53% of adults in the USA have not attended church in person OR online since the pandemic started. Normally the percentage is 14% according to Barna research. More significant is that 19% of practicing Christians in the USA that normally regularly attended church have completely stopped both in person and online attendance. Previously it was 0% because attending church is a key definition of that study group.
As a pastor I have done everything I can think of to help people continue to engage in Christian community (i.e. church). Church is certainly more than meeting in a building – we’ve been teaching, and practicing, that for decades. But during this extended time of restricted gathering many face either losing the connections and relationship ties to other believers or their lives will be formed around new habits that preclude the necessary assembling of believers for worship, fellowship, teaching, accountability, etc.
I grew up on a small farm which had a good sized orchard. Every fall my father would prune the fruit trees. Pruning was absolutely necessary for the tree to remain healthy and produce good and abundant fruit. But the job was laborious and it ended up with a large quantity of dead branches that we would haul to the back of our property and place in piles to function as habitat for small animal like rabbits. Pruning is healthy for the tree, but not for the branch that has been cut off. And pruning must be done properly or else you can kill a tree.
The Church (Capital “C” – as in the true body of believers worldwide) is indestructible. But any particular local church, and every believer, are always at risk of being harmed by both good intentioned people and those who may intentionally be destructive. Whether you gather physically or not ISN’T the point. God has BLESSED us with technology that enables us to stay connected relationally and spiritually with others. We ARE the church when we meet in groups or not. But we all risk being thrown in the pile of cut off branches if we allow our connection to the rest of Christ’s body be cut off.
The churches I oversee have switched to online only during this pandemic for a time, and also returned to in person services. We’ve done many forms of online and in person events over this past year. Most of our members have continued participating in one way or another, but some have become detached. If you are one of those, please know we are intent on doing whatever we can to see that every Christ follower who is part of our church remains healthily connected to the Vine and are able to both contribute and receive from being part of Church. But we all must do our part to remain connected.
Please stay connected, don’t get cut off. Don’t become habitat for small woodland creatures, or in the fire. Stay connected to Christ and to one another. Don’t just watch the church, or go to church – BE the church wherever and whenever you are.