Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange team helped with this article.
The new CDC guidelines came out last night. They recommend no gatherings “of 50 people or more throughout the United States” for the next eight weeks.
I talked to an official in the administration, and I learned that the federal government is very wary of telling churches they can/cannot meet, but we should expect this kind of guidance for no large groups to include churches.
In addition, I reached out to the Surgeon General’s office. (As I mentioned, I had met with the Surgeon General and his team a couple of weeks ago.) Dr. Janet Wright shared this:
Thank you for your note. I know you and your networks are aware of the CDC guidance to faith-based organizations, available here and last updated on March 6. While the new guidance (Mar 15) does not specifically call out churches, the public health principles of social distancing and protecting the most vulnerable definitely apply. Like all CDC guidance, this is a recommendation based on the best available science.
In other words, this will almost certainly be what your communities will expect unless we hear something more from the CDC. Thus, we should plan accordingly.
As most churches will follow the recommendations, that means we are about to see a mass movement to smaller settings or groups––starting now. For churches, this means all your Easter plans to this point have just changed.
We will be providing more resources about this, including a podcast launching today on leading through this crisis at http://CoronaVirusAndTheChurch.com. The new podcast will be called, Leading in the Coronavirus Crisis and will include pastors, scientists, counselors, and more.
This is not the first time churches have been asked not to meet for a period of time due to a contagious outbreak. See this article for a precedent in Washington, DC, in 1918. But it is the first time in our lifetime to face anything like this. Here are some initial thoughts as we move forward.
First, we need to remind ourselves and those we lead that God is still in control and is not surprised by any of this, and we need to do this consistently and continually.
In Acts 4, when the early believers faced their first persecution involving the arrest of Peter and John, how did they respond? After their release, Peter and John with the church lifted their voices in prayer, starting with “Sovereign Lord” (Acts 4:23). We continually praise and honor God no matter what our circumstances are.
Second, we need to see this as an opportunity and not necessarily a liability.
Instead of saying to your people that we have to do this because of the government recommendation, we can say we get to do something special in our community to show our care for those at greatest risk and to demonstrate that the church is far more than a gathering on the weekend. It might be that this Easter the church will be more powerful scattered throughout our communities than gathered in our buildings.
Third, the elephant in the room regards services over the weekends for the coming weeks.
If you aren’t already utilizing online technology for services, now is the time to start. Here are some resources to help: https://coronavirusandthechurch.com/#resources. I saw a number of instances where small groups gathered to watch the services together. What a great opportunity to gather and to invite others who aren’t in the higher risk demographic to come together in worship. At the same time, let’s be much in prayer for pastors who have many decisions to make.
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Source: Christianity Today