As churches in China have to stop gathering due to the coronavirus crisis, the closure is testing churches.
The test may be the biggest challenge since the Reformation. An Anabaptist scholar claims that on occasion, churches regroup themselves through crises and face wholesale changes. They make use of the opportunity to change their outmoded systems and rigid theology.
Similarly, the dilemma of ungathering can be regarded as a crisis and also an opportunity.
The core of traditional churches is gathered worship. One main indicator of the success of a church is Sunday attendance. When a church talks about its growth, an increase in attendance is an important factor.
Although we often stress that the development of Christianity should not be centered around numbers and size, attendance is the standard that traditional Christians use to judge a church. However, the traditional method of measuring church growth by numbers meets an unprecedented challenge under today's conditions.
It reveals to us that our focus should transfer from overall size to individual growth and evangelism. Meanwhile, pastors should change their focus on controlling and privatizing churches for the purpose of spreading the gospel.
The “church” is an organization made up of believers, but not the only one. The current crisis provides the gospel with a chance to engage families in a new way. Influenced by traditional concepts on church life, believers consider churches as the main place where faith is practiced. Activities including attending Sunday services, Bible studies, and prayer meetings are seen as the main content of one’s faith life. In a word, they pay attention to liturgical activities yet neglect life practices.
We know that a social network plays an important role in evangelism. In the Gospels, Jesus used his social network, such as his family, friends, and relatives, to preach the gospel. In Paul’s time, he chose places where large groups of Jewish people resided, like the Jewish diaspora in Galatia and Rome. He shared their Jewish identity.
This was why most places where he preached were Jewish synagogues. Paul used the social network to make his evangelism more effective. Social networks have the benefit of built-in trust.
In our current context, Christians don’t need to regret not being able to meet but can make up for not having ungathered worship at home and in the workplace. The core mission is evangelism as Jesus commands us to make disciples of all nations. Hence, the gospel-based growth pattern is not new. Jesus started it as he always put the gospel as the center rather than the church.
We cannot attend the church, but we can share the gospel with our families and colleagues. What’s more important, we should practice the gospel at home and at work.
We can share gospel stories with our children and do housework then let them receive the gospel through our changes.
Maybe when the pandemic ends, there will be fewer churches but more Christians. Churches will naturally resume and the gospel revive.
In conclusion, evangelism is the best liturgy to worship God during the pandemic.
- Translated by Karen Luo