OUR RESPONSE TO COVID-19
Hello First Baptist Church,
As our church responds to the present health crisis, we need God’s wisdom where ours fails (Prov 9:10), God’s strength when we feel weak (2 Cor 12:9), God’s presence when we feel afraid (Is. 41:10), God’s love when we are given to fear (1 John 4:18), and God’s peace when we grow anxious (Phil 4:6-7). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10” and so that is where we begin. In the process of making decisions about how we proceed, we have sought feedback from our congregation, asked for perspective from fellow pastors, and considered the recommendations from the best of our human institutions. However, more than all of these, we have sought the Lord’s will and asked God’s Spirit to give us the wisdom we lack. We believe that our decisions are not our own, but represent what we believe God desires for our church in this time.
Our mission as a church is to see lives renewed through relationship with Jesus in the Twin Cities and beyond. That mission does not change. Even in a pandemic, that is our mission. Much of the public discussion has centered around the Sunday gathering, but it is important to remember that getting back to the physical gathering on Sunday mornings is not the mission. It serves to support our mission, but is not the goal in and of itself. Though we know that the Lord uses Sunday morning worship services in a unique way to instruct his people, our church body can be served in more ways than through corporate physical gathering.
Therefore, the elders have decided to be proactive in discipleship at a distance and patient to gather as a large group. Below, you will find three primary rationales for this decision and practical steps to support this decision.
THREE PRIMARY RATIONALES
We believe the risk does not outweigh the benefit of gathering with drastic restrictions. To gather as a group would require drastic restrictions to the manner in which we can worship together. The unrestricted, “normal”, corporate gathering of our people is simply not an option on the table at the moment. Although some restrictions have been lifted, concern remains that large gatherings pose a significant risk for the spread of COVID-19. We cannot guarantee that the virus would not spread throughout our church community, nor that our church could become a hotspot for the virus and compromise the health of our neighbors. Gathering corporately is a risk, and in order to gather, we must be confident that the risk of physical safety and public witness is worth the benefit of being physically present with each other.
We believe that continuing to improve our discipleship at a distance is a wise use of our energy. In the absence of the corporate gathering of our church community, we are confident that investing our energy into discipling our community on a smaller scale from a distance will be more spiritually rewarding for our people than to gather physically with drastic restrictions. Our livestream, neither perfect nor a true replacement for in person gatherings, has been effective in helping our church worship together. The Sunday morning livestreams will continue on our Facebook page. It is entirely possible that increased restrictions will come again in the near future if the virus begins to spread rapidly in our area. Rather than investing substantial energy into restricted gatherings, we will focus on the spiritual health of our people through methods other than physical Sunday morning gatherings. We pray this will be an investment that lasts and serves our community for years to come.
Focusing our efforts on discipleship means we must recognize how we are weak in this area. It is the Holy Spirit who will empower such a movement and we welcome his leading. In this, we aim to identify and creatively care for the spiritual, physical, emotional, social and financial burdens of our people. It is the responsibility of our members to share these burdens in partnership with our leadership. Our prayer is that in this season, we would not just survive but thrive. Earnestly pray with us to that end.
We believe that the corporate gathering of our people is not our most immediate need, so we will patiently pursue gathering in the future. It has become clear to the elders that though we deeply value the physical gathering of the corporate church, now is not a time to begin gathering. Rather, we will strategically ready ourselves for the time when we can gather together again. Please hear that it is not our goal to hold back our congregation, but to care and disciple our people the best we can given our present circumstances. We feel immense responsibility for your spiritual and physical health and have made these decisions with your best interest in mind. We are forming a cross-functional team that will prepare for the time when we will corporately gather together again. When the time comes, we will be eager and ready.
PRACTICAL STEPS WE ARE TAKING
Here are seven ways we will invest in our discipleship at a distance. Some of these will be practiced from a distance with the use of digital communication, others will benefit from small gatherings that allow for proper social distancing.
1. Strengthen our community groups
Community groups have proven to be one of the most effective forms of community and spiritual upbuilding for our people. On the COVID-19 Congregational Survey, there was a direct correlation of those who felt connected to the church and whether or not they were involved in a community group. When answering the question, “On a scale of 1-10, how connected to our church family have you felt?” those who are in a Community Group averaged 2.5 points higher than those who are not. We want to see our church family groups grow strong. This means both encouraging those who are not in a community group to join one and training our community group leaders to care well for the people they are discipling. Pastor Jeremy and Pastor Alex have formed cohorts with the community group leaders to intentionally coach and shepherd these leaders who give so much of their time and energy.
2. Launch new community groups
We hope to launch at least one new community group this summer to provide a space for those who are not involved in a group. We are encouraged by the overall participation of our church members in a community group, but we know there are many who would greatly benefit from being part of a group. More information will come about who those new leaders are and how you can find out about these groups. In the meantime, if you are interested in leading or joining a group, please email Pastor Alex at .
3. Train lay members in discipleship
We are encouraged by the desire of our church members to be trained as disciplemakers. Prior to the pandemic, we were hearing both women and men asking to be trained as mentors. Whether through mentorship or friendship, our intentional investment in others to become more like Jesus is something we want to empower our church to do. We are planning to have a multi-part virtual training in discipleship, so that you can be further equipped to engage in relational discipleship.
4. Equip our people for at-home worship
Next week, we will roll out our formal at-home worship resource for the community. We have sought to provide resources for your worship at home through a weekly devotional and liturgy, and we have been encouraged by the response. Pastor Jeremy, Pastor Alex and Erik Vaage have been working to synthesize a resource to equip you for ongoing worship at home. Whether with your family, roommates, or on your own, this resource is being formed with your best in mind, hoping it will equip you to joyfully worship the Lord from home.
5. Identify ways to serve our community
One area our community has excelled in during these first few months of COVID-19 has been through ministries of mercy. We have had several highly successful donations to our neighborhood and we will continue to identify needs and meet them as a community.
6. Creatively discern and meet our congregations needs
There are genuine needs in our congregation that exist. The loss of social interaction has had an emotional and spiritual impact. As elders, we continue to discern these needs and seek creative solutions. This is something you can do as well. For example, if you know of someone who does not have access to our livestream, how can you help them gain access? If you know there is someone struggling to be physically present with others, how can you help meet that need?
7. Empower our church for mission
Jesus calls his disciples to be with him and then he sends them out. As we equip you to be with Jesus, we also want to empower you to be sent by Jesus. The summer will present opportunities for you to consider how you might reach your neighbors. You might decide to host a socially distant and safe BBQ in your backyard. Or maybe this is a good occasion to invite a neighbor into your home to participate in the Livestream with you.
Other Updates For Church Life
SUNDAY MORNING CHURCH SERVICES
We are currently live-streaming or Sunday morning worship service on our Facebook page. You can view that service here.
The annual meeting that was scheduled for April 19 has been postponed until further notice. We will update you when it is rescheduled as plans become more clear in the coming weeks.
CHURCH OFFICE HOURS
We will be reducing our scheduled office hours. Beginning Monday, March 23, our church office will be open M-F from 11:00am to 1:00pm. You can call the office between those hours at 612-332-3651. If you call outside those hours, please leave in our general mailbox as we will check our voicemail daily.
Another way to get in touch with us is via email. You can email a staff person directly (email addresses found on our website) or send an email to . We will do our best to respond to your emails in a timely manner.
Our church staff will continue to work diligently to serve our church family, but will be doing so remotely. Please reach out if you need anything. We will continue to pray and lead with the wisdom and grace that God provides. Please be in constant prayer with us for our church, city, state, country, and world.
NAME CHANGE PROCESS
The name change process is being put on hold. We care more about our people than a predetermined process. We are not confident that we can continue the process at this time in a way that loves and considers our people well.
Our plan was to meet on March 22 for a New Name Town Hall meeting. We have canceled that meeting, and will not attempt to conduct it through another format at this time. The elders goal was to recommend a final name to you during that meeting, but we will not be doing so at this time.
We fully intend to resume the process when the meeting restrictions are lifted, but we do not know exactly how and when we will proceed. We are committed to making this significant decision in a way that promotes unity rather than discord. We do not believe we can do that right now, so the process is postponed until further notice.
As a result of the delay, if you or someone you know has not taken the survey yet, there is still time. Go to www.fbcminneapolis.org/new-name and let us know what you think through the survey.
HOW WE PLAN TO SERVE YOU
Community Groups: Pastor Alex is giving recommendations to CG leaders about how to meet together and helping them each find the best answer for their group. We are also working on helping to facilitate some new groups if you want to gather with others in the church on Sunday mornings or another time throughout the week. In the gathering of small groups, we want to be clear: this is an opportunity, not an obligation. If you are sick, are in the at-risk population, or would like to show more discretion than others, please do not hesitate to not gather with others. This is a unique season in which distancing is most prudent.
Member Care: Though we are asking for our community to show discretion and not gather publicly, we are all still in need of fellowship. We were not created for isolation. To provide resources and accountability to our community, our leadership plans to do the following:
- Elders and staff will be in contact with our members and attendees to check in regularly.
- We will send a weekly email on Fridays with:
- Devotional scripture reflection from Pastor Jeremy
- YouTube playlist with songs to sing together at home
- Liturgy in two formats that we are calling Simple Liturgy and Simpler Liturgy
- Resources for families
- If you have a prayer request or physical need you would like our leadership to be aware of, please fill out this form.
We do not intend to replicate our physical Sunday gathering because that isn’t possible. We want to disciple our people during this unique season and we intend to do that in the absence of the Sunday gathering. This weekly email is one avenue of discipleship and will guide you through worship with your family or community group.
We know that this is a lot of information to take in at once, and there are still many unanswered questions. It is perfectly normal for these changes to cause sadness for you and your family - it certainly is for our leadership. As we move forward, we encourage you to call one another, make use of social media in a positive way, and pray diligently. God is sovereign over the rise of COVID-19 and will be present with us even when we are not present with one another.