Dear Branch Church,
To help you understand the last couple months for us as a leadership team, we thought this recent article by Brett McCracken from the Gospel Coalition website describes our experience well. (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/church-dont-let-coronavirus-divide/)
"For church leaders and elder boards everywhere, the last few months have presented a near-constant array of complex challenges related to shepherding a church during the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest complex challenge is perhaps the trickiest yet: how to prudently resume in-person gatherings.
As if the logistical details weren’t challenging enough—how to maintain social distance and limit crowd size, whether or not to require masks, to sing or not to sing, what to do with children, and so on—the whole conversation is fraught with potential for division. If a congregation—and within it, a leadership team—is at all a microcosm of our larger society, it will likely contain a broad assortment of strongly held convictions. Some will be eager to meet in person and impatient to wait much longer to get back to normal. Others will insist it’s unwise to meet at all until there’s a vaccine. Plenty will fall somewhere in between.
In such a precarious and polarizing environment, how can churches move forward in beautiful unity (Ps. 133) rather than ugly division? It won’t be easy. But by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit working to unify us in ways our flesh resists, the opportunity is there for us to be a countercultural model for the rest of the world.”
As we have prayed, processed, and wrestled through what God has for us at The Branch Church, we consider some lessons God is teaching us.
An Unexpected Outreach Opportunity - The virus pushed us to engage in producing digital resources and services for our church body. This was done out of a necessity, not out of desire. We initially viewed going digital as a “necessary evil” and have come to see it as an effective outreach opportunity. We have heard stories of these videos reaching people far beyond our church community. Many of you have shared and watched these videos with people who may never physically come to a church service at a building. We are prayerfully considering how we can continue an online presence to encourage our church body and provide you a resource to share with others.
The Impact of D-Triangles - Church is so much more than a building. We are seeing our church being the body of Christ while we are in this season of not being able to physically gather together. Our D-triangles and small groups have been meeting online, in cars in parking lots, and sitting on back porches together. This is reminding us of the power of engaging in small group discipleship. In times like this we are working hard to find ways to create more of these small group times and opportunities for our church to stay connected to the body. Our desire is to continue this focus while creatively finding more ways to foster these type of relationships.
The Goal Is Not Meeting - While we all long to be together in large gatherings, we remember that having large Sunday Service gatherings is not our ultimate goal. Our goal is and has always been the maturity and discipleship of God’s people. We want to continue to find ways to accomplish this goal while being patient to get back to our services. One of the key dynamics of our church services is the love, care, and intimacy that each person seeks to have with one another. The idea of wearing masks, keeping your distance, and having a bit of awkwardness not knowing quite how to interact with one another seems to fight against our culture. We feel the best way forward is a progression from small gatherings to larger ones.
We have spent countless hours praying, researching, and digging into the facts. Our conclusion is best said by Martin Luther writing to Rev. Dr. John Hess in 1527 when facing a deadly plague.
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
We as an elder team have laid out our first step towards getting back together. We believe it “is neither brash nor foolhardy,” and incorporates the lessons we have learned through this process.
STEP 1 (starting Sunday May 31st and continuing through June)
Small Church at Home
- We are encouraging you to meet together as small groups in homes to watch the online service, discuss it, and have a time of prayer together.
- If you are at a high risk or still uncomfortable to meet with a small group feel free to watch the service with your immediate family.
- Consider inviting those people who do not have a church home to come be a part of your small church at home.
Small Church at Our Locations
- There will be a 9:00am live class on the book of Galatians at each location followed by the online service at 10:00am with discussion and prayer.
- Seating will be limited (50% capacity) so we are asking that you text or call the church phone (330-401-6643) or email Jill ( ) and let us know which location you plan to attend.
- There will be no nursery or children’s programming at this time.
- A plan for safety and sanitation will be put in place.
STEP 2 (target start date of late June or early July)
Live Large Church
- We will continue to monitor the situation while making preparations to move back to our live large church gatherings. There are many details that need to be worked out regarding what a live church service looks like in light of social distancing and Covid-19. These include the possibility and implications of operating 2 services at each location, upgrading our technology to be able to live stream every week, and developing a volunteer team that will be cleaning and sanitizing between services.
- If you are sick or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 please stay home.
- We are not requiring masks but you are welcome to wear one if you feel more comfortable doing that.
- We understand you are ready to get back to church and interact with people. Please work hard to respect social distancing, avoid shaking hands, and continue to practice proper hygiene.
Thank you for your prayers during this time as we strive to honor Christ in the midst of this season.