OP-ED The Doors of the Church are Closed: What does membership look like moving forward?

Like a good number of Black kids growing up, I was raised in church. Every Sunday, I was at church, and it became so routine that when I went off to college my freshman year it felt weird being in my dorm Sunday mornings and not a pew. I’ve always known the doors of the church to be open until March 2020.

My church has been closed ever since. Like many other churches, we shifted to online services, bible studies and Sunday Schools, but we have not had a physical service in the sanctuary in over a year. Whenever we do reopen, I wonder what being a member post-COVID will even look like.

I understand the church is essentially not a man-made structure, but rather a body of believers strengthening each other through fellowship. That fellowship is weakened online. Just like any other human interaction, its best experienced in person. Honestly, at this point I’m tired of church on Facebook or zoom ministry meetings.

I recognize that we’ll probably never go back to church as we knew it. I won’t feel comfortable turning to my neighbor unless they’re six feet away. I won’t be eager to hold hands in a prayer circle for a while either. Nevertheless, gathering together is still needed, even if attendance is fewer in number (Matthew 18:20).

Smaller churches like mine especially face a unique challenge in navigating when, how, or even if they should reopen. Smaller sanctuaries are harder to space out seating for members. Smaller budgets make streaming services more challenging and even less appealing than other larger churches. Then of course, if your church is anything like mine, we love to hug and embrace people. If a reopen happens, do we trust people who have not seen each other in a while to not outwardly love on one another?

I was optimistic with vaccines being available that we may get back to attending in-person services soon, but the numbers are showing that not as many people are getting vaccinated as initially predicted, especially in Detroit. Even with seemingly the rest of the world opening back up, my church has not even set a potential return date or month.

I’m concerned for what church will resemble in the future. Will there be a shift from sanctuaries to studios for better production style streaming? Will people get used to being a bedside Baptist and never feel the need to step foot in a church again? Will people claim membership to multiple churches because they attend them all online? I hope the tradition of being an in-person member doesn’t die out. Even if new practices are adopted, I hope believers still find value in gathering together.

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