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Ed Young, founding and senior pastor of Fellowship Church, is challenging churches across the U.S. to reopen their doors, warning that the spiritual ramifications of refusing to meet outweigh the hype of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Look at our culture. There is so much going on right now spiritually, especially among young people facing depression, anxiety, and attempting suicide,” Young, who leads the evangelical megachurch in Grapevine, Texas, told The Christian Post. “I have counted the cost of not opening our church versus opening, and I believe that risk and faith go hand in hand. It’s critical to reopen churches.”
Young, author of The Fear Virus, believes fear is what compels many churches to remain closed. Many pastors, he said, fear they’ll face online vitriol, criticism from the media, or their services will be poorly-attended should they reopen. He noted that some pastors have said they'll suspend in-person services until they're able to guarantee the safety of their members.
“I understand where these pastors are coming from, but I disagree,” Young said. “I can't guarantee I’ll be in a 100% safe environment when I take my trash down to my street. It’s simply not doable.”
“I just don't want us to lose our boldness and I don't want the church to mail it in. Throughout church history, the church has not mailed it in. We've stood in pandemics, we've stood during wars, and in all sorts of chaos and mayhem. Today, technology has allowed us to take the easy way out.”
Several of Fellowship Church’s campuses reopened immediately after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s stay-at-home order expired, a move Young said had been in the church’s plan from the beginning of the pandemic.
“We followed all of the guidelines, all of the protocols, and that's something that we have to do. I think that’s wise due to the severity of the pandemic,” he said, stressing the importance of “using common sense” when it comes to reopening.
According to Young, the Fellowship Church sanctuary underwent thorough cleaning before the services and again between each service; congregants were provided with face masks, and social distancing was maintained.
“We had to really work in some unique things to make our church COVID-19 ready, and it wasn't easy,” he admitted.
But since reopening, “the response has been incredible,” he said, adding that within the last few months, Fellowship Church has seen an uptick in first-time visitors, conversions, and spiritual engagement.
Acknowledging that there are at-risk groups, Young highlighted the importance of providing “options” when it comes to worship.
“Options are important. I am very much a proponent of having different doors of the church open, whether they be physical doors or digital doors,” he said. “We want to show love to those who aren’t comfortable with meeting physically. That’s their prerogative.”
The pastor cited Hebrews 10:25 which says, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near,” to encourage congregations to meet physically.
He compared digital services to “decaf coffee,” noting: “It's another option out there. It's like fishing. If you don't cast repeatedly, you're not going to catch a fish, so don't just have one rod and reel, have two or three out there. We’re called to be fishers of men, and I believe that by meeting in a physical location, we’re obeying Hebrews 10:25.”
Young admitted Fellowship Church has withstood its own share of criticism for its approach to COVID-19. Several campers tested positive for COVID-19 after attending the church’s Allaso Ranch retreat center, which opened June 13.
Some parents spoke anonymously to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, saying they weren't notified about possible exposure to the coronavirus until later. Photos from the camp showing young campers and volunteers without masks and not practicing social distancing also drew criticism.
Young said, “After being made aware of the COVID situation, we alerted parents and quarantined and followed proper protocol, and I think we handled it beautifully. The response from parents and from the church was overwhelmingly positive.”
Parents, he said, made a “calculated risk” sending their children to the camp. He shared the story of one young camper who expressed no regret over attending the camp despite testing positive for the virus.
“This young man made a decision during an altar call at the camp to go into the ministry,” Young recounted. “After he tested positive for COVID, he told his mother, ‘COVID or not, I would do it all again because of what God did in my life at that camp.’”
But positive stories like this one, he said, won’t be publicized by the secular media.
“It’s amazing how the media can downplay positive stories about the church and focus on the negative,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of positive things happen over the last few months.”
Young said there are “more questions than answers” when it comes to COVID. Still, he believes physical worship is important to God — “and so it should matter to the body of Christ.”
“I want to applaud churches that are reopening and would encourage the ones who aren't to really think through why they aren’t reopening,” he said. “Something supernatural happens when we gather physically in a house of worship. I believe the risk of not coming together is greater than the risk of meeting."