Six COVID Controversies in Churches Today

They contact our team daily. 

They want to make the right decision, but it seems that any decision gets them in trouble. 

Pastors in churches around the world are, like all of us, navigating a new reality. It’s not a new normal; it is truly a new reality. 

These pastors, of course, have never been confronted with these types of controversies. They love their church members, but the church members are not always loving them back. 

Here are the six most common controversies we are hearing from pastors as they contact Church Answers. The list, of course, is not exhaustive nor is it mutually exclusive. 

  1. Mask vs. no mask. This one is by far the most common. Members get mad if masks are required. Members get mad if masks aren’t required. Masks or no masks for some members become a sign of political affiliation.
  1. Social distance vs. no social distance. As an introvert, I have been practicing social distancing all my life. But some members don’t like it. Yet, if you don’t practice social distancing in the church, some members don’t like that either.
  1. Change vs. no change. Of course, this debate is not new. But the pace of change has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Some members don’t understand why the church can’t get back to the way it’s always done it. Other members think it’s time to move rapidly before the blank slate becomes cluttered. 
  1. Same personnel vs. change in personnel. One church discovered during the pandemic it really did not need a full-time receptionist. Relatively few people came in the church facilities pre-COVID, and the number dropped to almost zero from the quarantine to today. The leaders deleted the position. Some members are really mad. 
  1. Zoom vs. no Zoom. Just like a number of employees liked the digital opportunity to work from anywhere, so did many church members who connected with other church members through Zoom or some other video technology. This debate is particularly evident in the ministry of small groups. Some want to keep the ministry digital. Others want to meet in person. The pastor wants two ibuprofen. 
  1. Regather vs. don’t regather. For many churches, this season of regathering is in its early transitional stage. As more members return and regather, a number of members are choosing to remain digital. We are now hearing about divisions of members between the regathered and the digital. 

It seems the one area where we need to focus more powerfully is grace. We need to show grace to pastors and other church leaders who feel like they are making lose-lose decisions. We need to show grace to members who are not ready to regather. Some of them are elderly. Some of them have young children and are not ready to expose them to crowds. Some have underlying conditions that make them more vulnerable. Some of them have loved ones who are sick or who have died. 

Maybe our focus for this season should be more of a focus on grace. After all, we have been shown grace by a Savior who died for us.

The least we can do is to demonstrate grace and an attitude of humility to those with whom we may have different opinions.

Posted on October 19, 2020

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Mask vs. No Mask is becoming an even more tense issue…just as you say. I would love to be able to designate services as either mask required or mask optional. I would also like to designate LIFE Groups or other ministry gatherings as such. But that would violate both state and county mandates. Yet I have leaders who either refuse to follow government mandates or to expect their groups / ministries to do it…which causes tension in the church. Because of division even among leaders on the subject (more heavily toward not wanting to wear masks), they certainly do not want to be the ‘fall guy’ when it comes to church policy or guidelines. A recent conversation with our governor leads me to believe the masks are here for the next 6-8 months.

    How do I help my congregation navigate this issue in light of biblical guidance to follow the governmental direction when nothing about what they are requiring causes us to violate Scripture?

    • Jaeson says on

      Go back to all the laws the Jews had related to disease. They had a LOT more than just “wear a mask” – your congregation needs to suck it up and wear one. I don’t know if it means posting as many articles as possible about the effectiveness of wearing masks or what- but do something. People are still dying from this disease (and its May).

  • Have the whole congregation read psalm 91 in “1st person” out loud. I’ve been praying this for months. It’s not only declaring the word of God, but also affirming my faith in his promises and love for me. NO weapon formed against me shall prosper! Everyone get sick from time to time but we overcome it. I refuse to fear and live a life of fear. Just sharing my experiences with the last few months. I have 1 deseasesd uncle and 5 friends and families that had mild cases of this China flu. Blessings to you in your ministry. Thank you for your service to the body of Christ!

    • Thomas Bellamy says on

      Be careful how you call this “China flu.” This exposes who you are. What would Jesus call this virus? How do we love our neighbors?

    • Jaeson says on

      Some people get sick and die. I’ve known 3 people who had relatives die, several people now who have had long term covid and aren’t 100% (and these people are NOT old or weak— one was an exercise maniac). Calling it the ‘China flu” makes you sound like a racist. It isn’t the flu, and it isn’t exclusively something that is Chinese. Taking a basic precaution is not living in fear. Do you do the same with seatbelts r helmets? You know I’m not going to live in fear of an accident so I’m not going to wear one.

  • Another good article and some interesting comments, which confirm the validity of the points. As a DOM I have had this conversation with several pastors and church leaders. It seems to be getting a bit calmer in my area and those on each side are more gracious. I would like to repost this on our fb page. Is that OK? It is good for people to see and read this as we navigate these interesting times.

  • My gosh man. Reading the first and second comment to your post was just priceless. How you navigate your position of leadership continues to inspire me. Thank you. These are not easy days for anyone. Pastors are feeling the pinch along with every other leader. I remain grateful for your insight and wisdom. You are a good dude.

  • As always, well said Thom.

    I thought you’d be interested in what I wrote about my denomination in the COVID climate, and how an emphasis on the local church and disciple-making is even more paramount. I’d live to hear your response (smccracken at JacksonFUMC dot org).

  • Thom, it seems you’ve bought into the mask scam. Just like so many. Disappointed. Truly disappointed in your caving to the government/media complex.

    Masks provide ineffective, at best protection, against a virus. It’s like trying to screen out mosquitoes with a chain link fence. Ostensibly, they restrain oral-nasal emissions – cough and sneeze particles, but the viruses are AIRBORNE — yes some are part of mucus particles in the oral-nasal emissions, but if you’re breathing in air they’re floating around in it. Masking up is a sign of submission. And we are being dictated to by unlawful, unconstitutional orders to mask up, social distance, and limit the numbers (in some states) of those gathered inside. But the authorities are applying these orders unevenly, and targeting Christians especially!

    Masks also have a number of bad side-effects, lowering the O2 content of one’s blood — and the resultant effects of that (and you will have a hard time finding this on a websearch, even on alternative engines, due to the hegemony of big tech and the media). It also has very deleterious effects on the mental development of children. Masking is no more than virtue signaling, and produce anxiety in children who are dependent on visual stimuli from faces. If you want good information on masking you should look up articles posted (including articles from the New England Journal of Medicine).

    Too many in the church are believing the unified media/government complex, which is at this point the enemy of thinking Christians. They believe that “cases” reported are people who’re sick. But that’s not the case — they are people who tested positive, some of the tests find only a fragment of the virus and count it as a positive. CDC’s own records show that the actual fatality rate from this “scandemic” is at, or lower than the rate from the seasonal flu.

    MY QUESTION IS THIS — Where is the COURAGE? You see it in some churches in California….and they’re being fined and one has lost a very long term lease on property used on Sundays only for overflow parking. I’m encouraged in my own church body that our pastor is not bowing to the unlawful orders, we began worship in May, and have not stopped our weekly services since then and no mask required (some will wear when entering and leaving) and people are NOT afraid to meet and greet!

    • The size of a COVID molecule is a min. of 80 nanometers. The size of a O2 molecule is .34 nanometers. If a mask isn’t going to slow the spread of COVID, it sure isn’t going to restrict you’re O2 levels. If you don’t want to wear a mask, that’s fine. But, try hard to not throw around false scientific claims, especially in the name of church persecution.

    • Jaeson says on

      You are just being a fool, and this is why people don’t want to visit churches or be Christian. You have politicized church, politicized basic health measures.

      People work all day with masks on in MANY occupations with no ill side effects. They have for decades in clean rooms, manufacturing, and the medical field. Please sit back down and take your Qanon with you.

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    A lot of the controversy surrounding face masks, social distancing, and regathering is feed by misinformation circulating on social media. While pandemic fatigue may play a part, pandemic denial is the main culprit for this misinformation. The issues of face masks, social distancing, and regathering have also become politicized. People not only don’t understand the value of face masks and social distancing–reducing transmission risks, they don’t want to understand. They want to believe that the pandemic is not as serious as reported in the media and are closing not only their eyes but their minds to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the United States and around the world. They will listen to the misinformation peddlers because they are telling them what they want to hear and not what they need to hear. The country and the world are the midst of a major epidemic of what is highly infectious, life-threatening disease. In refusing to take the disease with the seriousness that it deserves, they are contributing to its spread. Infectious diseases do not spread by themselves. They spread through people. They spread because people are unwilling for one reason or another to change their behavior. Africa keeps experiencing outbreaks of ebola because people eat “bush meat,” meat from wild animals that are infected with the virus, and wash the dead before they bury them, exposing themselves to the virus. Whether a church should reopen its building and how the congregation should regather cause conflict because the decisions made tend to reflect and reinforce one view of the pandemic over the other can threaten the denial of those minimizing the seriousness of the pandemic or can raise the safety concerns of those who recognize the seriousness of the pandemic.

    As for suggesting that churches which follow the guidance of the state and local health authorities and implement recommended precautionary measures to reduce transmission risks are inward-looking, I must point out that these churches are motivated not only by desire to protect their congregations but also their communities. They do want to become an epicenter of a cluster of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in their community. I would not describe their concern for their community as inward-looking. On the other hand, churches that disregard the safety concerns of their communities are not building positive relationships with their communities with their disregard of these concerns. They are alienating their communities. That I don’t believe can be considered outward-looking. A more accurate description might be “self-absorbed,” only concerned with themselves. Unfortunately the tendency to denigrate and even demonize those with whom one disagrees, which has come to characterize US politics is spilling over into America’s churches. This tendency is incompatible with what Jesus taught and with how one of his disciples should live.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks, Robin.

    • This is a joke right, Robin? You literally just demonized those churches whom you disagree with, and then you ended your diatribe by talking about how awful it is that there are those who demonize the views of others. This is the real issue. Fake virtue signaling happening in society and in churches.

    • Love what you said Robin. All correct. My family has been out of church for over a year now because our church doesn’t take precautions. We had a horrible outbreak and there were no changes upon the return. We now have to find a new church that does take precautions. I had hoped to return but now I’m struggling to forgive them and don’t know how to trust the leadership any longer. Absolutely heartbreaking.

  • Mark Stanton says on

    The first time we closed down then reopened all was well. However, after having to shut down a second time for 7 weeks and then when we reopened we required a mask. OH WOW! even though they cannot go to work without one in the industries locally you would have thought I instituted the mark of the beast! Lost half of congregation. We have thus far zero infections in our congregation. Even though churches all around us who did not practice safe precautions have had huge infection rates. Now couple these challenges with 2 major hurricanes with in 7 weeks of each other. Our congregation is struggling to stay alive.

  • You had me at number one. I call it “The Power of the Mask”. lol I have lost members because we wear a mask. I have members not yet returning because not enough people wear a mask. I have a few who don’t want to serve as a greeter because they’re not comfortable wearing a mask (which is what we are still asking of those you first meet). Oh well. On we go.

  • It has, indeed, been a challenging season. I take the view that how we journey through these challenges will shape the soul of the congregation for years to come. There is both danger and opportunity in that realization. I’ve also coached and encouraged our leaders not to be too discouraged by less than desirable results from the innovative things we try. If they don’t work after a good effort, abandon them and pivot to something else. These are uncharted waters.

    While this is tough, it is also invigorating. I’m excited about what the future will bring for the church. I’m already seeing more engagement with people in ministry and a renewed participation in corporate prayer life.

  • Yes; we do want to make right decisions based on truth; truth that is obfuscated by a thick political soup. In a sense the church is being persecuted very cleverly with the ‘pandemic’ used as cover. Aside from that, the issues raised in this article seem to apply more to inwardly focused churches. A couple hours ago you sent an email titled “Does your church have an outward focus?” Timely.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks, Dave.

    • David Whittaker says on

      I love God. I need to attend corporate worship. I have a 93 yr mother that lives with us. I have a 14 yr son that needs me to be healthy. I see people contacting Covid through corporate worship.

      Therefore, I need a place near Brentwood where people social distance, wear a mask through the worship and worship the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. No politic or pride. Just the qualities of the Holy Spirit. Please help.

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