I sat in my car with my five children, rain steadily pelting the roof, the windows slowly fogging up with our warm air inside. We had only a limited view of the other cars around us in similar situations. My husband was leading a drive-in church service and had partially retreated to the open door of the church to avoid the rain. We could see neither him nor our fellow worshipers on Sunday morning, but we could hear him over a local radio frequency that had a limited range barely reaching the edge of the parking lot. This has become the new normal. Drive-in church. And I admit, it’s a bit of a letdown. My five-year-old, who was never terribly well behaved in church anyhow, no longer has to sit on my lap during the service, so he slides on and off his seat in the car. My other kids, who are generally quite well behaved in church, now have the freedom to whisper little side comments throughout the service or slouch back in their seats or take off their shoes. Sitting in our car doesn’t have the same effect as sitting in a physical church building with other congregants around us and the organ accompanying us for hymns. Listening over a radio frequency just isn’t the same.
Whether you do drive-in church, watch live-stream services on Facebook, listen to the radio, or watch church on TV nowadays, chances are your worship time looks very different than it did six months ago. Certainly, it’s a wonderful blessing that these alternate means of worship are available to us, and I’m grateful that technology is being used in productive ways to reach out. But still, it’s different.
When we got home from church on Sunday, my husband got a text from an older member of our congregation, who said, “I enjoyed the service this morning! Thank you for being the only one who got wet, as I sat in front of the church on ground that once had a ground water well providing drinking water for horses and mules that were transportation for getting people/children to church/school. And also drinking water for attendees of both church and school. God has brought this church through many changes/crises through its 100+ years existence including many major disease outbreaks—God is good!”
What a beautiful perspective! This dear woman reminded me that things around us are constantly changing, but one thing will never change: God’s Word. “The Word of the Lord endures forever,” 1 Peter 1:25 (quoting from Isaiah 40) reminds us. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” Hebrews 13:8 assures us. We might struggle to adapt to new ways of worship, but God’s Word is not hindered, and more important, God’s Word never changes. The message of the cross and resurrection are always the same.
Over the course of history, God’s people have always found innovative ways to meet together. In the early church, small congregations had to meet in the catacombs in secret to avoid detection by authorities during a time when Christianity was illegal. There are many parts of the world still today where the Church is persecuted, and people meet together at odd times of day and in small groups to avoid detection. There have been many periods of history as well when the Church weathered particularly heinous times, such as Nero’s Rome and Nazi Germany. Even during these times—perhaps especially during these times—Christians still met together whenever possible.
Why do Christians go to such great lengths to meet and worship together? Why is it so important? Because God’s people are meant to be together. God created us for fellowship with Him and with one another. One day, hopefully sooner than later, we will be able to meet in our church buildings again. But God never promises us this. Indeed, many Christians in the persecuted Church could only dream of such a luxury. What God does promise is that He will be with His Church, working through His Word, to sustain it.
Perhaps looking back someday, this time of social distancing will be a time of growth for many people. Families are together more now, with parents home from work and kids home from school. Activities are canceled, so people who would normally be “too busy” to go to church now have time to devote to it. Perhaps we will be less inclined to take church for granted once the quarantine is over. Maybe those in our communities will see the lengths we go to in order to maintain fellowship and worship, and be inclined to attend church themselves. Neighbors may reach out to one another now more than ever. God is working in ways we may never know, especially during times of uncertainty. But cling to the certainty that He is with you always—even in a fogged-up car in the rain—to the end of the age.