What impact has Covid-19 had on our churches?
The Covid-19 pandemic has presented a massive challenge to gospel churches in Wales as normal church services and activities have been dislocated. Churches with technological skills have continued to function online, but some churches have neither met physically nor online for more than a year. The challenges facing smaller churches have been serious and restarting again will not be easy.
Some people who died from the virus suffered from pre-existing conditions that made them more vulnerable. Likewise, pre-existing factors have made churches more vulnerable. Smaller churches with a majority of older members are facing significant challenges and some larger churches may not be as strong as they appear. The nucleus of workers is often much smaller than the membership or congregation.
Challenges are also opportunities. The pandemic has made many people anxious and afraid. Their need to hear the gospel is as urgent as ever. The situation calls for faith, courage, and a vision for what we can do with God’s help. It has been good to hear of new people tuning in to online services, and some coming to faith, but post-pandemic opportunities may be even greater. The pandemic has given us an opportunity to review everything we are doing and to find ways of being more effective in our church life and evangelism. We want to see larger and smaller churches grow and be strengthened.
What is the situation in Wales today?
Over the past 50 years there has been a massive decline amongst denominational churches in Wales. Many churches and ministers that remain are evangelical. The churches I know best are the 60 member churches in the Associating Evangelical Churches of Wales (AECW), of which 25 are in the South Wales valleys with 17 full-time pastors. The people in these communities have great needs so sustaining a gospel witness in as many of these smaller towns and communities as possible is a priority.
The Lord is raising up a new generation of pastors. They are excellent men and are totally committed to gospel ministry. They face formidable challenges in caring for their congregations and reaching a new generation of people in their communities. It’s vital that as churches we help this new generation of gospel ministers to fight the contemporary battles effectively. We must be both anchored to the rock and geared to the times.
What can we learn from the early Christians?
Persecution was the constant experience of the early Christians, yet the gospel was bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world. Through persecution, the Christians in Jerusalem were scattered and ‘preached the word wherever they went’ (Acts 8:4). As a result of this scattering, Philip preached the gospel to the Samaritans. Others went to Antioch and began speaking to Greeks, ‘telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord’ (Acts 11:20-21). The Jerusalem church sent a good man, Barnabas, to Antioch to help the new church. He taught the new Christians and brought Saul to help him. Later, the church leaders at Antioch were sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and released Barnabas and Saul to the work to which God had called them.
If persecution did not hinder the gospel being preached to the nations, neither does the Covid-19 pandemic mean that God’s work has been put on hold or will inevitably be diminished. The key issue is how we, as the people of God, respond to the pandemic and stand side by side for the gospel.
The early Christians encouraged each other, shared gifted leaders, sent material resources to their brothers and sisters in need and drew gifted men from many churches to engage in evangelism and church planting. We must learn from them and follow their example.
How can we respond spiritually and biblically to the challenges of the pandemic?
Some Christians have criticised our political leaders for not calling the nation to prayer, but how have we responded as Christians and churches? Have we become more serious about urgently praying for the people around us and the world? Have we enjoyed watching one Sunday service in the comfort of our home? Has the plight of the people around us who do not know the Saviour motivated us to greater commitment?
Here are some challenges we face in responding to the pandemic in biblical and spiritual ways.
Do we need to repent of our unbiblical independence? The early Christians prayed for each other and practically helped Christians who lived hundreds of miles away. The church at Philippi is an outstanding example of this. Will the Covid-19 pandemic make us turn outwards to see and respond to the needs of other gospel churches?
Do we need to repent that our commitment to our traditions can be stronger than our commitment to Scripture? Are we ‘always reforming’ in the light of God’s Word or content with our traditions – the way we have always done things?
Do we need to repent of our preoccupation with material prosperity? During the pandemic many people have been better off, yet gospel ministries are languishing for the lack of people and money. The Evangelical Movement of Wales has reported a financial loss and the need to close bookshops and lay-off staff who have sacrificially served the Lord. Is this the result of the pandemic or of our failure to use the resources the Lord has graciously given us?
Investing in the gospel
Christians really could make a difference in Wales if we began investing in gospel ministries! God has given us significant financial resources. If 500 Christians give £25 per month, Gift Aided this would raise £1 million every 5 years for gospel work in Wales.
Christianity without commitment
Has the pandemic made us reassess our commitment? Is attending one meeting a week and supporting the church financially all there is to being a Christian? Is such a witness to our Saviour who ‘loved us and gave himself for us’ credible to the people around us who don’t know him? Do they see us simply as ‘churchgoers’ rather than dedicated disciples of Jesus?
Faith in God
Our situation calls for greater confidence in God. Jonathan, Saul’s son, single-handedly attacked the Philistines, telling his young armour-bearer, ‘Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few’ (1 Sam. 14:6). Do we have faith like his?
Regaining our vision
Over the past 60 years, gospel churches have emerged in many parts of Wales and every one is precious in God’s sight. Is our vision to see thriving gospel churches in every strategic community in Wales? The key issue today is not secession as it was in the 1960s and 1970s, but standing together as one for the faith of the gospel. In John 17, Jesus prayed for us: ‘May [they] be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me’ (John 17:21).
If you want any information about how you may be able to support and encourage gospel churches in your community please email firstname.lastname@example.org