This past Sunday, May 31, marked the second week the church I serve as Pastor, First Baptist Church of Alamogordo, New Mexico, was able to meet in-person since the COVID-19 crisis hit New Mexico in mid-March. Much has been written on all that churches should consider as they make plans to open. However, for this post, I simply wanted to share some observations after two Sundays “back.”
Many have hesitated to come back immediately.
In the two Sundays that we’ve been back in-person, we’ve averaged around half of our normal Sunday attendance pre-COVID. In discussing with other pastors, this seems to generally be the case. We’ve specifically a drastic reduction in in-person attendance from our older senior adults and families with babies or preschoolers. Obviously, for the older member there are significant health concerns regarding the ongoing spread of the virus. Our younger families have expressed a combination of these concerns, as well as a desire to stay home until we can safely offer the nursery and other children’s programming later in the summer.
Meeting with masks and social distancing is weird.
It’s strange to see two-thirds of our pews taped off. It’s weird to see folks spread out across the sanctuary, rather than sitting in their “normal” spots. It’s very strange to not be able to go throughout the sanctuary shaking hands and hugging folks’ necks. It’s difficult talking to folks through masks. All of us understand these measures are temporary — to keep each other safe — but it’s still weird. How do we address that?
Perhaps it’s best to just point out what everyone already knows: It’s weird. Don’t be afraid to address the awkwardness and, dare I say, embrace it? Be willing to talk about the weirdness and laugh about it. Then, remind your folks that 1) this really is only temporary and 2) the purpose behind the awkwardness is, ultimately, their safety.
It is an immense blessing to gather with God’s people in worship.
Yes, many people are slow to come back. Yes, it’s weird to have to implement social distancing guidelines as a church body. But after being unable to gather with our local church body, I’ve come to appreciate more than ever the blessing of the local church body.
We are a long time from things returning to “normal,” or whatever the “new normal” may be. But don’t let these realities detract from the joy that it is to gather with God’s people in a local church. Those folks who have shown back up on Sunday mornings are very excited to be there! They have missed worshiping together and studying God’s Word together. Even though they can’t be in close proximity, an immense joy still fills the room.
Pastor let me encourage you to love your people well during these days. Be patient and understanding with those who, for whatever reason, are slow to come back. Listen to the fears and the frustrations of those who walk through your church doors. Continue preaching the Word faithfully. Encourage your folks to keep on sharing the gospel.
Finally, stay firmly grounded in the gospel – it is good news for strange days!,