Dear LHC Family,
Let me start by saying THANK YOU for the incredible amount of encouragement our staff received through your comments attached to last week’s Reopening Survey. The purpose of this survey was to ascertain your level of comfort and desire in moving toward physical gatherings. And while we gained valuable insight, we were also overwhelmed with your kindness and appreciation as we navigate this pandemic without a playbook. So many of you expressed a genuine understanding for the complexities of leading through these difficult times where opinions are varied and everyone is armed with mountains of information (thank you Google, Facebook, and YouTube J).
I also want to thank you for your amazing generosity during this time. Incredibly, our year-to-date giving is still above budget. This speaks to the spiritual depth of our church and I am extremely grateful and proud of you!
Let me state something clearly before addressing the survey results: A person’s comfort level to “gather in person” is not the litmus test of their spiritual maturity, their devotion to Christ, or even their commitment to LHC. A better litmus test of maturity is how you love those with whom you may disagree. This is paramount to understand and live out. Those who are not comfortable gathering right now are not always motivated by “Fear over faith”…or, “Worry over worship”…or any of the other clever catchphrases that have become popular on social media.
With that said, here are some of the key results from our survey:
- Those who are ready to start physical gatherings with normal programming ASAP – 42%
- Those who desire to wait until the mass gathering limit is raised significantly or until a vaccine is available – 58%
- Those who said they would likely not attend a physical gathering until children’s ministry is offered – 45%
- Those who desire to wait until the mass gathering limit has been raised to 100 -OR- when most social distancing expectations have been lifted – 38%
The main concerns about “gathering in person” were out of concern for family members who have compromised immune systems and/or family members who would be considered at high risk. We have concluded that our gatherings would currently average about 25% of our normal attendance until our children’s ministry is functioning as normal. This is consistent with similarly sized churches that have already opened. (Every ministry staff member has spent hours and hours in consultation with many other church leaders locally as well as ALL over the country).
As we develop a phased approach to reopening, we desire to keep our plan consistent across ALL campuses. This plan is based on our estimates as well as our available square footage to practice social distancing at each campus.
Our First Phase of reopening will be to host a Sunday evening Bible study on each of our campuses beginning on June 7th at 5 PM. These Bible studies will extend through the month of June with each campus pastor leading an informal time of teaching. No children or preschool activities will be offered but children are welcome to attend with their families. Our Connections Team is working to put together the specific logistical details for each campus.
We are aware that this news will probably raise several questions. Please allow me to take the time to answer some of these questions:
QUESTION: This communication seems to be a change of course from previous communication where you said we would wait for the “10-Person Rule” to be lifted before re-gathering – why the change?
Our Governor recently reiterated that churches were never mandated to close. However, while we may have been allowed to meet in a legal sense, there was great concern early on that the rapid spread of COVID-19 could potentially overwhelm our healthcare system. That concern seems to have subsided. Additionally, the focus now is on “social distancing guidelines” to which we intend to pay strict attention. Our original decisions to move services online were driven by our love for our “neighbors.” Given the current efforts of local and state authorities to gradually reopen Ohio, we feel comfortable that we can continue to display love for our neighbors while honoring the current guidelines.
QUESTION: If we can gather on Sunday nights, why can’t we gather on Sunday mornings in our normal time slot & rhythms?
We received overwhelming feedback that we should continue to offer online content for those who are not yet comfortable to return. We completely agree. However, not many are aware of the time and resources required to produce the online content which we have enjoyed over the past few months. All of our online communication and production flows through Pastor Kyle (who has worked every day since the middle of March). Despite the fact that most of our Sunday morning content is pre-recorded, Pastor Kyle is still the “wizard behind the curtain” each Sunday morning as he edits, uploads, streams, and troubleshoots our Sunday morning “livestream.” (Quick fact: Each minute of the online worship videos that Pastor Kyle has been producing with our worship team requires several hours of recording, production, and editing time.)
Additionally, we do not currently have the technical infrastructure within our physical church buildings to stream our services live while matching the quality of our current online content. Even if Pastor Kyle could be in two places at once (the production studio AND on stage) we simply do not have the physical bandwidth to support livestreams for both our English and Español services at the Liberty Twp campus. In addition, the Lebanon campus does not currently have quality livestreaming capability. To this end, our IT Technical Solutions provider has literally driven a crew in from Utah and is currently installing a brand new fiber optics network within the Liberty Twp campus. We are also awaiting the arrival of new streaming equipment for our Español and Lebanon campuses.
For these reasons, and in consideration of the large percentage of LHC members/attenders that do not feel comfortable returning immediately, we feel that a “low-key” Sunday evening Bible Study will offer us the best of both worlds – a physical gathering opportunity for those anxious to return and a quality online morning service for those not ready to gather. We simply don’t think that we can currently do both at the same time.
QUESTION: Will online streaming become a permanent part of our Sunday morning gatherings?
Up until this current pandemic, we made the conscious choice NOT to livestream our services, as we believe (in a general sense) that online services have the potential to devalue the tangible relationships and means of grace that come from corporate worship. Anonymity is the enemy of discipleship and we think it is too easy to remain anonymous when ONLY attending an online church. In this current season, we still hold to these same convictions…while at the same time praising God for the technology available for us to gather in temporary virtual community. Once we do decide to return to Sunday morning gatherings, we will remain committed to continuing some sort of livestream opportunity for those that cannot immediately return. When we are finally beyond this crisis, we will not continue the online streaming as we currently know it. However, we will take the time to evaluate the things we have learned during this pandemic and determine if there are elements that we can incorporate into our regular rhythms moving forward. CLICK HERE TO READ A BRIEF ARTICLE ON THE THEOLOGY OF CORPORATE WORSHIP. ( https://scbo.org/article/case-re-engaging-corporate-worship-when-time-right )
QUESTION: When do we plan to return on Sunday mornings and when will Children’s Ministry begin meeting again?
Can you forgive me if I say we just don’t know? It’s easily possible that the things we think we know right now could change by the time you read this letter. During the month of June, we will evaluate how things are progressing with our Phase 1 plan of reopening, we will continue to closely monitor social distancing recommendations, we will prayerfully explore every option, and will make decisions on how to move to Phase 2. However, regardless of when we decide to return, we do not believe that it will involve our Children’s Ministry physically meeting on campus at least until the start of the school year.
QUESTION: Don’t you know that long emails never get read?
Yes, this is perhaps that longest letter we’ve written to the church family in my 10 years at LHC. I communicated recently that I feel like we still have more questions than answers and that there are not ANY simple answers to these difficult decisions. However, we think you deserve to hear not only the WHAT we are doing, but also the WHY. Next week we will communicate the protocols that we will have in place for our first Sunday evening campus gatherings. Yes, we are also aware that this is not “back to normal” that many want, but we do believe this provides an opportunity to physically gather as some desire to do.
QUESTION: What does love require of me?
While we have tried to provide answers and reasons for what it looks like to reopen, my prayer is that each of us individually will move forward with this simple question on our hearts: “What does love require of me?” The application of this question will vary for each individual, given their personal context and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We want to challenge you to remember what we taught on Mother’s Day – A heart that wants to please God, is pleasing to God. We also want to remind you what we taught from 1 Corinthians 13 – True Biblical love is self-sacrificing. There is nothing that pleases God more than loving Him with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength…and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is our desire – to offer an opportunity to gather corporately and express our love for God, but to do so in a way that would not communicate a lack of love towards our “neighbor.” If this is the desire of your heart, then be assured that God is pleased even in the midst of varying opinions on how we reopen. I have never been more proud to lead our church and staff than I am right now.