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COVID-19 has in many ways reshuffled how we view and engage the things we do regularly. Grocery shopping holds a different place in my mind and schedule now. Gas prices fluctuated up as high as nearly $5.00/gal in LA since we have lived here, but during COVID-19, they have dropped to barely over $2.00/gal – yet I hardly drive farther than 5 miles away from my home now. “Meetings” are now Zoom calls. I’ve been kicked off our local beach twice now, because we showed up on the wrong days when it was shut down. The world is doing a lot of reevaluation based on what we are and are not allowed to do. Church is one of those things.

Whether ancient and ornate, simple and spartan, or somewhere in a utilitarian middle-ground, most of the world thinks of church like this building. Even as Christians, we often think of church as what church can be and do. That isn’t equal to a building, but the building often represents that “maximalist” idea. Church can be so much.

Church can be simple too. We have space in our minds to see missionary outpost churches in distant, rural, impoverished communities like this. Minimal, but still qualifying as church – especially when there are no alternatives to choose from. The pioneering nature of the field forces additional clarity on what church must be when it has to start in the harvest, out of lostness.

This is what our church looks like. Well, it used to look like this before COVID-19, and we long for the day we can again gather in person. For us, church is family at its core. These are the people we spend the most time with each week. We are regularly in each others’ homes and lives. We hold each other accountable, and we both weep and rejoice together when someone is weeping or rejoicing. Our church is a church of missionaries, but it is still just a church. And it is simple enough that just about anyone can reproduce it themselves with the people in their lives. That’s actually the point.

Since COVID-19, our family is still our family, but how we gather has changed some. Now we gather virtually, but we still use the same participatory format. In fact, even in the midst of this shutdown, we have seen some new churches start! The pandemic and the shutdown have served as a filter forcing us to clarify even further what we do and how we do it. Jesus is still building His church, and we are still commanded to gather and pursue “the one anothers” of the New Testament. We simply have to approach it differently for now.

One of my most favorite stories I’ve heard in the midst of the pandemic from a church is Bridges Church here in Long Beach / North Orange County. The week before the shutdown started, they represented 1 large gathering of about 300+ people on Sunday mornings, and 4 simple churches of ~10-15 people each throughout the week. The next week in LA County we could only gather in groups of 10 or less, and they were able to shift from their 5 church gatherings to 12 simple churches, all meeting in homes. The following week we couldn’t even meet in groups anymore, and that Sunday they had closer to 19 simple churches meeting all over the city. You can read more about that here.

I long to gather in person with my church family again. I earnestly desire to break bread, sing, pray, and learn from the Word together. But I am also seeing Jesus unleash his Church and his people in some beautiful ways. When we are forced to simplify church, it can magnify the places of health and unhealth in a church. Every disciple of Jesus was meant to be a disciple maker, and many of those disciples would ready and able to start gathering the people in their lives as simple, biblical, healthy churches – they just need to be released to do it, and equipped to be able to.

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Church NPL LA

Simple Churches in Long Beach

“Imagine that the pandemic swept through your part of the world, and that all public assemblies of more than three people were banned by the government for reasons of public health and safety. And let’s say that due to some catastrophic combination of local circumstances, this ban had to remain in place for 18 months. How would your congregation of 120 members continue to function – with no regular church gatherings of any kind, and no home groups (except for groups of 3)? If you were the pastor, what would you do?”

Collin Marshall & Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine, 165 (2009)

I read this book 10 years ago and really enjoyed it. Truth be told, I don’t remember reading this quote. It isn’t even underlined in my copy of the book. At the time, there were signs of a potential swine-flu pandemic coming. I remember that, but it never affected my life personally. Re-reading this section now feels like Marshall and Payne were looking into the future. Of course, the reality is that these things will continue to happen this side of eternity. What seemed like an interesting but far-flung thought process now resonates prophetically. Whether we are prepared to endure the storm or not, the storms will come. We are in the midst of one now. I have heard many stories of churches courageously enduring, I haven’t heard many stories of innovative advance.

I have been tremendously encouraged by the way God is working through our dear friend JT (Jeff Timblin) and Bridges Church. In this season of COVID-19, this church of 300+ has shifted completely to releasing all their members to do church in a simple format. This overnight shift couldn’t take place overnight, so watch the video below or listen to the podcast to hear the story and be encouraged with us! Jesus is moving powerfully here in Long Beach!

If you would like training for your church, let us know!