Are You Going Back to Church?

Online Church

Since March 2020, I haven’t been inside the building where my church meets.

For a short period, they closed down. But sooner rather than later, they opened back up.

But I wasn’t comfortable returning. It didn’t feel safe. While some covid precautions were taken, they didn’t meet the CDC guidelines. Too many virus outbreaks occurred.

So I watched from home. And that was good.

Until it wasn’t. I’d occasionally switch to another church’s online service that I liked even better. And over time, I switched to a third church’s online service in another state that I preferred best of all, where I saw Jesus most of all.

But now it’s decision time.

are-you-going-back-to-church

Go or No Go?

Jeff and I are both fully vaccinated now. The CDC has given us the scientific green light to return to in-person services.

Yet I’m still hanging back.

Why?

  • I’m disappointed by the way many churches mishandled pandemic protocols.
  • I’m discouraged by the lack of concern they showed for each others’ health.
  • I’m uncomfortable with the extreme sides taken by the people on the pew that feels disrespectful to Christ’s message of unity and love.

How can I go back to that?

One step at a time.

My Steps

First, I need to do a heart cleanse.

God knows my heart better than I do, so I need his Spirit to show me what attitudes I need to release, what forgiveness I need to offer, what grudges I need to repent of.

Then second, I need to clear my head of biases.

I’m old enough to understand that no church is perfect because no people are perfect. My expectations need to be realigned with what’s reasonable, not with what’s ideal.

And third, I need to make a move.

It can be a temporary move. My initial decision doesn’t have to be a permanent one; it just needs to be a forward one. It may take trial and error to find the best place we need to be. Maybe it’s where we left off. Maybe it’s not.

But I won’t know if I don’t go and see.

God Can Be Trusted

It’s a new season and we’ve been changed by this past year’s experience.

Faith has shifted for many.

two-views-of-god_david-hayward

by David Hayward

But God is still trustworthy.

We can still place our confidence in him, even while we regain our footing on which people to trust, even which church to trust. God’s perpetual love for us as individuals and as a group remains steady.

God still has my trust.

Featured Post

Pam Ecrement’s post on “Getting It Backwards” caught my eye this week. She writes on how easy it is for get turned around before we even realize it.

I want to make sure that I’m turned in the right direction. Pam’s gentle encouragement reminds me to listen to the Lord’s voice above all.

Read all of Pam’s post here at her blog, then link up your own blog posts below.

Getting It Backwards

Have you felt mixed up about church, too? What has helped you make a decision to return?

I’d appreciate your comments.


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22 thoughts on “Are You Going Back to Church?

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      “Judging the judgmental” – Guilty. Also guilty of being intolerant of the intolerant. No wonder we need a community of believers to help us along the way! Thanks, Michele.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Praying for you and those in your state as restrictions are lifted there this week, Joanne. It requires so many new decisions to make about what to do and how to do it. It can feel tiring, but thankfully God never asks us to tackle more than one day at a time (that’s what I preach to myself).

  1. blankPam Ecrement

    Yes, this whole year has had an impact on church experience. It was the first time in my lifetime when a national crisis was unfolding that we didn’t come together in our churches to pray and support one another like we did on 9/11 and so many other times.

    Then the churches that complied with state mandates closed. For us, that brought the realization that church was quite different in more than one way. Our church is part of a consortium of churches and was a church plant nearly 20 years ago but now as big as the church that did the planting. When we went to online church, the original church called the shots and the worship team and the pastor preaching was often not ours. We feel and felt no connection to that original church and felt we lost our church in the mix.

    When the church opened, they followed the protocols but my husband’s health issues caused us to stay online. We also visited other churches online that blessed us. When the consortium started allowing each church in the group to have their own online service it was helpful, but they had never done online services and the technology resulted in poor quality sound and pics that sometimes stalled. It was hard!

    In May after being fully vaccinated and with numbers decreasing of those who were ill, we returned. Masks were required, distancing and closed off pews to assure it were in place, and cleaning between services to sanitize was happening. We felt safe.

    All mandates in OH will be lifted for everyone as of June 2 and our churches (who always had the freedom to follow or not follow protocols but chose to do so) emailed us that beginning this week no masks will be required and pews will not be marked off.

    It has been a strange time for us all and one none of us could never have predicted. It hit church leaders out of the blue and I think they were scrambling to cope. Those who already had online options were the best at it and those churches (like that) had the smoothest online services.

    Hopefully we all will learn what God intends and in the meantime we got samples of other parts of the family and how they worship.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Oh, Pam. I’ve read your comment several times because it echoes so much of my own experience this past year. What a different time it has been. I’ve never not been with my church family for more than a couple weeks with a sickness, and then suddenly we were all separated for this long.

      I also relate to what you say about being a church plant. Our church is that way too. We’re a satellite campus with our own pastor, but the online service was always from the main campus. So I felt our campus got lost in the mix (even though I understand why).

      When the churches did reopen, we saw from the online service that masking was a rarity, so we didn’t return.

      Now that we are both fully vaccinated, we made a plan today to return in person June 6.

      …Since you wrote your comment, I saw Saturday on your Facebook page the trauma that has hit your church with the loss of your pastor. I am so, so sorry. 🙁 That is incredibly painful to be left in the dark about something so critical. I pray that you all will get answers and a resolution soon!

  2. blankLynn D. Morrissey

    Lisa, I found this insightful and helpful. Thank you! You helped me to realize I too may be harboring some prejudices about particular members or attitudes. But I must say that our church always followed protocol mandated by our county supervisor. I have so respected the way they have handled things, with the exception of not having musicians and singers follow these “mask” guidelines. That was a real paradox to me. Not masking was clearly against our rules in St. L. county, and also seemed especially illogical for an airborne virus. (Even my professional chorus singers and other churches very similar to ours, have singers “mask up”). I thought of speaking up, but figured our leaders are under enough pressure as it is, and hardly need a “from the couch” member adding to it. (We didn’t go b/c Mike and I are high risk). And now, according to CDC, we are not, yet still hesitating (though I think there handling of this change has been abysmal). I really respect a sister church who, in deference to high riskers, out of compassion for “one’s neighbor,” and not ultimately knowing who is high risk and who’s not, still require masks. I think their attitude is right. And, ironically, even though I am vaccinated, I wonder if, when I go back (and we will!), should keep my mask in place. And then, if I wear a mask, I wonder if vaccinated people will presume I’m not vaccinated (when I am)–and think by presuming I am not vaccinated, they will think I’m selfish and uncaring towards my neighbors!! 🙂 Oh my. What confusion.

    We have worshipped online, and l do love our church, and want/need to go back. But I’ve also “attended” other wonderful services virtually. Still, I’ve no thought of lv’g our church; should that time ever come, I would not just leave. I think too many people do that and do not go to their pastors and seek permission/approval to do so or perhaps simply discuss it with them before their departure. I guess ultimately people don’t have to have that. Yet, when people join a church, likely they have committed vocally and publicly to that church to be devoted as members. It’s serious, and it’s likely a vow or promise they have taken. It seems to me that to relinquish that solemn commitment needs to be prayed about before the Lord and that pastors need to be acknowledged with the decision and reason for it, and hopefully give their blessing. (We did that when we left a church 20 yrs ago to come here).

    Thanks again so much for sharing. I so appreciate you. So sorry to be so “rambly”! 🙂
    Love
    Lynn

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I so appreciate reading about your experience, Lynn. I admit I feel a little jealous that your church always followed protocols for the most part. I agree with you that the leaders have been under a lot of pressure though. I, too, thought about talking to our leaders, but even though I disagreed with the route they were taking, I knew they were probably getting hit from all sides from disgruntled members, and I didn’t want to be one of those. 🙁 They had (and still have) incredibly tough decisions to make, and while I disagree with some of them, I still trust that they were making the best ones they felt they could.

      However, that’s only what my mind says. My heart is still trying to catch up to having a better attitude about it all.

      I laugh with you about your confusion about wearing a mask, even though vaccinated, and having others assume you’re not, etc, etc. That’s exactly how my mind works too. 🙂 I get that.

      I appreciate your perspective to not just leave a church without talking it out. We had several conversations with the leadership of our last church before we left in 2012, and although it was difficult, it felt right and it gave us a clear conscience.

      You know you never need to apologize to me for being rambly. 🙂 I love hearing your thoughts! They never fail to help me.

  3. blankBarbara Harper

    We stayed home and watched online until the last month or so. The only reason we returned was because we got vaccinated and our church is small enough that family groups could, and were asked to, sit at a distance from each other. They were also asked to wear masks coming in and out, but could remove them during the service. Now masks are optional, but we still wear them. Since neither masks or vaccines are 100% effective, we prefer to wear masks even with vaccines until the COVID numbers come down significantly.

    I’ve had some of the same issues you mentioned. I felt our church leadership handled protocols well. They were very concerned to take everyone’s feelings into consideration and do the best good. But some individuals from church were very vocal on Facebook about being anti-mask, anti-vaccine, “it’s all a government conspiracy to take control,” etc. Sigh. I took great pains NOT to say all I felt so as to keep peace with other church members and was miffed that others did not do the same. It’s hard to go back knowing some think mask-wearers are stupid or “sheep” or whatever. I don’t mind at all that people have different opinions on these things, but I mind that they attribute wrong motives or demean people with other opinions. I’ve grieved that Christians at large attacked one another rather than supported each other.

    As you said, no church is perfect. I know I’d probably encounter some of the same issues in any church.

    I also need a heart cleanse of grudges and unforgiveness and biases.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I appreciate your decision to wear masks, even though vaccinated, until COVID numbers come down. The pandemic could have ended much sooner if everyone responded with such consideration for their fellow man. That’s the attitude I expected from fellow Christians especially, which is why I’ve been particularly troubled by the reality being so different in many places.

      I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. I struggle with being judgmental about it, and I know I have got to let go of my grudges. We’re all humans and this was a first for all of us. God has given so much grace to me this past year, I need to extend it to others, both individually and institutionally. (That’s not to say that we should condone abusive situations, but this pandemic has been confusing on many levels.)

      I also agree with you that it would have been helpful if derogatory statements weren’t traded back and forth among Christians this past year. It has been painful and such a horrible witness to the world.

      I appreciate you sharing your experience; it has been so cathartic to me to know that I’m not alone in my thoughts, and also not alone in working on my heart issues. Thanks, Barbara. I know you’ll always shoot straight with us. That’s a gift.

  4. blankKaren

    I don’t know when I’ll be going back. The disconnect I felt even when in person was magnified by only online services. Add to that some mobility issues and discomfort with the church seating…. I’m still serving by creating the ProPresenter slides for the sermon, but that is my primary connection with the church.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I hear you, Karen. For me, I first felt very connected when everybody went to online. We were all in it together. I looked forward to the Sunday services and gleaned much from them. But when our church reopened quicker than most, I felt more disconnected because we were still watching from home. I’m thankful for online services though. In many ways they were super helpful for me, but not in all ways. Just like in person? Sigh. Maybe it’s just a humankind problem, not a church problem….

      I’m glad you found a way to continue to serve and at least feel useful. I believe there would be no grammar errors in your slides! 🙂 (I have pet peeves about church slides too. ha. I’m a mess. Lord, have mercy.)

  5. blankJerralea Winn Miller

    Disunity is so troubling! But I can’t help but think God would not have us stay home but get in the trenches, and perhaps, “be the bridge” bringing sides together.

    One thing so important, and you covered this – let us not be “judgy.”

    And, I love the two views graphic!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Thanks for this encouragement, Jerralea. You’re right that “being a bridge” might be one reason I need to go back. Jeff and I talked about it again this morning as we sat out on our deck and listened to the worship on the iPad as we watched the geese and baby goslings in the water (I will miss this part!). Our plan is to return in person on June 6, Lord willing. (But another thing I’ve learned from this past year is to hold plans very loosely! ha)

  6. blankJanis Van Keuren

    Hi Lisa, there are several of us thinking now is the time to return to church. Like you, we’ve been grateful for online church but we need more now, and we believe we are ready.

    Fully vaccinated, we are planning to attend service this week but would like to still maintain some social distancing.

    We’ll have to figure out how we want to approach the service because we know that not all have been vaccinated.
    Maybe a little over precautious, we’d prefer to err on the side of safety plus.
    We’ll see where God leads us in future attendance. One thing we do know is that we need the community to continue to fully worship and hear the gospel.
    Thank you for sharing the steps you are taking.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I wonder how it went today, Janis, if you did return in person! I hope that it went well and that you felt very encouraged. It’s likely that only a minority have been fully vaccinated in our church (our area has a low percentage of those getting the vaccine) so we’ll need to take that under consideration as well. On the plus side, though, cases of covid are also low in our community at last.

      It’s all quite complicated, but I trust, too, that the Lord will guide each of us to the right places we need to be. Blessings to you on your journey!

      1. blankJanis

        Lisa, I’m sad to say that when we pulled into the parking lot, it was packed. We went to our second service which no longer has mask requirements (I’m not an early bird–I guess that will be changing). So, I did not want to enter a packed church, not knowing who has taken precautions and who hasn’t. And this thought even though we’ve both been fully vaccinated. I still have a hesitancy about being in large crowds.
        So we returned home and turned on the online service.
        We’ll try again next week for the earlier service which requires masks at certain points–entering, existing, and worshipping. Typically, the earlier service has a lower attendance.
        Praying we all figure out this safety issue and vulnerability after vaccination.

        1. blankLisaNotes Post author

          I’m sorry that it didn’t work out as planned, Janis. 🙁 This makes me sad. I wonder if this is how it will be when we go back on June 6. I don’t know of any precautions our church is taking any more, so it makes me very hesitant to throw myself back into the fray with no boundaries, even though we are both fully vaccinated too. I know that many are not. I’m just so torn about it all.

          But as we’ve done with other events the past few months, Jeff and I will give each other permission to make a “let’s go home right now” decision at the last second if needed, like you and your husband did! We each have to use our God-given judgment to make the best decisions for us individually. What’s right for some isn’t right for all, and we all have to be gracious about it. I admire what you did in going home, and revamping your plan to try again next week in a different way! My friend’s church did it that way. She started out in the masked service (it’s always the early one, why is that? ha), but has since moved to the unmasked 2nd service.

  7. blank~ linda

    Oh Lisa…I am with you on this topic. My precious church that I felt to be such a family to me since Kenneth died has given me such a divided heart. Rather, my heart is divided due to the way I want church to be in such a time as this. We only closed for a short while. When they reopened, masked section where about 20 wore them. The rest did not and this was before vaccines were available. Now, only about 25% of my county has gotten them. So I am guessing that a similar percentage at church has taken the vaccine. Almost all of the people I am close to at church have not gotten them and do not intend to! I do not understand. What about caring for “one another?” I have a slightly immune-compromised system and have the vaccines. But I am unwilling to be amongst 200-300 people where few wear masks and few have the vaccines. So I watch on tv. I have a few friends who come over and sit on my porch to chat. I have several text me and/or call me. I have a friend who has sent me videos of why I should not wear a mask. I am just sad about it all. YET…God knows and His plans are perfect. He is perfect. I am wanting to walk in His will. Thank you for this hard but true post, Lisa. I understand.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      My heart broke as I read your experience, Linda. I was actually reading your comment this morning as I was watching online church (which admittedly looking at blog stuff while “at church” is NOT something I would do with in-person church, so there’s that.)

      My heart feels divided too. At a time when many of us really longed to be in church, it seemed like the most unsafe place to be because of the way it was handled. I know many churches did require masks or held outdoor services, which I applaud!, but many did not, especially not where I am and likely where you are.

      Our county now has about 37% vaccinated, which is among the highest in the state, sadly. But among our church members, I’d imagine the percentage is even lower.

      Like you, I don’t understand all the different positions on this. I’m trying to be accepting of individual decisions, but some decisions seem to be more considerate than others. And among Christians, I’d expect to see the most considerate of all, but I haven’t seen that in many situations.

      I’m not trying to be a downer on Christians. I know many have done marvelous things to help others during this pandemic! Glory be to God for that! But at the same time, many have also been very vocal about asserting their own rights above all instead of emptying themselves to serve others. I’m sure I’m as guilty as anybody, which is why I wrote this post. I have to start with my own heart of repentance.

      But it’s a struggle when I’ve had such cognitive dissonance between what I expect from fellow believers and what is reality (again, myself included).

      I’m glad you have your porch community. It sounds delightful. I can see how they could be a highlight of the year.

      Praying for all of us to to conclude like you do here: to want to walk in God’s will and to trust his perfection in it all. May blessings return to you as you have blessed me today (even through my tears).

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