Taking church home when Sunday services are cancelled

Encouragement, resources for meeting in homes

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Photo: Getty Imagess

Pastors and churches across the country are stepping into uncharted territory this week. I’ve been praying daily for my pastor friends and can only imagine the levels of stress that are piling up around them as they lead their respective churches through the coronavirus crisis.

With Sunday morning services cancelled, many are scrambling to figure out how to do church. Because so much of what we do focuses on the Sunday morning service, this poses a very real challenge for church leadership. What do we do when our weekly hour and a half long service is no longer an option?

I recently read an update from a Christian working in a Muslim majority country in Central Asia. They’d been working diligently alongside a local pastor to grow a small church made up of former Muslims. The group had found favor with a local property owner and had been meeting in a storefront building on Sundays for several years.  Every Sunday the church of over 50 gathered to worship, to listen to the preaching of their very gifted pastor and to fellowship.

All that changed when the building owner came under increasing pressure from the local Muslim community. Even though he appreciated the monthly rent, he eventually decided it just wasn’t worth it and asked them to move out.

What did they do when their weekly hour and a half long service was no longer an option? They didn’t have the option of streaming the pastor’s preaching, and they knew they wouldn’t be able to find another building big enough for their needs. How could they go on?

Crisis brings shift

The pastor and elders met and realized that they were going to have to shift away from the larger group weekly gathering. They would need to meet in many smaller groups in peoples’ homes. Rather than centralized teaching, the teaching would need to be spread out among a number of young leaders. So, the pastor took the time he usually invested in preparing his sermon and instead began to invest that time in preparing men.

While this has been a challenging time, it has also been a time of real growth. In the smaller group settings, people have found it easier to share, to interact and to practice the “one another’s” of Scripture. Young leaders, given new responsibility and a lot more time with the pastor, have matured quickly.

One of the most exciting aspects of this shift to smaller groups meeting in homes rather than an official church building is that members of the church have been more active in inviting their friends and neighbors to attend, and non-believers have felt more comfortable to come and visit. More Muslims are both seeing and hearing the gospel than ever before.

This church still finds a place to gather everyone together once each month for a larger gathering where they worship and celebrate and yes, listen to their pastor’s preaching. They are figuring things out as they have learned in a new, personal way the truth of Paul’s words in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.”

Learning from others

I hope and pray that the coronavirus crisis ends quickly. But until then, perhaps we have an opportunity to learn from the church in Central Asia, China and Iran— churches that cannot have large gatherings but rather come together in homes to “dedicate themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

It is one thing to talk about doing church small, about pivoting on a dime to a new way of doing church for the foreseeable future. It’s another thing to actually do it.  Any change is hard. Here are two resources I’ve found helpful to begin to give us a handle on how to help our congregations gather in smaller groups in homes.

  • Church At Home – Pastor and trainer Peter Roennfeldt has created a simple four page pdf with some great ideas, guidance and encouragement for helping families gather together to fellowship together.
  • Zume Training – The folks at Zume have been training Christians to make disciples who make disciples for years. This “How to Have Church at Home” training begins with a helpful 12-minute training video. There are a number of other helpful resources for facilitators on this page as well.

The coronavirus is challenging, there can be no doubt about that. It may be a challenge unlike any we’ve faced in our lifetimes. Many of us are in the midst of just trying to figure out today. It may not yet be the time to consider new ways of doing church, but in this crisis there is an opportunity to discover new rhythms, new methods, new wine skins—at least for a season—that may lead to greater levels of fellowship, faithfulness, evangelism and maturity.

May the LORD bless you and protect you.

May the LORD smile on you

and be gracious to you.

May the LORD show you his favor

and give you his peace.

Aaron Myers
Aaron Myers serves as a mission mobilizer with Multiply, a Mennonite Brethren ministry that seeks to multiply disciples and churches locally, nationally and globally, and is the director of Everywhere to Everywhere, a three-day missional training event. His heart for the least reached in general and the Muslim world, in particular developed when he and his family served in Central Asia from 2008 to 2012.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you, Aaron, for your timely piece. Actually, it is one of several that you have shared with the CL family in recent years. I just read, “Are You Obeying Jesus?” for the third or fourth time. Again I found myself saying “Amen” as I moved through your article. I will read the other two CL articles by days end.

    I think it was Rick Warren that said, “smaller is better.” As you rightly say, in small group settings we can better practice the “one another’s” and experience many other benefits necessary for a balanced upward, inward and outward ministry in and through our lives and congregations.

    Thank you for the illustration from one Central Asian nation. We Americans have much to learn from our comrades living outside our borders.

    The decision of these former Muslims to meet in homes reminded me of the primitive church in Acts that was small group centered from the very beginning (Acts 2:46). At first, of course, it was due more to logistics than to persecution, but following Stephen’s martyrdom, I sense small group gatherings in homes became the norm in the missionary era both due to persecution and following God’s design.

    Sometime in church history, we switched the tags. Today, I sense that Sunday morning gatherings in a church building are seen by many as the center of congregational living. A closer reading of Acts 2:46-47 shows, I believe, the center of church life being in homes. One involves looking at the pastor, and the back of someone’s head; the other, looking at others’ faces. Both big group and small group gatherings need to be kept in balance as the primitive church shows us.

    With COVID-19 we can’t have either setting at the moment, at least, at the congregational level except through electronic means. As you say so well, though, family life can surely benefit from social distancing.

    Hopefully, when the virus lifts we will follow more the example of the early church. Christian vitality depends on this as we are “obeying Jesus!”

    Please keep writing, Aaron!

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