Worshippers at Bethesda Bedok-Tampines Church.

Worshippers at Bethesda Bedok-Tampines Church.

Even though fewer of us may attend physical worship services from today (May 8) to May 30, it is a good reminder that Church is not a place, but a family that we share no matter the gathering size, church leaders told Salt&Light.

This was following the news on May 5 that church worship services without pre-event testing will be capped at 100 attendees, down from 250, in a bid by the government to curb the recent rise in the number of Covid-19 community cases.

”We need to discern between what is essence and what is form, and not be too fixated on the latter.”

In Scripture, the Church is called the ecclesia, a Greek word that refers to the people of God who come together to give Him praise and seek His reign, said Senior Pastor Rick Toh from Yio Chu Kang Chapel.

“This can happen in a large group or a small group. We can give God praise not just by singing hymns together. We can also give Him praise by gathering in small groups to testify of His goodness to one another,” he said.

“In the same way, there are many ways to seek His reign. Sitting in the sanctuary and listening to the Word preached is just one way. We can also seek His reign by coming together in small groups to do Gospel outreach together.”

He added: “So, we need to discern between what is essence and what is form, and not be too fixated on the latter.”

Scaling back services

Of the 12 church leaders Salt&Light spoke to, eight said they are choosing to scale down the size of their services rather than opt for pre-event testing. Services with pre-event testing can have up to 250 attendees, according to MOH.

Some cited logistical challenges and insufficient preparation time, while others acknowledged the need to catch the spirit of the restrictions and do their part to minimise interaction between people.

Three churches said they will be continuing to proceed with their current capacity of 100, while one church said they will cancel all tickets for the month and will be asking members to tune in to the service via livestream.

“We thought that this would communicate that our church is in alignment with taking a stand with the Government, for the sake of support of reducing anymore spread in the community,” said Pastor Maryanne Tan from Living Sanctuary Brethren Church.

On the bright side, most churches are now more adaptable to changes as online logistics are already in place.

In a similar vein, though the current total premises capacity for religious classes remains unchanged at 150, most churches said they will be moving non-congregational activities online or putting them on hold until the restrictions are relaxed.

On the bright side, most churches are now more adaptable to changes as online logistics are already in place. Most have already been operating on a hybrid model, where members can attend services both physically and online.

“Given the systems we have in place now, we are able to make all the adjustments from seating layout to ticketing processes within two days of notice,” said Deputy Senior Pastor Chua Seng Lee of Bethesda (Bedok-Tampines) Church, which will be reducing their weekly attendance over three services from 750 to 300.

Added Rev Dr Daniel Koh from Barker Road Methodist Church: “At the start of the Circuit Breaker, I had a few nightmarish experiences of having to retake more than 20 times for what still turned out to be an imperfectly recorded sermon! Now we are definitely more prepared to revert to more work within the restrictive measures.”

Focusing on cell groups

As churches learn to hold loosely to the form in which church life and worship take place, church leaders reiterated the importance of cell groups – a theme that has surfaced repeatedly since the start of the pandemic.

“When the whole church cannot physically meet together, to mitigate the non-personal touch of online viewing of services, small groups are the glue for church identity and community,” said one pastor.

In fact, at least three of the 12 church leaders said they have pivoted their church gatherings to become more cell group-centric, instead of focusing on having weekly large gatherings.

“By providing safe spaces where people can have more authentic interactions, we can encourage one another and care for the vulnerable.”

Pastor Benjamin Chew of Kingdom Life Community Church said: “We have started to map out our church into smaller house churches with their own teachers and preachers so that whenever a crisis like this happens, we are able to continue to function. In a way, this crisis has forced us to enter into a new paradigm of running a church.”

Added Deputy Senior Pastor Norman Ng of 3:16 Church: “We believe this to be a spiritually significant moment where the Church can return to its historic roots of gathering in smaller groups as the early Church did. By providing safe spaces where people can have more authentic interactions, we get more opportunities to encourage one another and to care for the vulnerable.”

Since March 2021, his church has only held worship services as a big assembly on the first Sunday of the month. For the remaining Sundays, its members meet in home gatherings around Singapore, which Ps Ng said is a “reset to more biblical ways of Christian living”.

“We believe that as we move from the stage to the table, we will be able to focus on what’s important – moving away from majoring on stage-driven activities in buildings to focusing on building authentic communities and deeper connections around the table in our homes.

“This way, we won’t just sit and be consumers of a monologue, but will spend time dialoguing and praying for one another and those in need. We believe that this will take us closer to what Jesus always intended His ecclesia to be.”

Ps Ng added that no restrictions can stop believers from doing what God has called his body to do – to serve the poor and needy in our midst.

“Church shouldn’t be about how big our gatherings are but about how generous our hearts are. Let not our Christian privilege of not meeting comfortably blind us to the needs of the afflicted and oppressed around us. This is the best time for the Church to shine.”

What will you choose?

The way we respond to setbacks and crises will reveal if we are Christ-centred disciples or convenience-based religious consumers, said Ps Rick from Yio Chu Kang Chapel.

He offered three questions that we can ask ourselves during this uncertain time:

“The way we respond to setbacks will reveal if we are Christ-centred disciples or convenience-based religious consumers.”

1. Will we grumble or give thanks?

The latest restrictions may seem like we have taken a few steps back from a life of normalcy. We will feel sad and go through a certain level of grief.

However, let us not grumble and become bitter (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Let us remember to fix our eyes on the cross and give thanks for the hope of salvation we possess in Christ.

2. Will we detach or connect?

We thank God for online platforms which help us to livestream our worship services. But we cannot fall into a mindset that believes it is possible to be a Christian in silos, since there is an abundance of worship services available online that we can tune in to alone and at our own convenience.

Our faith is communal. God saved us to become part of His family. Lonesome coals turn cold quickly. So, let us make use of online platforms to meet with other believers, to fulfil the “one-anothering” mandate (Hebrews 10:24-25).

3. Will we look inward or outward?

In days of crisis, there will be a temptation to look inward and put self-interest first. Yet Christ showed us that the way of the cross is to seek the interest of others (Philippians 2:1-8).

Let us learn to look outward, comfort the fearful-hearted, meet the needs of others, serve the poor, be rich in good works in these uncertain days (1 Timothy 6:18). Let our light shine, that others may glorify our Father!


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About the author

Gracia Lee

Gracia is a journalism graduate who thoroughly enjoys people and words. Thankfully, she gets a satisfying dose of both as a writer and Assistant Editor at Salt&Light.