done the best we can in the moment we are in. There is no judgment from us for others who make different decisions.

What we do know is that while we have never experienced this before, the Church has. We also know that every situation gives the church a unique opportunity to serve its community, love one another, and make much of Jesus. In whatever form worship takes, that is our goal. (See: My First Response to a Natural Disaster)

Don’t hesitate to leave a question or comment and I’ll be happy to respond.

13 Responses to Why Community Bible Is Changing Services

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Please enter your name, email and a comment.