“Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25, New Living Translation)
We plan to reopen our sanctuary for onsite worship on Sunday, October 4th, as long as we don't see a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases before that date. I am excited about this opportunity as well as a little nervous on several different levels. Here are some of my concerns:
I don't want our reopening to endanger anybody's health and well-being, so I want to be sure we've done everything we can to provide the safest possible environment. This desire means that we will institute protocols for wearing masks, seating for social distancing, limitations on singing, and what will feel like a disruption to our familiar patterns of interacting with one another.
Since the pandemic started, 48% of all regular worship attendees across the United States have not participated in any worship service (online or in-person). Will this six-month hiatus translate into a permanent habit of non-attendance at worship?
Since March, only 40% of all regular worship attendees across the United States have participated in their home church's online worship. 22% of worship attendees have participated in online worship at a church that was not their home church. While we anticipate at least one-third of our congregation continuing to worship online due to risk factors related to COVID-19, I wonder how many people have grown accustomed to worshiping online at home and may choose to continue to do so as a matter of convenience?
Of those churches that have already returned to onsite worship, after an initial attendance of 25% to 35% of their pre-COVID-19 worship attendance, some of those who returned for onsite worship eventually stopped coming to the sanctuary and began worshiping online again. These people cite that onsite worship where COVID-19 precautions are in place is so different from how they are accustomed to worshiping that until those precautions are no longer necessary, they will choose to worship online.
Finally, if the COVID-19 numbers increase with the onset of flu season, we may have to shut down onsite worship again. I hope that we'll all do our part to stop the spread of the virus, and we'll be able to move more quickly in reducing restrictions.
We will continue to offer our online worship opportunities and worshiping on site as we are able. Regardless of how you choose to worship, let's remember we are still the church gathering together, even in different venues. As members of the body of Christ, let us encourage one another and motivate each other to love and good works. In doing so, we are building up the body of Christ.