By Dr. James Merritt
A few weeks ago, we never dreamed we’d be in this position. Having our congregation worship from their homes strictly online is one thing; facing the unprecedented prospect of not physically gathering for Easter Sunday is another.
During this season of coronavirus outbreak and social distancing, I believe God is purifying the church and teaching us a lot about ourselves—maybe more than we’ve learned about ourselves since the Great Depression.
And there’s fear. There’s anxiety. There is grief. There’s physical suffering. There’s economic upheaval.
But there’s also hope.
We have our limitations, but God isn’t limited by the coronavirus. Let’s join Him in the critical work before us. I’d like to share some things my church is doing to prepare for an Easter Sunday unlike any we’ve ever had.
1. Start inviting people now.
People are starving for communication and they want to be connected. If you haven’t already, ramp up now to have the largest online Easter gathering your church has ever had (because you probably will).
For example, encourage your staff and members to start inviting people to Easter watch parties on Facebook (presuming your church will broadcast services on Facebook Live).
If it fits for your context, consider holding multiple services and presenting different opportunities for people to tune in.
Another way to do this is the old-fashioned way: Go around your neighborhood knocking on doors.
At the church I lead, Crosspointe Church, we asked our people approach five neighbors they don’t know using these steps:
- Prepare a card that asks two questions—How can I serve you? and How can I pray for you?—along with your phone number, email address, and online service information for your church.
- Place the card on the porch by the door.
- Knock on the door or ring the doorbell.
- Step back at least six feet and wait for them to answer.
If your neighbor(s) answer the door, engage them in a conversation by asking them if there’s anything they need, like a grocery store run.
It’s also a helpful bonus if you have a small gift for them. My wife Teresa and I are including a loaf of homemade banana nut bread with our card.
Up until recently it seems we’ve been too busy to get to know our neighbors. But it’s not the case right now. There’s never been a better opportunity than now to reach out to your neighbors and impress upon your congregation to do the same.
Most churches are doing everything we can within our limitations. We must help them understand that we may not be able to go to church, but we are the church.
Let’s not miss this opportunity to show a hurting world how a church responds in crisis.
2. Be mindful of the gravity of your message.
There’s no choice in terms of the messaging and the content. We must convey the hope of the resurrection to a world more desperate than ever for good news.
What I’ve been doing with these last couple of weeks that I’ve been preaching online is delivering messages on faith and the importance of focusing on God.
During days like this I believe God calls the church not to worry, but to worship. Not to live in fear, but live by faith.
So, we should lead people to focus on what He’s doing through these trying times.
3. Don’t neglect the importance of music.
One of the most impactful things a church can do to prepare for Easter is make sure powerful, uplifting music is built into the service.
Remember that many people tuning in might not have darkened the doors of a church for years—if ever—so plan to sing songs they’re likely to be familiar with to get them engaged.
Like many of you, we’re intentional to marry the music to the message. Typically, the worship team at my church knows four to five weeks ahead of time what I’m preaching on a particular Sunday.
Most church leaders have been scrambling over the past week or two in order to pivot their ministries in a way to meet their congregations and communities in this uncharted territory of social distancing and quarantines.
On Easter Sunday people tuning in should hear the most hopeful story ever—the hope of the resurrection. So work now with your worship pastor or whoever leads music to create a seamless experience for everyone tuning in.
The opportunity before us
Every pastor right now has to be a “Winston Churchill” in their context: We’re not going to give up. We’re going to fight to keep our ministries effective. We’re in this together. We’re going to be the church.
And to paraphrase Churchill, I say to the church everywhere during these days of COVID-19 outbreak: Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the church on earth lasts for a thousand years, the world will still say, “This was their finest hour.”