The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all classes of society to a certain extent and the difference is only big or small. The influence on my church is particularly great. For more than two years, even the fortunate churches were only able to open half of the time. The less fortunate churches may be closed most of the time and unable to meet.
A church located in southern Jiangsu Province has been suspended four times in the past two years, adding up to about one year. The key is that it is still in a state of suspension. Now that the pandemic is on the rise and is spreading, it is really not known when it will be reopened. Therefore, the pressure of this church is unprecedented, especially the feelings of the teachers and pastors.
Although the larger area of this church has a high net population inflow, the church is located in a remote rural area with a small population base, so it does not enjoy the offerings brought by the floating population. Moreover, there are fewer local believers in this small city, and the number of believers only accounts for a single digit of the total number. Although the local believers in this church are relatively concentrated, most of them are elderly believers.
Before the outbreak, the number of Sunday attendants in this church was about one hundred and thirty, and the annual income of tithes and offerings was about two hundred thousand RMB. However, the number of believers and offerings within this church are decreasing year by year. There are roughly two impacts of the pandemic on this church:
First, online gatherings are difficult to implement. For the outbreak of this pandemic, the remedial measures generally adopted by the church have changed from physical gatherings to online gatherings, and made full use of WeChat group, video and other ways to hold gatherings. It is in an effort to make up for the inability to hold in-person gatherings. The same is true of this church, but the development speed is relatively slow. It had been two or three weeks since other churches started before they even began to take action.
Moreover, they were not only half a beat slower at the beginning, but even the process itself was slow and unsatisfactory. There seemed to be many registered believers, but less than half of them were in the WeChat group, and even fewer believers could respond to the gathering. Because most of the believers in this church are elderly people, they only make phone calls, do not often use WeChat, and even some do not use WeChat at all. Therefore, it is unrealistic for them to get together in the WeChat group just like going to church in another city. This situation has brought great difficulties to pastoral ministry.
Second, online offerings are invisible. In fact, before the pandemic, this church followed the trend of social development, opened a QR code from a local bank, and posted it on the offering box for some believers who usually do not have cash to scan the code so that they can give. The effect was good. However, with the outbreak of the pandemic, although this church followed the example of other churches and put the offerings QR code in the WeChat group for believers to give, the effect is obviously not as good as other churches.
Every inter-church communication meeting is extremely painful for the serving team in this church. Looking at other churches’ monthly income report, and then comparing it with the income of my own church, there is a big difference. This was something that never happened or thought of before the pandemic. In this regard, there is no need for others to say anything, and I feel enormous pressure, but I can not help it.
In the face of the impact of the pandemic, the serving team of this church did not always make excuses for themselves because of the small number of church members, a large number of elderly people, and the remote location. Instead, they turned passivity into the initiative, actively looked for ways to deal with it, and tried to minimize the loss. They have successfully held online Sunday services, weekly online services, weekly online training, and strengthened small-scale family visits.
Moreover, with the recurrence of the pandemic and the suspension of church gatherings, they are constantly pressuring themselves, updating their ways, and serving harder. According to a serving team member of this church, although there were many in-person gatherings and visits before the pandemic, compared with the other two, the present service is more “substantial”, because although in-person gatherings are not available, the amount of service has instead increased a lot. There is simply no time to spare, such as online gatherings, telephone calls with believers, or family visits.
In fact, the serving team of this church deeply knows that the reason why they have no time to spare, take time to serve, and work harder than ever before is also caused by the sense of crisis. They have to stop the loss of their member base in time and try their best to minimize their losses. Otherwise, survival or existence is a problem. Staffs wages, church repairs, utilities, membership fees, etc., are all problems. After the old resources are used up, there are no new resources and the church will be in big trouble.
(This article is written by a freelance writer and also a pastor in Jiangsu.)
- Translated by Charlie Li