We didn’t fully realize the significance of Sunday, March 8, 2020 at the time. That day, Prairie View Christian Church held our final, pre-COVID, in-person worship service. 117 people attended that morning, bringing our average attendance for the year to 107.
Since that fateful Sunday, in the 42 worship services we’ve held (counting Christmas Eve), Prairie View Christian Church has averaged 60 in-person attendees. Thanks to the efforts of numerous faithful volunteers, many others have tuned in on Facebook Live in real time, or watched on YouTube later in the day or week. There were a few Sundays when only the “skeleton crew” attended (the bare minimum 10-15 people needed to put on a worship service for those live-streaming at home). One icy week when statewide COVID numbers were just beginning to decline from their peak, we had a mere 37 people present. This past week (Easter Sunday), we managed to squeeze 92 people in the sanctuary while staying socially distanced. Somehow, some way – through all the ups and downs – God blessed our church with two baptisms. We’re looking forward to a third in the coming weeks.
Needless to say, it’s been quite the 13 months in the life of our church! There have been countless lessons learned, memories made, sufferings endured, tears shed, prayers prayed, emails sent, cards written, and a few marathon-length Elders meetings (some featuring an Elder or pastor joining on Zoom). This strange season of PVCC history has been simultaneously grueling, educational, humbling, and joyful.
But now we find ourselves at a crossroads. Civil authorities are lifting mask mandates. Shots are going into arms. Numbers are fluctuating. We’re all facing decisions about what comes next: what and what not to do again, how and how not to do it, and when and when not to do it. This next stage of the ordeal is simultaneously intimidating, stressful, exciting, and confusing.
What comes next at Prairie View Christian Church? That question looms larger every day for our church’s leaders. What old things do we bring back? What new things do we try? Which changes we’ve made over the past 13 months are going to stick around, and which ones will we throw out the window the millisecond it’s wise and responsible to do so?
I can’t answer all of those questions in this post. However, I can ask you to pray for our leaders’ discernment, patience, and courage. I can also promise you that the Elders and pastors here love you as an individual, love the Lord Jesus, and love this church as an institution. And finally, I can offer a few observations and predictions.
I’m no prophet, so I could be wrong. But as someone who spends A LOT of time thinking about Prairie View Christian Church, I don’t think I’m taking total shots in the dark. So here it goes:
First, I’ll shoot straight with you: I wouldn’t be surprised if we aren’t as big of a church when COVID is really and truly “over” – and it may take some time to ever be that big again. Trust me, I recognize how easy it is to read the numbers at the beginning of this post and be discouraged. Relatively speaking, PVCC has weathered the COVID storm quite well; we’ve worked extremely hard to keep people connected, and we don’t have many people who have completely fallen off the radar. Nevertheless, it’s sobering to think that some who were here 13 months ago won’t be here again. There are many benefits to being a small church; God can use both big and small churches in unique ways for his glory, and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). But we really do want to grow in number here, and let’s be honest: the past 13 months may prove to be a setback in that regard.
However – and this is my second observation – while I suspect we’ll come out of this a smaller church, I also think we’ll come out of this a stronger church. Over the past 13 months, PVCC has faced a kind of pressure that few of us had ever faced before. The pressure hasn’t just been intense; it’s been prolonged. But God can use this sort of pressure to grow our church in endurance (even if we shrink a bit in number). And having faced this hardship now, we’ll be more prepared to face hardship in the future. If and when we’re called to suffer for our faith down the road, we’ll be more acquainted with suffering than we were before.
Third, in addition to coming out of this smaller but stronger, I suspect that our church will come out of this more holy. I’m in no position to infallibly say that the past 13 months has been a form of God’s “judgment”, or even a “test”. However, it’s hard not to think that God may have used the past year as a way of purifying or pruning his people (both individually and collectively). Where the rubber meets the road, extended seasons of suffering are when the true state of our spiritual health is exposed, and issues that previously hid beneath the surface become visible. Times like these can separate the wheat from the chaff. All of us have likely had moments when we’ve had to take a long, hard look at our own sins, weaknesses, and flaws. We can either repent and submit to God’s loving discipline and grow, or resist and resign ourselves to our worst impulses. My hope and challenge to those who call PVCC home (including myself) is to do the first rather than the second, and emerge from this experience a more sanctified people than we were before.
For better or for worse, none of us is the same as we were on Sunday, March 8, 2020. For better or for worse, our church will never be the same as it was on Sunday, March 8, 2020. We truly are at a crossroads.
My prayer is that, come what may, our church will emerge from this stronger and more holy than we were before. And if I’m correct in my suspicion that we end up a bit smaller, we have an opportunity to pray and strive for numerical growth – for the glory of God, and the aim of the Great Commission. I hope you’ll join me in those prayers, and consider the role God may be calling you to play as PVCC moves ahead.