Church: When will we meet again? – May 19, 2020

Dear First E-Free,

It was right around two months ago that I shared some of our leadership team’s decision-making process for why we were suspending the in-person ministries of First E-Free. Now, at a point where many in our society are wondering whether it is safe (or at least, “safe enough”) to have something of a public life again, I’d like to give you another peek behind the scenes of what the leadership is thinking, praying for, and planning…

When will First E-Free meet at our building again?

That is probably the biggest question that we all have – at least, with regard to the church. It’s also the question that none of us have a definite answer for. While I am hopeful that some sort of in-person church will become a reality sooner rather than later, there are a number of factors that affect when we will be able to do that (even then, we will continue to make our services available online and through the mail for those who won’t be able to join us for some time). We are looking at four main indicators as far as decision-making: data, other churches, recommendations, and situation…

  1. Data: Our leadership team is currently tracking two objective indicators as to the course of Coronavirus here in Woodbury County: new confirmed cases of Coronavirus and new (also called “current”) hospitalizations. If you have followed recent news, you’ll know that these numbers are actually harder to get than we would like – there is, at the moment, no centralized, easy-to-use database that clearly shows a trend of whether confirmed cases are going up, down, or staying the same (though we remain hopeful that this will become available in the near future). The same is true for Coronavirus related hospitalizations. Thus, we have resorted to tracking the daily statistics by hand. One pair of indicators that we are looking for are seeing steady downward trends in confirmed cases and hospitalizations. Services are currently online-only through May 31, which provides us time to see what the actual trend in Woodbury County is. It also allows us to gauge if recent measures to re-open businesses are impacting cases locally – whether cases decline, increase, or have no discernible change.
  2. Other Churches: Similarly, we are also listening to and interacting with the Central District of the Evangelical Free Church of America and other E-Free churches in our region. Not only are we a part of the E-Free denomination, but we also believe that they have taken a very measured and balanced response to the Coronavirus driven by Scripture (regarding the church) and data (regarding the disease), rather than politics, fear, or other factors. To date, very few E-Free churches in our region have resumed any kind of in-person services (a handful of the churches in more rural towns with fewer cases or with larger parking lots are trying “drive in” services where people stay in cars in the parking lot and listen to the sermon over the radio, but these are the only experiments that I am currently aware of).
  3. Recommendations: A third influencer we are paying attention to are recommendations from both the governor’s office as well as state and local health departments. These are, necessarily, more generalized, but they often include recommendations for churches during this time. In a future announcement, I will write about the guidelines that health officials are asking churches to follow once they do hold in-person services.
  4. Situation: Finally, our own church’s situation weighs heavily in our decision-making. This includes considerations such as the number of volunteers we have who might be unable to rejoin us at this time; our large numbers of church attenders who have a history of risk factors (heart or lung disease, asthma or COPD, underlying immune system complications, etc.) or are of an age where the governor’s office is still recommending that they avoid public gatherings; and also how feasible it is to clean the church according to CDC guidelines and perform a modified service where social distancing is maintained for all ages. As well, our sister church – Nueva Vida – is following the same guidelines and coordinating with us, which means that we need to keep their health in mind also, especially since they will be meeting in the building later during the same day as we would.

So: when will we meet again? We aren’t 100% sure yet. But I can say that my hope and prayer – alongside the leadership’s hopes and prayers – is that it will be soon. Would you join us in praying for the Lord’s mercy to First E-free – and to the world – during this crisis? Would you continue to ask for wisdom – both for yourself and for the church leadership? And would you cry out to the Lord for boldness – that each of us would use this time well: to learn and study God’s Word, to deepen our trust in Him, and to share that trust with others as we have opportunity?

Continue to watch our website for updates, both as we get closer to holding an in-person service as well as for the details of what a socially-distanced service will look like.