is in-person church important?
Starting in March 2020, many religious gatherings were forbidden from meeting in-person per CDC and state guidelines. It's no surprise that California and Illinois churches weren't an exception. In addition to gyms and restaurants, a mass gathering of individuals in a closed space, often praising out loud and congregating with one another probably was COVID's best friend - many churches served as outbreak spots during the beginning of the pandemic and was often criticized for their "reckless" behavior. I'd love to get into the politics of whether or not the state has the right to shut down churches or not (separation of Church and State right?), but this is a faith-focused article so I'll spare the readers of my opinions.
As with most things in our lives that we've given up during the past year and three months, we've somewhat adjusted to virtual alternatives. Sharing your screen doesn't necessarily capture the "presence" factor of an in-person presentation and we can no longer "learn over someone's shoulder" at work, but for many white-collar workers, COVID-19 has proven to be a catalyst for remote work acceptance. For many, they can't envision themselves going back to work in-person and may choose to hold back from applying to positions that don't offer such perks (I'm debating my personal stance on this one).
In a similar light, I am somewhat conflicted on my views on attending church in-person - there's many around me who would much prefer attending online service. It's unbelievably convenient: there's no need to dress up and look you Sunday best, no need to drive or pay parking fees (especially if you live in the city) and for those that don't really take service seriously, it's a great way to check it off from your weekly things to do while doing something else. Being the amazing multi-taskers we've become, we can turn on the Youtube livestream of service while having lunch while checking Instagram and having laundry run in the background. Replace church service with your favorite Netflix show and the only difference is lack of on-demand playability and seeing your pastor on the screen instead of Meredith Grey. Sunday worship has become accessible, but in turn it has also become easy. While I'm in no position to say what's theologically sound, it doesn't seem far off that God never intended us to come to service with an "easy heart."
Then there's the social nature - Church is the body of Christ, and although socializing with other church members should never be the priority, it is a necessary and positive byproduct of the congregation. As with all organizations, growing together with those around you, learning from and depending on others with more experience and wisdom than you and simply benefitting from the presence of others are all essential aspects. Especially with a gathering purposed around learning about one's walk with a divine being and committing to become more like Him, it's probably a lot easier to open up to someone you've shaken hands with compared to someone you've seen from chest up through a crappy Macbook webcam.
Most churches, even in states like California and Illinois, are opening back up with mask mandates and limited capacity in place. Like many industries and businesses during the past year and three months, some Churches faired surprisingly well (and even grew) while others couldn't withstand the pandemic. There's an argument to be had, and one that I hear often, that those that would've eventually left the church just expedited their decision through this time - that in the long run this isn't a huge deal. If we truly believe in a heaven and hell and eternal damnation for those without faith (I'm overly simplifying here - note that I'm of the strong belief that you can definitely go to heaven without attending church and vice-versa), aren't we essentially saying "they would've died anyways so what's dying a little early going to do?" Sounds awfully familiar with certain arguments against preventive measures for COVID to me.
To hop off the Negative Nancy persona for a second, I'm aware other leaders of the Church believe that this could be a great opportunity for spreading the gospel. There's more access to service than ever and people are fully adapted to the digital model - some churches are exclusively launching virtually, which allows for low overhead costs while being able to spread the word as well as create virtual church communities. As with any pandemic and recession, the circumstances presents questions for many who've never considered "end-of-life" thoughts before.
At the end of the day faith is your relationship with God - judging others and their walk as well as determining what's right and wrong with the direction of the Church is probably not what a 23 year old corporate boy is supposed to do. I just hope we can all get back on the mission field and jump up and down singing Dancing Generation before I get too old.