In the past year or so there’s been a lot of concern about the government stopping people from gathering in our church buildings.
Many say it’s a reasonable request in the interest of public safety. Some insist it’s nothing more than an excuse to close us down. Others believe it started with good intentions, but has gotten out of hand.
I will not be weighing in on any of that. But what I will weigh in on is this.
No one can shut down the church. Jesus said he’d build it, and he is.
While local congregations close down on a daily basis all over the world, no government has closed a single church. They don’t have the ability to do so.
Same Church, Different Formats
Let me use the congregation I serve as an example.
We had to shut our doors for awhile. But we never closed the church. We just operated in different formats than what we were accustomed to.
- We went from in-person services to online-only.
- We had to pause face-to-face fellowship, so we picked up the phones more often.
- We couldn’t have in-the-room Bible studies, so we used pre-recorded and videoconference options.
The doors of our church building were shut for awhile, but we never stopped having church. Not for one second.
The Struggling Churches
This hasn’t been an easy time. And it will continue to be difficult for the next several years. But the church Jesus is building functions best when times are difficult. That’s a major aspect of our calling.
So what’s happened with the churches that are struggling to stay open? Here’s an overwhelming principle I’ve noticed.
The churches that have struggled the most to stay alive are the ones who have defined themselves by some very strict, but very extra-biblical requirements.
For instance, if “having church” means you must meet
- At this time
- In this place
- Following this service order
- Singing these songs
- Preaching from this translation
- Wearing these clothes
you are operating on shaky ground.
The more extra-biblical traditions we add, the more vulnerable we make our congregation. They increase our exposure to control by government mandates, health departments, building code enforcers, fire marshals, denominational decisions, angry church members and changing societal norms.
That was true going into and through the pandemic and lockdowns. It will stay true as we come out the other side of them.
What Makes A Church Invulnerable To Being Shut Down
The principles for keeping a church open are really quite simple. Not easy, but simple.
The more extra-biblical traditions your church requires, the more vulnerable you are.
The fewer extra-biblical traditions your church requires, the less vulnerable you are.
As long as we define church by the small, but essential list we see in the New Testament, we’re invulnerable to being shut down.
- People who love Jesus.
- People who love each other.
- People who make disciples according to scripture.
- People who love their neighbors who don’t know Jesus yet.
You don’t need access to a church building to do any of that!
Simple Is Strong
Think about all the congregations you know that have closed over the years.
How many were from nonessentials like losing their building, not being able to pay a pastor, or theological arguments? Probably a lot. Now think about how many closed because they couldn’t worship, fellowship or bless others in Jesus’ name?
Certainly there are healthy local congregations that cease to exist no matter how faithful they are. But the chances of a church closing because of outside forces reduce dramatically when we stay closer to the bare essentials.
“Extras” like a building and a regular schedule of programs can be helpful. Our church has all of that.
But they’re not essential.
As long as we keep to the essentials, nothing can stop the church Jesus is building.
(Photo by Darío Martínez-Batlle | Unsplash)