Since late January the pandemic has disturbed our quiet life, and in-person church gatherings have been suspended. Church leaders have gradually explored new ways to pastor their congregations. Perhaps many people regard online worship services in a negative way, expecting on-site gathering to be resumed as soon as possible. Indeed, there are disadvantages to online church.
A Beijing pastor shared that the pandemic would be temporary, thus the impact would also be transient. It is difficult to carry out ministries during the COVID-19 crisis, but it is possible to overcome the challenges. His church leads three online meetings a week and publishes hymns written by believers from time to time. Whereas in general the meetings keep going on the same as before, the quality of online meetings is less than of on-site gatherings.
The feedback of most believers was that despite only listening to sermons and reading the Bible online, they felt empty because they are unable to meet pastors and other members in person. “The reality is that a digital church cannot replace the real church,” added the pastor. He suggested that the church focus on primary staff and volunteer group leaders who should read books diligently and have daily devotionals to wait for God’s will.
An elder from Zhejiang said that senior members in rural churches have been marginalized since the church went online. This marginalized group of people fail to understand Mandarin and are not able to use the Internet. They are likely to fall between the cracks as church ministry is carried out online during the pandemic.
As the church closure stops church members from receiving communion, people are prone to form a habit of doing other things at home while listening to sermons. This will have result in decreased attendance. he church should guard against just replacing worship with watching videos.
His advice was that the church should encourage home gatherings to do more than just listen to sermons. Family members could gather around in a house to pray and sing hymns together. If this is not possible, no more than ten friends who live nearby can meet in-person to avoid worshipping alone. If in-person meetings are not allowed, the communion service has to be suspended.
A pastor from Liaoning stated that online services have brought two disadvantages, people cannot gather in-person and heresies have become more prevalent. Since Christians cannot meet together, they lose the unity of worship and fellowship and do not know how to grow spiritually. Besides, the active Korean Shincheonji cult led non-Christians who did not have knowledge of Christianity to attack churches.
To deal with the problem, the pastor’s church established a group whose mission is to publish messages and hold online meetings. At the same time, all the ministries were paused as an opportunity for the church to think over what it should do in the next stage. Each department attended online video meetings to pray for God’s guidance in forming new ministries. When the church resumes gathering, every department will follow the new plan in ministry. As to the cult, the church publicized its wrong teachings and methods of working.
A Yunnan church set up WeChat groups in which pastors lead the congregation in morning prayers through recorded audio sermons and prayer topics. On Sundays, recorded worship videos are sent out to believers. However, pastors can only pray for those who have psychological problems. Another problem is that as the number of intellectuals in the church increases, pastors who do not receive theological education are unable to answer their difficult questions.
Last month a sister in a Kunming church died of sickness. Unable to hold a memorial service, her church encouraged believers to sing hymns to her family by using WeChat. Through the network, they accompanied the sister’s family through the difficult time.
There were many online lectures on Christianity which have broadened the eyes of many believers who then need to have further study. A pastor proposed that the church needed to reconsider what true worship is amid the pandemic.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “Believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem...The true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” (John 4:21,23)
Similarly, when we are unable to gather on-site, it is better to improve the quality of the meetings than merely complaining. Even though we are at home, God can be anywhere and will take pleasure as we worship in the Spirit and in truth.
- Translated by Karen Luo