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As people across America are being urged not to congregate in large groups, and in some cases are being ordered to stay at home/shelter in place to help prevent the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, there are pretty heated arguments taking place about whether or not local and state leaders can mandate and enforce such measures as they relate to church services in light of the First Amendment.
But as the debate rages on, church leaders are figuring out creative ways to hold services that don’t include congregants in attendance. Some are opting to live stream their services, while others are holding “drive-in” services where people can park their cars and listen to the services without actually getting out of their vehicles.
Evangelist Lee Strobel recently tweeted about how even though he wasn’t able to preach to an in-house congregation last weekend, that “God still works thru live streaming”:
It feels odd to preach to an empty auditorium, as I did last wknd, but God still works thru live streaming. Our church had 49,087 people watching last wknd and 350 salvations. That's just one church. Think what He'll do thru so many other churches during this crisis!
— Lee Strobel (@LeeStrobel) March 22, 2020
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) saw the tweet, and used it to provide an important reminder about how people of faith are called into action now more than ever “to show God’s love and help our neighbors in need”, in spite of the fact that in some places they can’t congregate for church as they normally do:
Praise God. The Church is not bricks & mortar, and God is still sovereign. Now is the time for the Church to show God’s love and help our neighbors in need. https://t.co/1MExAvL4YD
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) March 22, 2020
Cruz also retweeted this tweet from Pastor Tim Lee, who said there was nothing wrong in mentioning streaming numbers, especially not right now:
I love this! I’ve seen pastors critique other pastors for announcing streaming numbers. God is about numbers. There’s a book in the Bible called Numbers. 120 in upper room, 3000 saved on Pentecost, 5000 fed etc. If a church preached the gospel had 50 or 50000 on line then Glory! https://t.co/kgG3xzfqhT
— Tim Lee (@MarineTimLee) March 22, 2020
Yep, and when people see how many people tuned in for a service online, it could make them curious enough to want to tune in themselves to the next service.
Strobel’s, Lee’s, and Cruz’s messages here could not come at a better time as so many people are struggling with fear, anxiety, and depression over what the future holds, and the uncertainty of it all. On top of that, with the increased emphasis on self-distancing and staying at home unless you have to go out for the essentials, that can lead to loneliness and feelings of isolation and hopelessness.
These online church services could be the only connection some people will have to hope.
But even for those who don’t watch services online or attend a drive-in service, one of the most powerful tools of all is right in the palms of their hands: the power of prayer.
After 9/11, I turned to prayer first and foremost. I had been in New York City the day of the horrific terrorist attacks, and though I wasn’t at Ground Zero, being in the same city where the planes hit the towers absolutely shook me to the core.
The first Sunday after 9/11, I was in church with my family because the only thing that could help me through the guilt and grief I felt was praying, and by being prayed for.
Faith in God has carried many people through the ups and downs in their lives. When they felt they had nothing else, they knew they had their faith in God to guide them. It made them stronger, more committed to helping those in need, more emboldened to commit selfless acts in order to help others.
HUD secretary Ben Carson was mocked last week by The Usual Suspects when he talked about the power of prayer and faith during times like these, but he was right. And so is Cruz. There is nothing wrong with reminding Americans that we are at our best when godly faith is used as our guiding principle. Nothing at all.