The Covid Effect
Anyone who is alive on earth is aware of the fact that the world has experienced a pandemic in the form of Covid 19 and its variants. From late 2019 through today we are dealing with a disease that has wreaked havoc on the people of the world. In my opinion, and many others, most of the response to this situation has been a political one but this article is not for the purpose of analyzing the political overtones. This writer is more concerned with what the whole Covid experience has done to the Church, the Body of Christ.
The standard answer of most pastors when asked how their church is fairing in these days is this: "Well, we are coming back but it is hard to get our attendance back up to pre-Covid levels. The money has held up well, in fact, we are ahead of our budget, but the attendance....well...that's a different thing. We are back up to about 70% of our normal level before Covid and feel pretty good about that but our attendance just hasn't made it back up to par." I have heard that explanation many, many times. What I have told the pastors with whom I have had this conversation what I think is happening.
When churches were declared a non-essential organization and were told to close down during Covid, most all churches began to stream their Sunday School and Worship services on the internet through one means or another. With a populace that has largely been raised with their eyes glued to a screen of some sort (t.v., phone, or computer), the transition to streaming was not a difficult one at all. It has long been said that a large percentage of those attending church are doing so by habit. It is a good habit but, for them, it is nothing more than a habit. They enjoy the time in church, but it is a habit for them. For the others, it is a commitment. They will be in church because they are committed to the Lord and his church. There is a vast difference between a commitment and a habit. A habit can be broken but a commitment to the Lord will withstand any test.
So, to about 40% of the people, worship is a habit which has been broken by the adjustments to the Covid situation which primarily included streaming of services. These people motivated by habit with their in-person worship have said something like this: "I don't feel like God is mad at me for not returning to worship. I have been sitting in my living room watching several pastors from across the nation, and my own pastor as well, preach the word. I enjoy sitting here before the television or computer in my robe and pajamas, drinking my coffee and relaxing. God knows my intentions. I send my money in on-line. I think the Lord is pleased with me and I know I am pleased with this arrangement. I don't feel guilty at all. Why do I need to be in a church when I can do the same thing right here? As the old song says..."me and Jesus got our own thing going." I have said to these pastors that they will have to do one thing to encourage these people to re-establish their habit and attend corporate worship again and that is to stop streaming your worship services. You are actually being an enabler for those who find it easy to find an excuse for not being in corporate worship. Many will never come back to church as long as the streaming is done.
The only thing that will help this situation is for pastors to lead the people to understand that the Lord gives us Hebrews 10:25 for a purpose and that is to give us the command to "forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is."..Heb. 10:25. Here's why corporate worship is so important. According to scripture, the church is the spiritual Body of Christ. How can the body perform properly if all the parts are not there? If you loses the function of a body part, does your body function properly? Each person has been given a gift by the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation. That gift is for the purpose of doing what the Lord has you picked out to perform as part of the body. If the body of Christ is not complete, then how can that spiritual body perform as He desires it to do? It can't. Also, God desires for the spiritual Body of Christ to honor and glorify Him through corporate worship. He is the one to be entertained by our worship, not us. He wants His church to focus on Him and not on anything and everything we can devise to satisfy ourselves. Satan doesn't want this to happen and he is happy for anything we do, albeit with good intentions, that will disrupt the corporate worship of God by the Body of Christ.
So, two basic things need to be acknowledged: First, the corporate worship of God by the Body of Christ is essential to a proper relationship with Him. Second, if a pastor wants his church to resurge to pre-Covid levels then he should not make it easy for them to stay at home and substitute streaming for the actual act of worship with other Christians. Guidance into the depths of Heb. 10:25 will help bring people into corporate worship while at the same time allowing streaming for those who are sick or infirm for some reason. It can be a valuable tool for reaching those who cannot attend services because of some condition or situation. But this should be a very small percentage of a church's membership.
So, either streaming should be discontinued or the Pastor should educate his people to understand that they should not substitute that technology for actually being in corporate worship focusing on God and Him alone. Then, and only then will pastors see their attendance surge back to the levels they had before the Covid pandemic. Some will not agree with what I have said but it seems to me that what I have mentioned is a step in the right direction to end The Covid Effect.
William F. Harrell