One big thing COVID has done is change our habits. There are things I used to love doing that I miss tremendously and then there are some things I’ve learned to live without and may never go back to doing at all. For instance, I loved going to the movie theater at least once a month and especially for certain special movies that must be seen in the entertaining atmosphere of a movie theater. But after being restricted from that pleasure for eight months, I find I don’t really need that activity at all. I don’t think I’ll ever go to a movie theater again.
There are many other activities and events that we took part in eight months ago that we no longer do. Some of these experiences are ones we really miss and some of them are just things we may have done out of habit and COVID broke that habit. Over the last eight months, we formed new habits to replace the old ones. Healthline.com states, “It can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit and an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.” Well, we’ve had 245 days since the first school shut down due to the virus to create new habits—some of which are now automatic.
Many of these new habits are great. I know busy families have enjoyed the additional together time that they didn’t even know they were missing. Several people have finished projects that they had been slowly working on for years in their limited free time. Normally stressed out people are doing creative activities they always dreamed about trying, but just never stopped long enough to accomplish these dreams. There are some old ways of living we will never return to, nor would we really want to.
One of the new habits that has developed during this time is church online. When we were first told we couldn’t meet in person together, we were devastated. Zoom quickly became a household word and phone calls became more frequent. We missed each other. We felt discouraged and alone. We looked for online sermons for encouragement and shared links with other Christian friends. One of my friends said he listened to more sermons during quarantine than he had listened to in his whole life because he had so many preachers from his past who were putting messages online, and he wanted to hear them all! Sunday mornings eventually became stress free “Sabbaths.” We could have “church” at any time convenient for us, sitting comfortably on our couches. It became quite nice, in fact. Church on a screen, however, was never meant to replace church as a community.
A study of the original word now translated as “church” shows: Latin ecclesia, from Greek ekklesia, where the word is a compound of two segments: “ek,” a preposition meaning “out of,” and a verb, “kaleo,” signifying “to call” - together, literally, “to call out.” That usage soon disappeared and was replaced with “assembly, congregation, council,” or “convocation.”
It’s not a place, it’s a people. It’s not a building, it’s a community. It’s not a structure to meet in, it’s the body of Christ to live in. This people, this community, this body needs to be together. Churches all over the country have seen a significant decline in attendance. Some of this is due to precautions taken to avoid the virus; but, many times it is due to the replacement by other “habits.” The church is no longer a people “called out” joining together as a community, but a substandard, impersonal meeting with a screen.
Hebrews 10:25 says, “Do not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” God knew we were habitual creatures. He also knew we needed each other. So if you never step into another movie theater again, that’s okay; but don’t get used to being absent from the gathering Jesus felt so strongly about that He died on the cross to make it within our reach.