Churches should look more like Jesus’s tomb – Empty

Editor’s note: This article addresses one side of the issue. See “It is time to reopen church doors” for the opposing perspective.

American churches this past Easter Sunday undoubtedly hosted millions fewer churchgoers this year. But sprinkled across the nation, an audacious few defied government orders and worshipped in person anyway.

“You need to be in a building, especially on an Easter Sunday, which is what we’re here for, because our Lord and Savior is risen and we need to come together to feel the Spirit of the Lord moving upon all of us,” a church goer told the Louisville Courier Journal after she reportedly drove to Kentucky from New Jersey to attend the church service.

Jesus did defeat death eternally, but endangering the lives of others hardly seems like a way to celebrate life.

Religious people should not put others at risk of contracting COVID-19 by their religious practices, and that includes in-person church services.

Defiant churchgoers deserve the same critical response the rebel spring breakers received: Social distancing is not about you. It is about stopping the spread and protecting those most vulnerable.

Christians in particular should recognize this, considering the emphasis their worldview places on love and morality. Most Christians do recognize this, and the majority of churches hold remote or drive-in services.

But in the minority of congregations maintaining normal services, they offer poor reasons for their attendance. Most examples involve a defense of their constitutional right to practice religion freely.

Photo provided by Liza Ricardelli

A Kentucky pastor declares the state cannot tell churches what to do, and pastors in Ohio and Florida suggest government tyranny may influence churches to close.

A Texas pastor views church services as “essential” and insinuates closing churches makes the virus out to be bigger than God.

A pastor in Louisiana has kept his church open despite backlash. According to The Advocate, one congregant has since died and the church’s lawyer was hospitalized for COVID-19 respiratory complications, though it is unsure where they caught the virus.

Even churches that closed their physical doors early faced coronavirus complications. Churches in Arkansas and Illinois faced outbreaks in their congregation in mid-March, despite closing services before most of the nation.

Around the same time, about 70 congregants of a Sacramento church fell ill due to COVID-19, according to CNN. 

Although meeting together for worship is an essential part of Christianity, we cannot classify in-person church services as “essential” during these circumstances when perfectly feasible remote options exist. 

When someone makes an essential trip out of their home, they do so because they have to for the sake of obtaining the basics necessary for life.

If you can worship at home but instead choose to worship at a physical church with others, you have not made an essential trip. Rather, you have made a reckless trip and, in some areas, an illegal trip.

Older generations make up a higher percentage of church congregations – about 20% above age 65 in protestant churches compared to about 15% above age 65 in the general population – making churches generally at higher risk of severe illness.

Fighting the government – that wants to minimize harm from the pandemic – is a poor look for the church. To non-believers, this looks like entitled Christians thinking the rules do not apply to them – a selfish action.

Believing we must worship in a specific building is a rather legalistic view of scripture.

We should also not consider watching church on YouTube and calling your friend or parent after a lesser form of worship – only a different one that we are obligated to use during this season.

Circumstances have made the decision easy: Until the pandemic subsides, worshippers should find an alternative to in-person services.

Clayton Dykstra is an Opinion writer. Follow him on Twitter @dykstracd


  • Thank you, Clayton, for your thoughts. However, I think your argument is a bit “either/or” when the reality is probably quite somewhere in between. While there are cases where CV-19 could well have been the result of defiant churches not being prudent, closing rural churches were there are virtually no reported cases of the disease in an entire county is also foolish. Likewise, it would be unreasonable to “legally” close churches that would take the same precautions for social distancing, and hygiene as do airports, grocery stores, hardware stores and recreational/medical marijuana dispensaries (yes, we live in one of those areas).

    While I’m not a big fan of the modern, entertainment-oriented church, I don’t think YouTube suffices for the fellowship, discipleship and corporate worship we find in scripture. There are many dynamics that God intends for in-person interaction that does not happen virtually. In fact, in all the settings Christians report salvation stories, the greatest portion happens in a church setting followed by a gospel presentation in person from a friend or relative. We certainly hope that with the fear and stress of CV-19 that many people have contemplated God and have come to faith through a video from someone like Ray Comfort or a phone call. But is that happening? Would that person later be likely seek out a local church or a living Christian to be discipled? Or would they probably be content with watching occasional Christian videos online? The implications for the church and God’s kingdom are enormous. What about unbelievers who are CV-19 victims that have and will perish in isolation because we’ve all been told to stay at home except for “essential” business?

    I agree that “in your face,” defiant Christians who risk public health to assert their constitutional right to worship is not winsome. However, the issue is not black and white. A loving church that prudently takes precautions for a local post office visit can do the same at a place of worship or fellowship. That alternative could be very attractive to a fearful and perishing world.

    • Clayton Dykstra

      Thanks so much for the comment, Rob!

      It’s been a year since this article and your comment. Let’s look at that last comment of yours: “A loving church that prudently takes precautions for a local post office visit can do the same at a place of worship or fellowship.”

      Yes. You are so right! Now, is that your experience? Have you seen Christians and church-goers take precautions in the church setting? Have you seen them take precautions anywhere?

      You are also right that the answer lies somewhere in the middle. But the larger point here is that Christians need to be outwardly loving to others and also have the appearance of being outwardly loving to others. Not packing into church buildings out of caution and love does that. You talked of holding onto things that will invite and be welcoming to non-Christians – how great a testimony it is to the world for Christians to be the first ones to show courtesy for their surrounding communities!

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