Westside Church Reopening Strategy

Pastor Steve shares plans for future relaunching of our larger gatherings and current news on the smaller gatherings that are beginning to happen in homes across our region based on our Phase 1 status.

I wanted to take a few minutes to describe our strategy for deciding when we might open up our building to Sunday services again as well as our home church strategy launching.

First, and most important, the church hasn’t been closed. We’ve been more open than ever – between the number of people who have heard the gospel message to the number of people we’ve served practically – the church has been arguably more engaged in our community than ever before.

But we do miss gathering together and we do know it is an important part of our spiritual development.

Share vision of the waters overflowing the banks of the river… how we do church has taken a different shape and I believe God is using this moment to reshape His church…

Our denomination, Foursquare, not only provides covering for us, but also wisdom. They’ve given us a framework of four guiding questions for us to consider as we discuss opening up our buildings to services.

First, Is it ethical?

Is opening up our building, right now, the right thing to do? When will it be the right thing to do. Just because we can, should we? In other words, what does love require of us in this moment. What does wisdom require of us? For us, the love for God and for our neighbors is our primary motivation. Not fear. But love.

Second, Is it permissible?

It’s possible, with the Oregon Supreme Court hearing a lawsuit regarding reopening churches and some of the comments President Trump made over the weekend, that churches may be allowed to bypass the phase-in process and begin to gather in large groups.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24: “You say, “I am allowed to do anything” —but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial. Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” 1 Corinthians 

Paul limits his own rights for the sake of love. There is more going on here then issues of religious freedom and constitutional rights. Jesus is wanting to do something in his church – to break some mindsets – to shift our thinking.

So we will follow the guidelines of our state and county regarding gathering sizes, but is it permissible is not the only question we are asking.

Third, Is it missional?

For me, this is the most important question of the four. Like I said, church isn’t closed. Matter of fact, we’ve had more influence and connection with people outside of the church than ever before. In some ways, our mission to help people know Jesus and become like Jesus is at an all time high. 

Not only that, this moment gives us an opportunity to strengthen parts of our strategy that were inherently weaker because of the focus on the Sunday gathering. This is an opportunity to go deeper in connection and community and broader in serving and acts of kindness.

Our Discipleship team has been working hard getting our Home Churches up and running.  We already have 27 OPEN GROUPS in process (meaning they have room for others to join) and at least 17 other groups in process that are already filled to capacity. 

These Home Churches represent over 70 leaders and hosts that have stepped up to launch this important ministry. We need at least 30 more leaders or hosts to adequately care for and connect with those in our church who would like to meet together in homes.

Listen, we will get back to meeting again on Sunday. No doubt of that. Gathering is important in the disciple-making process. But we don’t have to hurry to get back to the large gathering right away.

Carey Nieuhof’s latest blog from outreach magazine email… 

But the biggest mistake most leaders will make is that in the emotional rush to get back into a facility, to see everyone again, to assemble their teams and get back to “normal,” they’ll reembrace a model of ministry designed to reach a world that no longer exists.You’ve learned so much and your church has learned so much in this disruption so far that to simply reembrace what was will destroy what could be.

So what’s the danger as you get ready to gather again, whenever that is? Simple. Thinking that when you walk back into your building things will go back to normal. In other words, you don’t really need to change anymore—which is the fastest path to irrelevance.

Things have changed. Radically. The world has changed. Radically. Irrelevance is the gap between how quickly things change and how quickly you change. And even as the world slowly reopens, you’re not reopening to normal, but to a new normal.

Our framework: is it ethical; is it permissible and beneficial; is it missional; and lastly:

Fourth, Is it practical?

This is an important question as well. When we look at the social distancing guidelines, the cleaning needed between services, the ministry to children, and so forth you begin to realize how unrealistic gathering would be.

For instance, right now we could gather in groups of 25 or less… Some churches are more able to do this because of less size and building constraints. But for us to minister to our entire congregation in the building, that averages about 2,000 per Sunday, we would need to provide 80 services on any given Sunday. Add to that what type of service would it be? 

Nobody can touch. No hugs. No handshakes. Worship with masks on. That sounds fun. 

And not only that, you know what demographic of our church will absolutely show up as soon as we open up the building? Our older people. They are so faithful and so committed, if the doors are open they will be here. Is putting our at-risk population in an enclosed space with others practical, wise or ethical?

And what about young families? You remember what it was like when you had your first kid? Suzanne wouldn’t even let me hold our first child. Many young families are like, “I’m going to wait a little while even after you open up the building.”

Is it ethical?

Is it permissible?

Is it missional?

Is it practical?

These are the questions that we are asking. And because of these questions we know that we probably won’t be one of the first churches to resume Sunday in building services, we will probably be one of the last.

But I’m not worried. Because we know what the church is and what is isn’t. And we won’t be passively waiting – we will be actively meeting in homes and online. Growing closer with one another as we grow closer to God and as we serve our city in even greater ways.

God is opening up doors of relationship with people in our community like never before. This isn’t a time to fight for going back to what was, but leaning in to what could be. Finding new ways to innovate and create opportunities for the way of Jesus to flourish. 

Let me finish by referencing some of the language from the For the city Vision from over a year ago:

We desire to embody the way of Jesus: to love God and love people. Like a river overflowing its banks, we see the gospel of Jesus moving into our neighborhoods, transforming lives and communities. As we intentionally engage in proximity to our city, we will see the life and love of Jesus bring transformation to everyone, everywhere across Central Oregon. 

The gospel is transformative, expansive, Jesus-centric, and for everyone, everywhere. This gospel gives us a clear mandate to be present with people; to be by their side in their suffering and in their celebration; to meet needs and champion the lives of others. We are compelled to move outside our familiar and comfortable environments to be with and for others – all others – always. 

We envision a world where the Gospel is seen and not just heard; where the Church has a reputation for abundantly and generously loving people everywhere, always. We see ourselves with a seat at the civic table, working side by side with leaders in our communities to address the greatest needs and invited to this table because the evidence of our love for others has given us a seat. The love of Jesus will become clear for many, some for the very first time, both by what we say and what we do. As culture continues to drive people apart, we entrench ourselves firmly in the middle, showing people the love of Jesus and inviting them into the family of God.