McLean Bible Church (MBC), one of the largest churches in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, suspended all gatherings starting this past Sunday and until further notice in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The evangelical megachurch explained the rationale behind the decision on a webpage devoted to its response to the virus: “Because the Bible calls us to care for one another and love one another (and all our neighbors) as ourselves, we believe the best way we can do that in light of the current coronavirus (COVID-19) situation is by not gathering in person.”
The church, which according to its website welcomes over 10,000 people weekly at its Sunday gatherings across five campuses, has moved all worship services online. Because MBC has offered a weekly livestream of the service at its flagship Tyson’s campus for years, from a technical standpoint the move was not a difficult one, as it has and will be for many smaller churches.
In a time of school closings, MBC’s closure also means that its programs for children and teens are also suspended. I spoke to a friend of mine who attends MBC and volunteers weekly on Wednesday nights at The Rock, the church’s youth group, and he expressed real sadness that kids now have to stay home during that time too, missing out on a time of fellowship, fun, and Biblical teaching. He and the other volunteers will miss the time just as much.
MBC also demonstrated their commitment to being accessible to people with various disabilities in last Sunday’s online service in a meaningful way. An American Sign Language (ASL) translator was clearly visible on-screen the entire time, with a fixed camera and a portion of the screen devoted to her, allowing viewers who are hard of hearing or deaf to follow along easily. With excitement my friend told me about how he ended up watching the signs most of the time, and was especially interested to see how words like “worship,” “heaven,” and “Jesus” were expressed.
Despite closing its buildings, the church has remained very active, working to serve those in need in surrounding areas across the DC metropolitan area. MBC regularly works with schools (especially under-served ones) and other churches, and with needs spiking in the current crisis, especially for families with kids out of school, church staff and volunteers are “working closely with local officials according to CDC guidelines to pack and deliver helpful products to communities across our city,” including soap and food products.
Beyond the mass gatherings of Sunday services, many smaller groups have also been affected, including my friend’s own local small group. This vibrant group draws about a dozen people each week to the home of one couple, and includes a high proportion of people over 70. His group leaders, like many others, made the tough call to not meet for at least two weeks, which could become a much longer time apart.
In light of all this, MBC is encouraging members of groups, whether they be Sunday School classes, Bible studies, or something as simple as a circle of friends, to “stay closely connected to the church family.” Isolation is not what the body of Christ needs right now, and McLean Bible has helpfully provided recommendations and resources for groups.
McLean Bible is also encouraging its members to reach out individually to people in their neighborhoods who might need help. The church is working on creating care packages that members can pick up at a church campus and deliver to neighbors as needed.
In addition to responding physically, MBC has laid out tips and encouragements on how to respond spiritually to the coronavirus. The church has emphasized how we can see the beauty of the gospel and how deeply the world needs it: “The coronavirus (COVID-19) is yet one more reminder that we live in a fallen world of sickness, sin, suffering, and death… But that’s why the gospel is such good news… through Jesus, we never have to fear sickness or death because we know we have eternal life with God.” Prayer for others is also critically important: “Pray for mercy for the sick, strength for doctors, insight for researchers, and wisdom for officials.”
The church’s official response page also commented on the uptick in racism against Asian-Americans the country has seen in response to the virus, and implored its members to show Christ’s love instead:
Avoid every semblance of prejudice or racism. In light of the origination of this virus in Asia, it has been grievous to see a rise in racist incidents against the Asian community. Much of our church family (and much of our city) is Asian-American, and we want every Asian-American (as well as Asians around the world) to feel and know the love of Christ. So just as we do in any circumstance, guard against all prejudice or racism in your thoughts, your words, and your actions.
A simple but wise encouragement for these times wraps up the bottom of McLean Bible’s lengthy coronavirus update webpage: “Reflect often on the brevity of life, the urgency of eternity, and the beauty of the gospel.”