Graphic with a headline "Doing church when you can't go to church"

Doing Church When you Can’t Go to Church

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty…
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.”
Psalms 91:1, 5-6

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has become a global pandemic. We see panic, fear, and uncertainty on every front. It seems the media can speak of nothing else. International travels have been restricted. Some nations have closed their doors. Social gatherings, sporting events, and conferences–including church services–are being suspended. Stock markets have plummeted. 

Shelves at grocery stores are getting emptier. Many people are staying home. National governments and health institutions are taking necessary measures to curb the spread of the virus. And nobody knows for sure how long this would go on. But I pray that it would stop soon and we return to a normal life.  

During such times of uncertainty, how do we go about sharing the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ and planting churches? How can we Christians show our love to our neighbors? And how should we do church without the regular gatherings we take for granted? 

But before I try to answer these questions, I would like to speak to you. As a believer in Christ, you have a firm hope and you need not panic. You may have heard that the phrase, “Fear not” is mentioned in the Bible 365 times—one for every day of the year. Instead of entertaining fear in our hearts, you and I are called to give hope to the hopeless, peace to the troubled heart, and love to the hurting. 

As far as your safety and the safety of your family and those around you is concerned, I suggest that you adhere to the guidelines provided by your government and health institutions such as WHO and CDC.

But let me go back to the questions I raised above. How can we share the gospel, fellowship with other believers, and do ministry in a restrictive environment? As we learn from history, some of the greatest innovations have happened during such times of crisis and challenges. Here are a few things to consider as you seek to help accelerate the fulfillment of the Great Commission through evangelism and church multiplication.

Take some time to read and reflect on the words of the Psalmist quoted above. In fact, I encourage you to read the whole of Psalm 91. Let the Holy Spirit calm your heart and the hearts of those around you. We serve the Most High and Almighty God who is faithful and trustworthy. There is nothing God doesn’t know about or cannot control. He knows what is happening and why it is happening. 

We only know this moment, but God knows eternity. So, dwell in His shelter and rest in His shadow. Have confidence in God and in His Word. When you have a firm foundation of faith in our unshakable and unchanging God, then you will be able to encourage and support those who are in need.

The restrictions on travel, meetings, and social gatherings provide us with great opportunities for personal reflection and quality time with our families. The family is the closest and the most important social unit to which one can minister. Every Christian home could be a church where God is worshipped, love is shared with one another, disciples are made, and leaders are developed. 

If every Christian family were used as a place of prayer and love, evangelism and discipleship, training and mentoring, then the witness and the impact of the church of Jesus would be powerful and unstoppable. So, use this involuntary “stay at home” time to invest in the spiritual well-being of your family. Let your home be the church. 

For example, as I write this to you, our local church has suspended its Sunday gathering and began to do church online. So our family gathered in front of a television and attended a live church service. We prayed for all those who have needs and asked God to have mercy on His creation and take away this global pandemic. 

Focusing on small groups was one of the ways in which the church in Ethiopia grew exponentially during the communist persecution. At the time when church activities were declared illegal, the church became an underground movement and focused on producing evangelistic Bible studies, training and coaching small group leaders, and inviting friends, relatives and neighbors to the Bible studies. 

Through such small group multiplication, the intentional development of leaders, prioritized evangelism and discipleship, and the many miracles God was performing in the country, the church experienced explosive growth during the 17 years of communism in Ethiopia. The growth was not only quantitative but more importantly qualitative—Christians were afraid of neither persecution nor death for the sake of Christ. 

So, what can you do in situations where social gatherings are restricted due to coronavirus? You may consider, as the situation allows, reaching people through evangelistic Bible studies, training leaders, and planting and multiplying home fellowships.

God has already given us the tools we need to do His work. We have various social media that can be used to preach, teach, cast vision, train leaders and worship together. In fact, social media also gives us the opportunity to go beyond our geographic locations and connect with people all over the world. This is the time for us to pray and ask God for wisdom, learn from others, become innovative, and allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us as He did with Christians of the first century. 

Through coronavirus we are learning more and more about our human limitations and the limitations of the things we take for granted. We are realizing that the situations that worked for us in the past may not work now. We may miss our beautiful church buildings, or gathering together to listen to sermons. But we can never miss the presence of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the power of the Word of God. 

Could it be that God is calling His church to return to the book of Acts where reaching people with the gospel was more important than building organizational infrastructure? Where caring for one another, empowering leaders and multiplying house churches was the norm? This was the early church, and it can be us today.  

Indeed, we don’t know what God is doing; but He is never surprised. He knows what He is doing. God’s intention is always to seek and to save that which was lost. He gives priority to bringing men and women from every culture and creed to Himself. He wants the Great Commission to be fulfilled. Whatever news we hear and whatever situations we face, God’s plan remains the same: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Mt. 24:14)

So, regardless of the methods we use or the size and frequency of our gatherings, our priority should still be taking the gospel to every person and nation. We can do this by trusting God, building our family altar, multiplying small groups and house churches, and making the most use of technology.  

May God comfort you and guide you as we journey through this global pandemic. 

Dr. Ken Cochrum, Vice President of Digital Strategies with Cru, joined Dr. Bekele Shanko and Keith Seabourn of Global Church Movements in a live webinar on Wednesday March 18, 2018. They discussed how to overcome distance by using technology to lead people to Jesus in this time of global crisis. You can watch on  YouTube or Facebook