How To Have Church When You Can't Have Church

How To Have Church When You Can’t Have Church

The Coronavirus pandemic is literally changing everything!

In our state, Maryland, the restrictions have changed rapidly.  On Thursday, March 12, 2020, the governor gave an Executive order banning religious gatherings over 250. Just one week later, that number dropped to just 10 and the state of California has ordered everyone to stay at home with no timeline stating when it may end.

Most churches weren’t really affected when the initial shutdowns were announced since these orders initially only targeted about 10% of all churches in America (churches running over 250).

On March 16th, the President “requested” no gatherings over 10 people. Okay, that hits every church in America!

So, what do you do when you can no longer meet for a worship service? More importantly, is a Sunday service the totality of the Christian faith?

The fact is, Christianity is NOT a service we attend in a building, it is a faith we live out in our everyday lives.

The bright side of this dark time is that church leaders will be forced to reevaluate everything we do considering the essentials of our faith.

We’ll have to get back to the fundamentals.



The question may seem a bit pedantic but couldn’t be more important. The truth is, our first impression when asked this question is based more on experience than theology. Our brains think in images before we dive into theology.

When asked about the essence of church we see pictures in our mind. Steeples, pews, hymn books, platforms, and preachers.

These images influence our opinion far more than any scholarly analysis. This is important, because we have to admit that before we can properly evaluate the latter.

So, for just a moment, wipe away all your assumptions and nostalgia and ask fresh and anew, what is a church to be and what is a church to do?

To get the right answer we must consult the author. According to scripture, “…Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior.” (Ephesians 5:23, NRSV)

Matthew 16:18 is the classic verse on the establishment of His church. “…I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18, NRSV)

The Greek word used in this text is ‘ekklesia’ which means “the gathering of the called,” which emphasizes two key concepts: community and calling.  

The community emphasizes our need for others. The calling means we have been summoned by the Savior for a reason.

At Oak Ridge, we define the local church in our membership class this way:

The church is a local gathering of God’s people covenanted together to fulfill God’s purposes.

Notice the key ingredients: PEOPLE and PURPOSES.

The church is not a building, the church is a body.

Church is not a service we attend, church is a mission we fulfill.

The church that Jesus said He would build would simply be the community of the called accomplishing the purposes of the Savior.

So, what are those purposes?

That leads us into the second question.


What are the activities of the church?

I mentioned that we have been summoned by the Savior. A summons is an obligatory calling by a higher authority for a serious purpose (yeah, you should probably read that sentence again).

Becoming a follower of Jesus is not when we narrowly escape the fires of hell.

Becoming a follower of Jesus is when we respond to His supreme summons.

We are showing up for duty. Because He is the supreme authority, we are here to do His bidding not ours.

So, what’s His bidding?

Jesus spent three years instructing His first followers on His missional mandates. He used many parables, projects, and personal illustrations to teach them exactly what He wanted them to do as His first church. These instructions can be summarized in two great statements: the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

The Great Commandment came about when someone asked Jesus what was the most important rule we should follow.

The Great Commandment
Jesus said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart…soul…and mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.’
Matthew 22:37-40

Jesus is saying, you can boil down the whole Old Testament to these two directives:

1. Love God (Worship)
2. Love People (Ministry)

In the Great Commission, Jesus adds three additional instructions to His first followers:

The Great Commission
“Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT)

From the Great Commission we are instructed to:

  • Take the good news global (Evangelism)
  • Baptize new believers into the family (Fellowship)
  • Teach them how to live God-honoring lives (Discipleship)

So, from the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, we can summarize the activities of the church into these five categories:

  • Love God through worship.
  • Serve people – Stewardship.
  • Spread the good news about Jesus through partnership.
  • Bond the community of believers through fellowship.
  • Help them grow to spiritual maturity – discipleship.

Notice what’s missing?

  • Hold services
  • Run programs
  • Convene committees
  • Sing Hymns

Before you get too mad, don’t hear what I’m not saying.  There’s nothing wrong with any of these, but realize that they are all TOOLS and techniques that can help churches accomplish the designated activities. They are not the stated directives handed to us from the Master.

In other words, church is not canceled even when “church” has been canceled!

We are still under orders to worship, fellowship, grow, serve and share the good news!

But, how on earth do we do church when our services our shut down?

Now that’s the right question!



You may have heard the adage:

Methods are many,
Principles are few.
Methods may change,
Principles never do.

This may seem simplistic, but it is incredibly instructive.

“Doing” church goes way beyond Sunday services.

Remember, the Christian church began and flourished when there were no “churches.” It was illegal. The beauty of the Christian faith is that it is not building or service centric. It is purpose driven, not program driven.

The message never changes but the methods must be constantly changing to adapt to an ever-changing world.

And man, is it changing now!

So, what are we to do as church leaders? We must adapt the methods we use to bring the good news!

For our church that means we went back to the drawing board and asked the following, in light of the current crisis:

  • How can we gather our people for worship?
  • How can we connect in community?
  • How can we grow our people in discipleship?
  • How can we serve our community?
  • How can we share the good news?

Answer: ONLINE!

We’ve made a commitment to double down on our years long drive to offer online tools for accomplishing God’s eternal purposes.

At Oak Ridge, for now, that means we will:

  • Gather for worship by streaming our services.
  • Connect our small groups through video chats.
  • Offer Growth Track discipleship online.
  • Equip our people with practical ways they can serve their family, neighbors, and community.
  • Use our online platforms to share the good news (and boy, could we use some good news right now)!

Believe it or not, our staff is more energized right now than ever. It is exciting to rediscover WHY we’re here and HOW we can creatively continue the Great Commandment and the Great Commission even in the midst of a Great Crisis.

What are your thoughts?

  • Linda Derickson-Witte
    Posted at 13:48h, 22 March Reply

    I loved the content of your blog! You remind me of the real reasons I’m here on earth. My prayer is that I discipline my heart and life to be used to BE the church daily in all my affairs that I may share Jesus with all God places in my path. Thank you Pastor Brian. 🙏🏼❤️

  • Robert Bannister
    Posted at 16:31h, 04 April Reply

    The truth is: our mission is bigger than a virus. So we must get creative in getting our calling accomplished. Thanks for the insight.

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