Dear Calvary Church Family,
It’s hard to believe that this month marks 2 years, we as a church, have been navigating Covid19. March of 2020, we faced unfamiliar and challenging territory as we journeyed through closures, restrictions, social distancing and new protocols. Calvary, I am so proud of you for patiently supporting each adjustment we made. I can wholeheartedly say we navigated it well!
After 2 years and as Easter approaches, I find myself reflecting on the priceless and essential role gathering together at church has held in providing stability and encouragement in such an unstable and uncertain time for all of us.
I’ve never been more convinced that the church must gather!
The COVID19 pandemic drove most churches into a digital space with both excitement and excellence. Creatives in our church and on our leadership team have become the unsung heroes of the season. We pivoted from in-person services to only remote services, then to a blend of in-person and online experiences.
And now, with the proliferation of digital production and online worship spaces, many people are wondering, “Why go back?”
So, the question becomes, is the physical gathering of the church really necessary?
I’ll respond with an emphatic, “YES, YES AND YES!”
Weekly in person worship gatherings are more than the delivery of an excellent product or the broadcasting of a sermon series. They are the very nature of the Christian faith. Gathering together is a pivotal part of the Christian church’s spiritual DNA.
To be honest, one thing I fear with the innovation of this season is that we may become more energized by our own creativity than we are eager for the presence and power of God. We’re committed to using every tool possible to extend our church’s platform that the good news of God’s grace might ring louder, longer, and stronger than ever before.
The church MUST physically gather. Here are three reasons from author Tony Wolfe that I agree with…
1.It’s a Matter of IDENTITY.
The first time the word “church” is mentioned in the New Testament, it’s the subject of Jesus’s powerful declaration in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church…” From there, the word is written 117 more times in the New Testament, always to identify a called-out assembly. The Greek word for “church” is ekklesia. It’s made from a combination of the words “ek” (summoned out) and “kaleo” (assembly/gathering). The church of Jesus is gathered out of the lost world and into a physical assembly. While they can be Christians in isolation, they cannot be the church apart from their regular worshipful gathering.
In a technical sense, the New Testament church only exists as a called out assembly – a gathering of true believers. The identity of a congregation extends as its influence is felt in its small groups, social media presence, community outreach, missional endeavors, and so much more. Over time, the church’s identity can become all but indistinguishable from its activities. But biblically, the identity of a church is in her regular assembly as the called-out and gathered ones. Weekly worship is not just what we do; it’s who we are.
2.It’s a Matter of PRIORITY.
Crisis has always been more of an opportunity for Jesus’s church than a threat. Some of the most notable innovations in church ministry have come through seasons of great hardship and cultural change. Over the past two millennia, churches have systemized discipleship efforts into home groups, Sunday School, small groups, women’s and men’s groups, children’s ministries and youth ministries, and so much more. We have prayer teams, creative teams, committees, and disaster relief trailers. Today we’re learning to capitalize on digital trends and online spaces to assist us in accomplishing the Great Commission.
The church has been innovating change for millennia. And that’s amazing! But in every season of change, when our priorities have been called to the carpet and the fat has been trimmed, the church has remembered that it can do many things well, but there’s one thing it simply cannot neglect: the church must physically gather. Perhaps this is a good time for us to regain the understanding that other ministries (evangelistic, missional, discipleship-oriented, worshipful, fellowship-oriented) flow out of this weekly gathering more than they flow into it. Surely secondary activities become entry points for church engagement. But they remain just that—secondary. The priority of corporate worship, Bible-reading, reflective communion, preaching, Spirit-filled interaction, and unified prayer in a single physical gathering must be recaptured in this season. We should continue to utilize all the contemporary tools at our disposal to accomplish the Great Commission, as we have done for two-thousand years. But we cannot neglect the priority of the weekly gathering. If the church’s regular assembly is a matter of biblical identity, it only follows that regularly assembling is a matter of first priority.
3. It’s a Matter of Spiritual VITALITY.
My gut tells me that if you’ve been a faithful weekly worship experience attender for any number of years before this COVID19 pandemic, you can sense that something is missing when you tune in online. All the elements of a great worship service are there. The Word is preached faithfully. The musicians direct our minds and hearts toward Jesus. The prayers are sincere. The production is excellent. But there’s just something missing, isn’t there? What’s missing is the spiritual element of the gathered body of Christ. The Holy Spirit dwells within its individuals, but He moves in power in and through the church.
The Bible is abounding with examples, but I believe this is something you know from experience these days. We can make accommodations for a season. We can interrupt our routine and make the most of present difficulties to be good neighbors and to be good examples to our neighbors. But the regular gathering of the church body is not a matter of cultural practicality. It’s a matter of spiritual vitality. If we’re not careful we may find, after all of our innovation and creative digital repackaging of church experiences, that we’ve become more motivated by what we can do than for what only God can do. The Holy Spirit moves in and through the gathered Body of Christ. The regular, physical gathering of the church is a matter of spiritual vitality.
Online spaces for church engagement have been a blessing through this season, and the church of tomorrow will be wise to make effective use of digital opportunities to reach people for Christ, disciple them, and give them clear next-steps in the faith. But it must be said that when we are away from weekly physical gathering, we are missing something important – something priceless. Consistently substituting in-person worship experiences with digital experiences, is no substitute at all. They simply don’t compare. The long-term results will be an emaciated believer, left vulnerable to face challenges and obstacles in isolation. Regular, in-person church gathering is not a matter of cultural nostalgia; it is a matter of biblical conviction.
Don’t forget that Daylight Savings Time happens this weekend, so be sure to set your clocks forward one hour on Saturday!
It’s time for the church to gather!
Grace is your embrace,