The Weaknesses Revealed in Relationships and Church Through COVID-19
We are given an opportunity to effect real change when crisis reveals weaknesses
Besides the clarity and purpose that comes through crisis, what else does it do?
One thing that is very important is this – crisis reveals fault lines in our lives and relationships.
Prior to COVID-19, people could always give excuses for not having time to do this or that. For example, we could say, “I’d like to have a personal walk with God, but I travel a lot. Or my work keeps me so busy and holds me to late hours.” So that is why I can’t have a personal walk with God, or that is why I don’t have time for my family.
But we now actually do have time to spend with God and with our family. So the question is – are we doing it?
I have discovered that now that people have time, it does not necessarily mean that they will actually enjoy time with God or their family. The reality is that even though our excuses have been taken away, those fault lines were already there. The fractures that we have in our relationship with God and our relationship with family are already there. We just used our “busy-ness” as an excuse not to deal with it.
But now that everybody is locked in and locked down, we have to face the reality of those exposed fault lines. For some families, where the fault lines are already there, now it really gets exposed and it erupts.
You find that there are cases on both sides. Those who are already healthy, they become healthier. But those who are not so healthy, now it really dismantles, and so you have a lot more marriage issues, a lot more family fights and things like that. They become very obvious because the fault lines are being exposed now.
How did you help church members who were undergoing difficult times because of this?
We told them that it is okay to face up to it, that these fault lines were already there. It was just that they had never had to deal with it before, but now is a good time.
I think God exposes these fault lines, not to condemn us, but so that we will deal with them and get them fixed.
We opened up a lot more counseling facilities, so that people could quickly get counseling, receive ministry, and deal with their issues.
We also increased our family life courses. This was a good time to do it. Because husbands and wives were not traveling all around the country, it was a good time to go through marriage and parenting courses. We took this time to resolve those family issues, and resolve those marriage issues.
Another positive thing you can do during this time is to go and get help. Mental illness has come to the forefront for so many. People are locked in and they can’t distract themselves with traveling and stuff like that. So now people who are already having mental issues have these things magnified.
So we need to encourage the church to say, “It’s okay to be not okay. Go get help.” We tell people where to go, where there are people who can help. We give people resources where they can get not only counseling, but also psychiatric help, if necessary, so that they can deal with all these fault lines.
One more fault line is the inner restlessness that we all have to face. When we get locked down long enough, this inner restlessness will come up. Sometimes we think that it’s being caused because we don’t get to travel, so traveling will fix it.
But the real root of the restlessness is often a sense of purposelessness. Now that people have to really face up to it, and they cannot distract themselves with all kinds of activities. You face up to the fact that there is an inner emptiness that we have to deal with.
The exposure of these fault lines gives us opportunities to effect real change.
Other than these hidden fault lines in people’s personal lives, what challenges has COVID-19 lockdown brought to you as a church?
Crisis always brings challenges.
I’m dealing with the after-effects of staying online. We’ve really had to deal with it in three stages.
Through this whole crisis, stage one was when the lockdown happened. And our challenge was to move the whole church online. That was very difficult, especially for the older people who are not so used to technology. They really struggled. It took us some time to coach them into going online, so they were not totally disconnected from the church. Teaching them to navigate the online platform was stage one.
Stage two is when people settle down into the online platform, they have tasted the waters of the online church. And they actually find that it tastes quite sweet, and it is actually quite nice to stay online. It’s so convenient.
You can get up at 10 o’clock in the morning, in your PJs, and watch the service, not needing to get dressed up and all that. So that was stage two, people settled down into the online thing.
Then came stage three, when the government started to lift the restrictions and we are now allowed to gather at half-strength. That means if your church capacity is 100, you can have 50 people. In our building, our capacity is about 1400 so we can bring back 700 people. That’s where we are now.
What has been the response of your congregation?
We discovered that not everybody may want to come back, because now we had to get them out of their homes again. They needed to make the effort to come, and that is a challenge.
There will be some who may not come for reasons ranging from being afraid of the health situation to really liking the convenience of staying online.
The challenge we are all going to face, across the world, is the issue of “convenience versus commitment”. It brings this question to the forefront now. Will you bow your knees to the god of convenience and just stop gathering?
“Watching church online for too long has turned Christianity into a spectator sport.”
Watching church online for too long has turned Christianity into a spectator sport. It’s just like watching soccer on TV. There are thousands of people watching TV, and they’re watching just 22 men exercising in the field.
We are just passively watching and we think that after the game or the service, we have already exercised.
I found that that when the people came back after a few months of the lockdown, our worship engagement dropped. Our receptivity of the word – meaning if they will respond to an altar call after hearing the message – has dropped. It takes longer for people to respond. We are too used to just watching passively now.
That’s the challenge that we will face, that Christianity will become another spectator sport. Instead of engaging, we just end up passively watching. It seeps into even our worship, and the way we respond to God’s word.
We need to intentionally wean our people away from that.
Can you share some practical examples of how you do the weaning?
We intentionally make sure that after every session, we give an altar call, just to get them to respond again. Before our worship leaders start the worship, they will take a few moments to encourage everyone, whether online or onsite, to really engage in worship. It’s no longer a given. You have to bring it up again. We intentionally challenge the people, because if not, engagement will drop. It’s easy to become passive now.
We also really challenge the people to come back in to service, and see the benefits of the onsite church. We had to make that very clear and invite the people to come back. These are new challenges, but I am sure that we will overcome them. It will take time and effort.
How do you personally stay encouraged when you’re facing these fault lines and challenges in the church?
I want to say that crisis brings new opportunities.
One new opportunity is evangelism. During the lockdown, it was a great time to do things like Alpha Online, and to engage people in conversations. People were a lot more open through Alpha Online.
I talked to the people at Alpha, and they told me this amazing story. When the COVID-19 lockdown happened in England, people thought that Alpha was finished. The reason was that the strength of Alpha is in the meals people eat together, and without that they thought the program was done.
But the staff and leadership decided to take the course online. Some thought it would never work, but they gave it a go. And to their surprise, they had thousands of Alpha groups started. It was more successful than they imagined when they moved online.
I was so amazed that I said, “I’ll give it a go here.” And we did. We tried to run it with a few groups the last few months, and a lot of people came to Christ. I discovered that it was an opportunity that we could seize, because people found the online course convenient. So that’s something for us to think about.
Any final opportunities that come to your mind?
If we want our people to come back to the onsite church, then there must be things about the onsite church that are attractive, that can’t be duplicated online.
So that means our welcome must be truly strong. The worship must be really, really engaging. It forces us to actually take a good look at how to build the depth of the service on site. And this is healthy.
At the same time that we are building our onsite depth, we can build our online reach. The online church has effectively helped us to reach a global audience. So that’s also very good. It’s really worth the effort of going online.
So I’m now challenging our team, let’s build both the onsite depth and the online reach internally and very powerfully.
This crisis also creates a new opportunity for us to look at our own neighborhood. Because now that we cannot go too far from our home, we can actually look at our own neighbors. In time, we can think about running street parties and things like that.
The lockdown could happen again anytime. Let’s build these relationships, so that if we go to a lockdown again, we can reach our neighbors.
The last opportunity I’ll talk about is church decentralization. It’s a good chance for us to spread out.
Even now that we are back and meeting together, we still want to encourage different zones, “Don’t come to the main church, but find another spot where you could get together as a zone and watch the online stream.” As they get together, and build smaller groups within the bigger group, these can become platforms to plant new churches.
We actually planted one new campus during the lockdown. We know that it can be done and we will duplicate it in other places. It’s an onsite campus, so we have begun to decentralize a lot more. In the event a crisis happens again, and we have another lockdown where you can no longer gather in big numbers, we can easily get in small numbers of a hundred everywhere.
It’s an opportunity to church plant, an opportunity to decentralize, and so that’s something I see as a positive. We are trying all these things now, and they are great.
Benny Ho is the Senior Pastor of Faith Community Church in Perth, Australia. His twin passions in ministry are expository preaching and mentoring.
Discover more of Benny Ho’s thoughts in our ChurchNext series, where we discuss how the events of 2020 have impacted the state of the church today.