When Is It Time to Return to Church?

Josh Buice


While COVID-19 is a real thing, so is politics. We must not forget that we are navigating through a presidential election season in the midst of a pandemic. Add another “P” word to the mix: postmodernism. If a nation cannot agree on the meaning of “Black Lives Matter” and “Defund the Police” imagine how the same people evaluate the meaning of numbers, data, and whether or not people should wear masks.

The worship of God and the gathering of our local churches should be an immensely valuable pursuit among God’s people. Such a calling is impossible through Zoom or YouTube. God’s people need far more than pixels on a screen. Worship is not something you watch, it’s something you do. Church is not something you tune-in to, it’s who you are as a Christian. For that reason, we must ask ourselves honest questions about when we should be returning to the weekly gathering of God’s people.

Articles have been written about how singing with the church on the Lord’s Day is not safe.[1] However, the CDC changed their guidelines for singing without notice—removing the suggested restrictions on congregational singing. While common sense practices are helpful and make us more safe as we gather together, as Scott Aniol states:

Scripture is also clear that when we gather, we should be singing (Col 3:16; Eph 5:19). Will singing increase the risk of infections? Maybe, though the science is far from conclusive on this. But even if singing will increase the risk of infection, our objective was never to completely prevent infections—in a sin cursed world that is not and never was a possibility.

 We were originally informed that we didn’t need to wear masks, but now we are being told that it’s a good idea to consider wearing one in specific circumstances. We are now being told that the COVID-19 disease may not spread as easily as we once thought on surfaces.

The latest data from the CDC suggests that the death rate for COVID-19 for people under 45 has dropped to nearly 0%, but we continue to hear people in the news media talking about the “second wave” and how younger people are starting to test positive at a much higher rate. Is there really a second wave preparing to hit us or is this merely a political tool?

If the risk for death is so low, why would we have local churches scattered apart rather than gathered together for worship? We know why politicians twist data and use a pandemic for political gain, but have we stopped to think earnestly about why the devil would want local churches to remain disconnected?

In Acts 2:42, we see the early church described as a devoted church.  In one verse, four key elements are mentioned regarding the church’s worship.  They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer.  It’s vitally important that we see the level of priority placed upon the gathered church for worship and fellowship from the very beginning. This is why we find warnings, commands, and exhortations such as Hebrews 10:24-25—pointing out the need for the church to gather together.

This past Sunday, we observed the Lord’s Supper as a church for the first time since March. During the height of the pandemic, I talked openly about how there is no such thing as virtual Lord’s Supper. We intentionally waited more than six weeks after returning to public worship before engaging in the Lord’s Supper. We wanted to give the entire church family time to return and we wanted to approach it with care.

Our plan allowed each person to be served individually and we were able to reduce the touch points of the elements down to two people prior to the person receiving it in their hands. Our servers wore gloves and the elements were sealed in a single package. While this is not my preferred way to observe the Lord’s Supper, it was nevertheless a careful approach that served our people well and allowed us to return to the Lord’s Table once again.

As I sat on my back porch on Sunday afternoon and considered the day, it was refreshing to observe the Lord’s Supper, read Scripture, pray, sing, and preach the Word in the context of the gathered church. The service was full and as a result, my heart was full. In short, we need the ordinary means of grace as a church in order to grow and persevere in the faith.

Questions to Consider

  1. At what level of importance should the gathering of the local church be in my life?
  2. As we return to some form of normality after going through the pandemic shutdown, should my return to church be the last thing that returns to normal?
  3. Is my willingness to take a “risk” for vacation or recreational pleasure inconsistent with remaining disconnected from my local church?
  4. Is my interaction within the community inconsistent with my church attendance?
  5. Is my fear controlling my faith?
  6. Do I have a valid reason to stay away from the local church?
  7. Is carry-out food or packages at the local grocery store more or less dangerous to my health than observing the Lord’s Supper with my local church?
  8. Is gathering together with friends on a Friday more or less dangerous than gathering together with my local church on Sunday?
  9. Is YouTube church more or less satisfying than gathering together with the body of Christ?
  10. Are the elders of my local church doing everything possible to care for the safety and wellbeing of our church family by implementing social distancing options and regular cleaning of hot spots like restrooms and high traffic areas?

As we examine data, listen to the news media, and read Scripture—let us make wise decisions that honor God. While certain people in specific demographics have withheld from an early return to church gatherings—we must begin to ask ourselves when is the right time – the proper time – and the necessary time to return to the regular gathering of the local church? Has my theology taken a backseat to politics? Is my faith driven by fear?

When we gather together, let us be thankful for God’s blessing upon us as we engage in the ordinary means of grace—trusting the Lord to strengthen our faith as we persevere onward for the glory of God.

[1] As examples, see Ken Boer, “Is Congregational Singing Dangerous?” [accessed 7-5-20] and another one by Richard Read, “Scientists to choirs: Group singing can spread the coronavirus, despite what CDC may say” [accessed 7-4-20].

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Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.