The church of Jesus Christ was intended to gather and to scatter.
We gather for worship, fellowship, instruction, inspiration, and encouragement (cf. Hebrews 10:24-25).
We scatter to share the gospel, to love our neighbors in Jesus’ name, and to be “salt and light” in the places where we live, work and play (cf. Matthew 5:13-16).
Yet, beginning on Sunday, March 15, we temporarily suspended any on-campus, in-person assemblies at Ingleside.
Why? It has been a way of honoring our governmental authorities and loving our neighbors as we do our part to slow the spread of the new coronavirus (and thus preventing our healthcare infrastructure from being overwhelmed).
Now, as our Governor is beginning to allow more medical practices and other businesses to resume “Minimum Basic Operations” beginning on Friday, April 24, many are asking about our plan for the days ahead at Ingleside.
The Scripture says: “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22, ESV). So, we have sought wise counsel.
Just this week, I have conferred with our Ingleside staff and Overseers. I have carefully reviewed President Trump’s “Opening Up America Again” guidelines. I have been on a conference call with Governor Kemp and have examined his executive orders. I have been in a Zoom meeting with pastors of other large churches in Georgia. I have spoken with our Mayor and leaders in our local medical community. I have reviewed guidance and best practices from our Georgia Baptist Mission Board.
Above all, our Ingleside leadership has asked the Lord for his wisdom. James 1:5 says: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (ESV).
As we have walked this path, several principles have begun to emerge that have shaped our thinking thus far.
- First, churches of different sizes and in different locations may reach different conclusions. A church of 30 in a rural county may choose a different path than a church of 2,000 in a metro or suburban area.
- Second, what may be legally permissible, may not always be profitable (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:12). We sometimes should voluntarily limit our liberty for the good of another, to commend the gospel, and to bring glory to God (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:23-33).
- Third, returning to in-person gatherings while strict social distancing is expected (six feet between worshipers, all wearing masks, no handshakes or hugs, etc.) may be more frustrating than satisfying. Under such conditions, we may have come back to the property, but we will not have come back to church!…
- Fourth, when we do return to campus, it will likely be best to do so in incremental fashion. Perhaps at first there will be worship services only with no classes, groups, choirs, or age-group programming. Then, as the weeks pass we will build back up to our full ministry menu.
- Fifth, it could be that our children may tell us when it’s time to assemble again. By definition, children do not do social distancing well – from one another or from their leaders. So, until it’s okay for “children to be children” at church (or school, sports, and other extra-curricular activities), it may not be reasonable for us to expect to return to full, regular programming.
- Sixth, when we do return to on-campus services, it will probably be best to continue to provide the livestream option on Sunday mornings. This will allow those more vulnerable to the virus (older people and those with other medical conditions) to participate in worship online until they determine that it’s best for them to return to the assembly in person.
- Seventh, it is probably best to keep our decision-making horizon shorter rather than longer. Since our learning about COVID-19 (cases, mortality, treatment, immunity, etc.) is being updated daily, it seems appropriate for our responses to be guided by the most current information available. As circumstances change in our region of the state and as guidelines from our governing authorities are updated, we will modify our plans accordingly and communicate in a timely fashion.
With all these principles in mind and given the guidance of the Governor’s Executive Order on April 20 (which runs concurrently with the existing Public Health State of Emergency until May 13, 2020), we will continue our worship services by livestream only at least through Sunday, May 17, and will have no Ingleside-sponsored on-campus or off-campus in-person classes, groups or other programming at least through Sunday, May 17. We will revisit our plans for May 18 and beyond as we get closer to that date.
As always, I welcome your feedback and input to me or our other leaders as we make this journey together. Be assured, no one looks forward to our return to on-campus, in-person worship more than I do.
Until then, I am counting on you to prize and protect our unity, to worship weekly by livestream, to keep on connecting with one another by phone and videoconferencing, to love your neighbors, to give generously, to share the gospel eagerly, and to pray earnestly for our mission of making disciples for the glory of God.
I am confident that our sovereign God is working “all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11b, ESV) and that as we trust him and obey him, he will show us a wise way forward.
And, yes, I still believe that the best is yet to come!