The future of church gatherings? How Coronavirus forced one church to innovate.

Feb 19, 2020 | Articles

I came across this inspiring interview with Pastor Huang Lei from the city of Wuhan, which is the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19).

In my talk on “A Second Reformation“, I mention how technology busts the church status quo, leading us to reimagine what it means to “do church” when physical buildings and weekly gatherings are no longer the main point.

This church in China is pioneering exactly that.

At first, it was because the government planned to shut them down. They wanted to continue gathering in small groups and meeting online. Thankfully, that order was never enforced and their plan wasn’t implemented.

The impact of regularly meeting online

But when the coronavirus outbreak resulted in strict quarantine rules, their church was able to implement the plan to great effect. For example they found themselves:

  • Praying and worshiping together online daily for hours instead of their once a week gathering.
  • Connecting with the elderly who were formerly alienated from the in-person life of the church and felt very lonely.
  • Having not only lead pastors preach, but also deacons posting videos with daily messages of encouragement online. The pastors check in with deacons every other day and the deacons do likewise with the people they are responsible for.
  • Syncing up regularly to ensure everyone (especially the poor) are provided for with the increasingly distressful situation and rising food prices.
  • Praying together with other churches and leaders all across China online.

Although the coronavirus outbreak is distressing, God is leading the way for the Church to continue to bear witness to the Gospel in word and deed. And technology is playing a critical role.

Watch the video and/or read the transcript below (which I’ve converted from the video’s subtitles) to learn more about the situation in Wuhan and also get a glimpse for what we can learn from our brothers and sisters in China about the Church gathered. And of course, let’s keep them in prayer.


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Show title: Wuhan’s voice: the voice of truth, hope, and faith.

Starting from a bible study group in 2002, Root & Fruit Christian Church of Wuhan was officially established in 2006. It is a representative house church of Wuhan, named after Isaiah 37:31: “Once more a remnant of the house of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above.”

The church’s vision is: “to share Christ with millions of families.”

In 2010, Root & Fruit Wuhan started a food bank charity, a registered NGO. They have been providing food for poor families, and ministering to the disabled and elderly. Huang Lei, the chief pastor of the church, was once a surgeon, and began serving the Lord as a pastor in 2002. He organized a Christian charity after the 2008 earthquake in Wenchuan County.

The Situation in Wuhan

Interviewer: Reverend Huang Lei, we know you are in Wuhan right now and you have been serving in Wuhan for years, preaching and leading the brethren in Wuhan. You worked as a doctor in a hospital. Now our brethren are very concerned–ever since the outbreak of the epidemic, most cities in Hubei are on lockdown.

First, can you tell us what is the situation of the church in Wuhan, as well as you and your family?

Reverend Huang: We are grateful that our family is healthy. And I’m very grateful that, although the city is now on lock down, no one is stepping outside their house, it’s also an opportunity God gave us, to let our family reunite, and connect with each other.

Because normally all three of us are busy with work. After my son finished his study abroad, he has been devoting himself to work. So it’s rare for us to have a family dinner even once a month, but now we are doing this every day.

I think this is a small grace and blessing in this horrible misfortune.

Interviewer: So is there anyone in your church that has been infected by the virus?

Reverend Huang: Yes. As far as I know, every big church in Wuhan has confirmed or suspected cases.
There are several suspected cases in our church, and several have fully recovered now. And there are two confirmed cases. One of them is staying at home. He has some medical background, so he is caring for himself at home.
The other one’s condition is more serious. His kidney is affected. So he had to be hospitalized for two reasons. One is novel coronavirus pneumonia. The other is to get dialysis.

So there are two of them. Our church is praying for them with all our hearts. We pray they will get better. At present, their conditions are stable.

They attend prayer meetings every day. And they can talk to people outside the hospital. It’s like that.

Interviewer: You mean the online prayer meeting, right?

Reverend Huang: Yeah, we’re not holding any offline meetings right now. It’s not just our own ideas for protection. It’s also a hard and fast rule of the government.

No more offline meetings. So all of our meetings, the sunday service and prayer meeting, as well as other meetings, are on hold right now.

Interviewer: Okay, thanks for the information. I remember when the outbreak began to worsen, a few days after the lock down, you posted a video of prayer and exhortation under the name of United Prayer Group in Wuhan. So the churches outside Wuhan get to know how does the local church in Wuhan face, react, and care for our brethren

So can you tell us, ever since the video’s post, are there any changes of this situation?

Reverend Huang: Yes, we united our local churches and posted a video in the name of United Prayer Group in Wuhan to appeal to all Christians to fast and pray for three days, from February 3rd to 5th.

As far as I know, Wuhan, China, and lots of churches around the world took part in this. Some of them even started from the 1st of Feb. And some are still praying with their hearts unceasingly. It’s our way to cry to God, to repent and ask God to stop this plague. We ask God to help his people on earth. Help us to survive this.

So, with this prayer, I think the children of God in Wuhan got to closely connect with their brethren all over the world. To encourage and care for each other. And increased our assurance, and our faith in God. And bolstered our determination to fight the plague. Now the churches in Wuhan are grateful as well.

Because of the epidemic, our churches can’t have our monthly meetings as usual.
So now we are holding prayer meetings online. And we are holding the online meeting twice a week to bring all of us together, to share and encourage one another in love, as well as allocate and share supplies.

We are doing good. And the brethren are getting more care during times like this.
I can talk about this in detail later. About how do we hold church meetings online, and care for the brethren while doing this, thank you.

Interviewer: We know that recently, most of you are self-isolated at home. And all the church meetings, and the fellowship group meetings are on hold, right? Can you tell us how do you organize brethren to meet and pray online?

Reverend Huang: Of course. During last year, especially the end of last year, churches in Wuhan, and the whole country, were under a lot of pressure. Dozens of churches have been closed in Wuhan. And the district where our church belongs, the government held a meeting, and decided to close us. They planned to do this in November.

But that didn’t happen.

Although they have decided, they had not yet acted on it. I joked about this.
I said they were going to do it, but Jesus never approved it. That’s why it didn’t work out.

But because of this threat, we worked out a plan to prepare, about how to connect everyone if we can’t meet in the church anymore. There are 550 people in our church. That means 54 groups. We decided to break apart, and meet in small groups. And we practiced a little. It turned out well. But we haven’t officially adopted this plan to implementation.

Then novel coronavirus pneumonia broke out. And that plan came into use.

So on January 19, after our last meeting, we activated this plan to meet in smaller groups. And then quickly enough, we adapted to this online meeting mode.

The Impact of Meeting Exclusively Online

Reverend Huang: First, we have more than 50 groups. Almost all the groups are meeting via internet.
Praying, studying the Bible, sharing, witnessing, praising and worshiping.
Among them, we have more than 30 groups which are spending two hours a day, to pray, worship, share and testify together.

That’s far more frequent than our normal meetings.

Of course, now we have more free time, everybody is staying at home, so that’s given us the chance to do this.
But, we usually have the group meeting weekly and now we’re doing this daily, sometimes even more. So we are very grateful for that.

And we have heard that our elderly and disabled have been thankful to the Lord and are greatly encouraged by this opportunity for online meetings. Before this, they felt alienated, staying at home alone, like they’re abandoned. Now they cherish the connection between brethren more than ever. And they’re more connected. So bit by bit, they started to actively throw themselves into online pray meeting.

As to the group leaders and deacons, we hold online meetings about twice a week. The deacons used to meet once a month, and now we have doubled it. I think it’s especially bringing us closer more than ever. We pray, share information, and make decisions together.

The virus can’t stop us.

And another thing is, we are praying with ministers in Wuhan twice a week mainly for prayer and information sharing. Other than that, we want to connect with ministers across China through this. So that’s the situation for now.

Speaking of preaching, of course, it’s hard for us to preach to each family, to meet every one of them in person. So the preaching and teaching system in our church is that we minister in a step-wise way. Usually, we preach and teach with the deacons and the large-group leaders, and every large-group leader, leads three to ten small-groups.

They will minister to these group leaders, and the group leaders then preach to their members. Nowadays, I usually exhort and minister to the deacons every other day, talking to every one of them through call and Facetime, to know their situation and encourage them. They do the same.

We ask them to do this in the same frequency, to communicate with their brothers. At the same time, there are two pastors in our church, and seven deacons. The two pastors, will go to church to make videos every day, taking turns to do their job. And every day, we’ll post the video on our social platform, and on our church’s official website. So all of our brethren can watch the preaching through it.

It’s like we have Sunday worship every day as well as the preaching.

The brethren are greatly encouraged by that.

And our preaching is not like before, to interpret the bible step by step. Now we are preaching with a theme. Depending on the situation of the church, the needs of brethren, and the epidemic’s situation. We preach about these. So the brethren are greatly encouraged. And the preaching is watched and listened by many other churches in China. It brings them comfort as well.

At the same time, we suggest our deacons to make videos at home or in the church, to give emotional support to our brethren. So the epidemic didn’t cut down our meetings. It’s the opposite.

And we have prayer meetings for the whole church. Two hours every morning. Every morning, from seven to nine. And there’s a 24-hour fasting and prayer. And we are doing an every hour prayer as well.
So I think after this, many of the brethren will be more willing to take part in the communication with other brethren. To encourage each other, and share with each other.

Thank you.

The Situation in Hospitals

Interviewer: Reverend Huang, you were a doctor before. You have years of experience in hospitals and ever since the outbreak, we noticed that hospitals are the center of this battle. People die everyday.

Reverend Huang: Yes, numerous doctors and nurses are sent here from all over the country, to help Wuhan and Hubei.

Interviewer: So is there any brethren in your church working in the hospital? And how are they doing at this point? Because I’m a doctor myself, we preach to a lot of brethren who work in hospitals. So we have a lot medical staff in our church. As far as I know, there is a doctor in our church who is a returnee; he works in respiratory unit of The People’s Hospital. He’s a professor, and an expert on nCov-19. So we have him.

He is on the front line right now. And the city has sent him to Ezhou recently, to a hospital in the neighboring city, to help Ezhou fight the fierce momentum of the epidemic. Apart from him, there are five others on the front line as well. Four or five of them that we know of.

Interviewer: We are very concerned about your life in Wuhan.
Almost all the basic needs can be met now, right?

Reverend Huang: We’re very grateful about that.

Because our biggest worry after the lock down is supply shortage or other problems concerning humanitarian crises, but at present, social order is good. There is no daily supplies shortage. It’s just the price of vegetables and fruits have gone up a lot.

It ‘s still affordable, but it’s not easy for low-income families. However, it’s not too overwhelming. We understand, and we can imagine the cost of goods is not cheap due to the situation. So this is understandable. We’re grateful that, there are no major problems in daily life.

How Churches Are Helping

Interviewer: And speaking of that, if there are families in need in the church, are there ways to help these families now? Concerning their special needs.

Reverend Huang: Yes. We are helping some families in our church right now. Their finances were in a bad situation already, so once they faced the current difficulty, they fell to the end of their ropes quickly, and they cannot carry on by themselves. Of course the church will help them.

Our church has always been devoted to social care, including helping the poor families in the church. Some are due to illness. Some are due to disability. We have always been helping them.

And outside the church, we’ve helped about 500 poor families. So of course, we would never leave them behind now. The church is looking into that as well. That is to say, aside from the regular help and care. We may provide other help in times like this.

Thank you.


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