To go or not to go? That’s the question that hangs over many church families as the country emerges from the lockdowns of the Covid pandemic. As more congregations reopen their doors for in-person worship services, some families are finding it difficult to get back into the swing after a year and a half of watching online. Comfortable routines have been established – tuning in on the sofa with a steaming mug of coffee, getting an extra hour of sleep, enjoying the freedom of being able to watch the service at a later time. Most of us appreciated these benefits and were simply thankful to be able to worship with our church family at all, even if we couldn’t be together.
But as grateful as we might be for our new-found Zoom and live-streaming skills, there is something about “church” that cannot be replicated online. Singing “In Christ Alone” along with the worship minister streaming on my TV was great, but it doesn’t compare to standing in a room full of believers, eyes closed, hands raised, voices united in a way that must please God immensely.
God wants us as Christians to set aside time for worship, fellowship, and instruction together in community. “Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God.” (Deut. 31:12). The writer of Hebrews reinforces the necessity of togetherness: “Let us not give up meeting together… but let us encourage one another … and consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Heb. 10:24, 25). The God who created us knows what we need, and his command is clear that we need one another in community for teaching, encouraging, and worship.
Teaching and encouragement are obvious benefits for both parents and kids, but one benefit that might not be as apparent is the joy that results in being physically together with other believers. Sharing our faith with others in tangible ways such as serving and worshipping reinforces God’s truth that we are not alone – we are part of his kingdom, and because of that we are partners with other believers in something much bigger and more powerful than we can imagine.
As parents, the commitment to return to in-person church activities is an investment, and it is one that will cost us some of the freedoms we might have enjoyed during the lockdown. But the return on that investment is valuable. Parents who have a healthy and dynamic relationship with their church family can receive much that helps them parent better, such as:
Joy in being supported. Parenting is a tough job, and support and encouragement from other parents can help foster a sense of confidence in our skills. When difficult decisions with our kids need to be made, wise counsel from other parents who’ve been there works hand-in-hand with our prayers to help us make those decisions. While cultivating these relationships isn’t impossible over Zoom, it’s much harder to communicate effectively online. Investing in face-to-face communication (even masked and socially distanced) is worth a return to in-person church activities.
Joy in being known. God created us to be known—by Him, certainly, but also by family and friends. It is within these relationships that we are cared for, nurtured, and comforted. Cultivating relationships with other believers is also a powerful way to continue to grow our relationship with God. Going to church gives us opportunities we simply can’t experience online. Something as simple as giving a fist bump to an elderly friend, returning to choir practice, or acting out Bible story skits in the preschool classes are moments that give us a sense of belonging that builds us up in our faith. In every way that we connect in person, we have opportunities to share moments of conversation or simply being present that likely would never occur if we weren’t face to face. Those opportunities to share – prayer needs, a funny story, or a compassionate hug – give us a sense that we are known. . We demonstrate the powerful benefits of being known to our church family to our kids and encourage them to prioritize cultivating relationships with other believers.
Joy in sharing in the hope of the gospel. The events of the past twenty months are unlike anything most of us have ever experienced. As such, processing the changes in our lives and our responses to them will be an ongoing task that might take years to understand. Families have experienced hardships and uncertainties because of the pandemic, and our kids may be struggling to reconcile God’s goodness with the difficulties they’ve experienced.
For me, the good news of Jesus’s resurrection and the promise of salvation for everyone who believes is an anchor that held me steady in a world that seemed more uncertain than I had ever experienced before. God’s kingdom is not shaken by a pandemic, and that is something worth celebrating every chance we get with our family in Christ. Returning to church reinforces to our kids the permanence of God’s kingdom, reminding them (and us) that Paul’s words in Romans 8:38-40 are rock solid truth—nothing can separate us from God’s love through Jesus Christ. God is more than worthy of every expression of worship we can give, and our kids need to experience the joyful celebration of his faithfulness and the hope it brings.
Joy is contagious, and if we invest in our church through regular in-person attendance and worship, that joy is something we will want to catch. Then we can sing as the ancient pilgrims who journeyed to Jerusalem, excited to be able to worship God in his holy temple:
When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. (Ps. 126: 1-3)