Today I want to update you on our ministry plans for the rest of the summer. We will continue to worship online only at least through Labor Day weekend. We will still encourage CoreGroups and other smaller group ministries to meet in person. This is not the choice I was hoping to make, but I believe it is the wisest and safest decision, and most importantly the decision that best helps the church to pursue our mission of inviting new people to become deeply committed followers of Christ. Let me explain how I made the decision and why it is best for us.
I did not make this decision in a vacuum. I have been spending time in prayer about what God is calling us to do. In addition to prayer and thoughtful consideration, I’ve been learning and consulting with others. This past month I convened an advisory board of leaders in our congregation to learn how they are approaching coronavirus plans in their respective organizations. I have been talking to pastors around the country who are worshiping in person to learn from their experience. I have been working closely with The Gathering Board (Executive Leadership Team) as well as our staff and other leaders, soliciting their thoughts and perspective. Each group agrees that this is the best decision for our church at this time. There are three main reasons why:
The first reason is science. To put it simply, the numbers for the virus are not going down yet and it is still unwise and unsafe for large groups to meet indoors for a prolonged period of time. In our congregational surveys, over 80% of you still are not ready to take that risk, and I am not either.
Secondly, if we did meet, we could not invite new people and welcome people with the hospitality we value. If we met, everyone would have to sit 6 feet apart in all directions, wear masks, and most tragically, not have their coffee! There would be no kids ministry, no communion, no holding hands for the Lord’s Prayer, no handshakes, and no congregating in the lobby. Most importantly, instead of inviting new people, we would actually have to limit the number of people that can come. That isn’t The Gathering.
Thirdly, meeting in person right now would not be wise stewardship of our resources. It would be complicated, expensive, and require all of our staff and leader time for an experience that doesn’t fulfill our mission. To quote one pastor in Texas whose church is holding in person worship, “we are doing double the work for half the experience for a quarter of the people”. This would draw resources away from an excellent online worship experience as well as other ministries that are currently working well.
Let me share what we ARE doing, and why I’m excited about it. We are working hard to continue an online worship experience that is compelling, engaging and authentic to The Gathering. We still have high engagement with online worship and a lot of new people connecting with our church each week through it. While worship will be online, other ministry will take place in person in our buildings as long as it is safe to do so. Baptisms, weddings, connection events like NEXT, discipleship classes, and parking lot worship nights will all be happening in person (with online options to participate). CoreGroups are encouraged to meet in person (following safety protocols) if they are comfortable doing so. This combination of in person ministry, and online worship will help with that “digital fatigue” many of us experienced earlier in the spring. Finally, we are going to look for even more ways that our church can serve others, a better use of our time and resources.
Gathering, I know this isn’t easy, but let me encourage you. Our church, even in crisis, is continuing to grow. Many of you are finding God in a new way through this season. You are giving generously so that we can continue innovative ministry. You are working hard to stay connected to your CoreGroup and to tune in to worship. Many of you are reading scripture and doing daily devotionals for the first time ever. Church isn’t always supposed to be easy. So I am asking you to take a new step in your commitment to stay connected and see that God can transform you in a unique way during these times and use us to share good news to so many who need it.
Leading in a crisis is never easy. Whether it is in your company, school, social organization, family, or small business – all of us are making decisions about what is best to do right now. I don’t envy a lot of the decisions you have to make, but I do admire you! As for our church, I am confident that the decisions above are the ones that will best allow us to fulfill our mission and share Christ with all who need him. As always, I will share updates with you, be transparent about our decision making, and monitor the situation so that we can modify plans accordingly. Thank you all for being the church and for all the ways that you encourage me. I am honored to be your pastor.
P.S. You will not want to miss worship this weekend because you will get to hear from not one but ALL of our pastors, including Charity and Adam. We have a fun and inspiring message in our Be Yourself series. Make sure to download our app to stay up to date and I will see you Sunday.