Church buildings in the UK and Ireland will largely be empty this Sunday morning, in line with the government’s new measures around COVID-19 (coronavirus). But that has not stopped Christians determined to meet getting creative, with many churches planning to livestream services, worship and prayer. How is your church planning to connect?
For millions of our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, regular Sunday services have never been an option. Isolation is key to preserve lives – as we are finding today, for different reasons. But who’s to say that being apart doesn’t mean God can’t draw us closer together by other means?
Pastor Huang Lei leads a church in Wuhan, China – the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak. The coronavirus crisis makes it impossible for his church to have their usual gatherings – but Pastor Huang and his congregation haven’t let that stand in their way: they’re meeting online. They are not just doing church – they are being church.
“First, we have more than 50 groups,” he says. “Almost all the groups are meeting via the internet. Praying, studying the Bible, sharing, witnessing, praising and worshipping. Of those 50, we have more than 30 groups which are spending two hours every day to pray, worship, share and testify together! That’s far more frequent than our normal meetings.
“Of course, now we have more free time; everybody is staying at home, so that’s given us the chance to do this. But we usually have the group meeting weekly and now we’re doing this daily – sometimes even more, so we are very grateful for that.”
“IT’S BRINGING US CLOSER MORE THAN EVER”
Pastor Huang is seeing opportunities to reach more people and encourage believers during this difficult time. God loves to bring good things out of bad situations, and that’s what Pastor Huang is experiencing: “We have heard that our elderly and disabled have been thankful to the Lord and are greatly encouraged by this opportunity for online meetings. Before this, they felt alienated, staying at home alone like they’re abandoned. Now they cherish the connection between believers more than ever. And they’re more connected. So, bit by bit, they’ve started to actively throw themselves into praying together online. I think it’s bringing us closer more than ever. We pray, share information, and make decisions together. The virus can’t stop us.”
And it’s not just Pastor Huang’s church. He’s meeting online with other ministers in Wuhan twice a week, praying together and sharing vital information – he also hopes to connect with ministers further afield, across China.
PASSING ON THE MESSAGE
“It’s hard for us to preach to each family, to meet every one of them in person,” continues Pastor Huang. “Every large-group leader leads three to 10 small groups. They minister to leaders of the small groups, who then preach to their members. Nowadays, I usually minister to the deacons every other day, talking to every one of them through calls and video chat, to find out their situation and encourage them. They do the same.”
“THE EPIDEMIC DIDN’T CUT DOWN OUR MEETINGS”
The whole church benefits by meeting together virtually. “We reach the whole church by posting videos on our social platform and on our church website. It’s like we have Sunday worship every day as well as the preaching. The church is greatly encouraged by that.”
And the crisis has even changed the way the church preaches. Rather than going through the Bible ‘step by step’, at some distance from their lives, the leaders are seeing the vibrant reality of scripture and how it relates to their lives, “depending on the situation of the church, the needs of the people, and the epidemic’s situation,” says Pastor Huang. “We preach about these. So, the church is greatly encouraged. And the preaching is watched and listened to by many other churches in China. It brings them comfort as well.
“The epidemic didn’t cut down our meetings. It’s the opposite. We have prayer meetings for the whole church, two hours every morning, from 7am to 9am; there’s 24-hour fasting and prayer, and we are doing a prayer every hour as well. I think, after this, many church members will be more willing to communicate with other sisters and brothers in Christ, to encourage each other and share with each other.”
It’s encouraging to remember that this period of isolation and online church services is only temporary – for millions of our persecuted church family around the world, isolation is an everyday reality. But, paradoxically, Pastor Huang and his church have grown closer together. Could we spend time in prayer, asking God how He might want to move in and through His church during these unsettling times? What can we learn about each other, and the God we serve, as we try to connect in other ways?
God is present wherever we are, and however we meet as church family, and He is always at work to build His kingdom. Let’s lean into this new season and see what God does!
• For Pastor Huang and his church, that they would continue to grow in faith and fellowship during this crisis
• For those churches who are having to find other ways to meet, or whose members are isolated due to COVID-19 – pray that God will make a way to keep them in contact with each other
• That God would bring good worldwide from this pandemic, and that the church would be a light in the darkness.