Updated 3/23/21 at 4:00pm
Updated 2/22/21 at 10:00am
I recently had a conversation with a local pastor whose church reopened to in-person worship after a period of closure due to the pandemic recently shared that their attendance is averaging just over ⅓ their pre-Covid attendance. He said, “I don’t know where they’ve all gone? In fact, I’m not sure who is with us anymore and who isn’t!?” This is the conversation church leaders are having across the country today. Churches that have reopened to in-person worship are reporting 10-40% of their prior church attendance figures.
Where have all the worshippers gone? Why are only 10-40% of worshippers returning to worship?
- People aren’t ready to return to in-person worship.
Today, the majority of Americans are ready to have friends and family - people they know well - over to their home, but the vast majority aren’t ready to sit shoulder to shoulder with potential strangers for an hour of singing, talking and worship. Even though many, if not most, say they are ready to gather again, worshippers are not returning in droves. The vast majority are steering clear of large gatherings until vaccinations or some sort of national declaration of herd immunity. Until people return to their normal patterns of attending sporting events, restaurants and concerts at capacity, church attendance will also not return to normal.
- What people experience when they return to church doesn’t feel like church.
Only 3% of church leaders say the pandemic has not affected them at all. The remaining 97% of churches have wisely taken the advice of doctors, public health and the CDC seriously and put procedures and restrictions in place. What does this look like? Mandatory masking. Required social distancing. No gathering socially before and after worship. In some cases, it even means pre-registration to attend worship, health screenings, temperature checks, no communion, and no singing. Consequently, what people experience when they attend church doesn’t feel like church. Church should feel warm, welcoming, and inviting. Instead, it feels cold, sterile, legal and inhospitable.
So, what do we do, Calvary?
Calvary’s Council made the decision to reopen to in-person worship on Memorial Day. Why Memorial Day? Memorial Day weekend gives us time. Time for vaccinations. Time so we can worship free of as many restrictions as possible. Time for warm weather to arrive so we can worship outside. Time to ramp up our online capabilities so when we are in-person we have the capacity to do both (in-person and online worship) well.
Now, we recognize not everyone is going to appreciate this timeline. We understand. For some, it’s not soon enough. For others, it’s too much too soon. That’s what I love about our church. We are not a homogenous bunch. Here’s what you’ll see over the coming months as we begin to re-open and ramp up for in-person worship:
February: You are invited to participate in a large Backpack Attack Event &/or receive a tour of the building.
March: Connect Groups are invited to re-group and are welcome to reserve space in the church to meet.
April: We will resume Daily Office Hours and hold another large meal packing event called Meals from the Heart. We’re packing 50,000 meals for our community, church!
May: We will hold large Volunteer Training Events in preparation for re-opening. We will need 200 volunteers in order to hold our summer ministries.
May 30: We resume in-person Worship, while continuing our Online Worship. We will hold both Traditional Worship here at the church and Calvary at the Lake Modern Worship at Luther Crest.
As Calvary’s staff and council navigate these unprecedented times, here are some of the guiding principles we believe will help us thrive in the future:
- Think “Hybrid church.”
We are in a unique spot. Some were ready to go back to church yesterday, while others won’t be ready for a long time. What do we do? We need to think “hybrid church.” For those who won’t be coming back, we must provide an online experience that’s worth watching. We’re going to strive to do both in-person and online really well. Beside, while 71% of Baby Boomers say they will prefer primarily in-person church attendance after COVID is over, only 41% of Gen Z, 42% of Millennials and 47% of Gen X’ers say they will prefer in-person worship. Church is leaving the building. Additionally, you can bring church to an unlimited audience online.
- In the meantime, we’re going to encourage you to worship online whenever it works for you.
Not everyone is going to worship at 9am on Sunday morning. Please watch “on demand” whenever it works for you. Once a week, clear away the distractions and pick a time to worship. Put it on your calendar. For some, worshipping on Sunday morning in their living room with 3 kids climbing the walls just doesn’t work.
- After a year of dis-connecting, we’ll focus on re-connecting.
After a year filled with disconnecting, it’s time for some re-connecting. We are all missing one another. We’ll be encouraging you to gather with your small groups, which we call Connect Groups. If you are not in a group, start a new group. We provide weekly discussion guides to spur conversation. We’re hosting service events, gathering people in small groups to make a big difference. We have teams of volunteers through the church almost every day. We distribute Kid Crates to all our 3 year olds-3rd graders filled with faith activities for kids and their parents, and an army of volunteers deliver the crates. We hold online events to encourage our Students and their parents to engage in meaningful conversation. We’re doubling down on connecting.
- We’re going to reopen as though we are “Re-Launching” the church.
When we open, we want to open big! Everyone is going to know it. We’re going to invite our whole community. We want all to know there’s a seat for them. We want to hammer down the throttle!
Updated 7/20/20 at 4:00pm
With upticks in Covid rates, you’ve likely wondered: What does this mean for our church and reopening? Here’s an update.
Updated 6/19/20 at 10:00am
You are likely aware that churches have been given permission to open their buildings to 50% capacity with a maximum of 250 people as of June 10.
So the question is: What will we do at Calvary this summer?
Before I get to that, something amazing is happening at Calvary. While we have not gathered physically, get this: We are reaching more people than ever. People from all over our community, region, and country who were previously not connected to a church are worshiping with us. And, people continue to be so generous, which allows us to serve our community in remarkable ways! We've been reminded that the Church isn’t the building, it’s the people!
At Calvary, the safety and quality of experience for those who gather for worship is our highest priority when we consider gathering again in-person. To that end, our church council came to the conclusion this week that, due to Covid-19 and the restrictions and regulations in place, we are currently able to provide people with a safer experience and a better experience by worshiping online, rather than worshiping in person. We made the hard yet prudent decision that there will be no in-person worship this summer.
Under the current regulations, Calvary at the Lake would be limited to 250 people, but in recent summers we’ve regularly welcomed more than 500 people. So who would we exclude? Because of construction, we had planned to hold our traditional service at the UCC church across the street from the church where, under the current regulations, we would need to limit our attendees to under 100. Again, who would we ask to stay home? In both of these environments, we could only host a fraction of our usual attendance. Additionally, the requirements for social distancing, mask-wearing, cleaning, and the overall quality of the experience we could provide－in the view of our leadership team－would not allow us to create a great worship experience for anyone, especially the unchurched friends you regularly invite.
As we’ve shared in the past, we will know it is time to return to in-person worship when we all feel comfortable attending a sporting event or concert unconcerned about sitting next to total strangers.
So, what’s the summer going to look like at Calvary?
Here's how, together, we'll make it a great summer, Calvary!
- Worshiping Online.
We’re investing more and more into our worship experiences and online tools. Everyday there is new content posted on Facebook, YouTube, www.calvaryalex.org, and on cable access 181, such as the Daily Dose. Now you can worship ON DEMAND on our website or YouTube anytime that is convenient for you - the moment you wake up Sunday mornings or later in the week.
- Let’s serve our community together.
The financial toll of Covid has hit families in our community especially hard. Calvary is partnering with Alexandria Public Schools, Bremer Bank and United Way to ensure that all families in need in our community receive a bag of food every week this summer through our Backpack Attack program. You can support this effort by clicking here. Another way to support this program is through your “check-ins” on Facebook. A member in our community is donating $5 to this program every time anyone “checks-in” at Calvary on Facebook. Can you believe it!? Please check in every day!
- Get your kids involved in the Calvary Summer Experience.
Every summer Calvary welcomes 100’s of kids to our Vacation Bible School program. This summer, we won’t be gathering, but during June, July, and August, families that register can pick up a Summer Experience kit from Calvary which gives access to worship songs, Bible stories, videos, and crafts for a full week each month. You’ll even get a t-shirt! And it’s ALL FREE! Invite a friend. Sign up here.
- Gather with your Connect Group, safely.
Connect Groups are a big part of this season in our church. We need each other now more than ever before. Connect Groups are groups of 8-12 people or 4-5 couples who make a commitment to share life and faith together. In addition to meeting online, we’re going to provide guidance, support and encouragement for Groups to begin meeting face to face in a very unique way! Stay tuned. If you are not in a Connect Group, you are going to want to form one soon!
I know that this delay in gathering together is disappointing for some. I really miss meeting with you face to face, but I’m also very encouraged. Here’s the silver lining in all of this:
We are reaching more people than ever!
I know this sounds crazy, but it’s true. And isn’t this what it’s all about? This past Sunday over 2,400 people viewed our worship service online, and that doesn’t include those who watched on TV or listened on the radio. Your friends who aren’t into church are joining us for church. While when we will reopen our church building in the future remains unknown, here’s what I know: Lives are being changed and people are being reached! Let’s continue to open our arms wide to those who are joining us and continue inviting the people we love to join us.
We can’t wait to worship with you this Sunday, 9am, on:
- Facebook - Follow and Like us!
- Charter Local Cable Channel 181
- KXRA 99.3 FM (10:30am)
Or “ON DEMAND” Worship anytime after midnight Sunday mornings!:
Friends, we’re going to get through this.
With each other.
Updated 5/26/20 at 10:00am
Yesterday President Trump issued guidance deeming places of worship "essential" during the coronavirus pandemic, which allows religious institutions to reopen for services. We are grateful to know that when the conditions are right, we can resume gathering in-person as a church family.
As you know, though, “Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.” Just because you could get that tattoo your buddy dared you to get in High School doesn’t mean you should. Just because my once 4-year old son realized he could draw on the living room wall with a Sharpie, didn’t mean he should.
Here’s what we know:
- In the state of Minnesota, cases of Covid-19 are still on the rise. Cases in Douglas county jumped to 27 yesterday. There were 813 new cases and 33 deaths yesterday alone in Minnesota - the highest single day death total yet.
- There are 19,005 total reported cases in Minnesota. If Covid-19 was a town, it would now be a town much larger than Alexandria.
- There have been 842 deaths in Minnesota due to Covid-19. That’s nearly the population of Parkers Prairie.
- Though in some parts of the country rates of infection are on the decline, the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Health predict the peak of infection will not arrive until June 29.
Contrary to what we want to believe, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. You and I will likely lose someone we know to this disease.
I think this goes without saying, but I love our church. I miss seeing all of you and doing what we do together in person. I would do anything to gather together again! But, given this sobering information, we just can’t in good conscience resume worship anytime soon, Calvary. Here are a few other things to consider:
- Why are stores open, but not my church? Covid-19 is a respiratory disease, transferred when we inhale infectious particles exhaled by others. Stores are open because the interactions you have are brief, normally less than 5 minutes. Cruise ships, care facilities, meat processing plants and churches create the greatest risk and have been hotspots for infection because of the prolonged exposure we have to one another's breathing. We want to be a hotspot for the love of Jesus, not a hotspot for Covid-19.
- What would worship look like under Covid-19? We would count and monitor how many people enter the building; your temperature would be taken upon arrival; the sanctuary would be kept to ? full; ushers would enforce strict social distancing; there would be no communion or offering; everyone would be required to wear a mask; restrooms would be closed; door handles constantly washed; no children’s message, no singing, no coffee, and no cookies! Do you know what that experience would be? Lame! No visitor would ever come back!
- How would we do Children’s Ministry? Kids don’t social distance. And, even if we could enforce social distancing, do you have any idea how many tears there would be? We want to give kids high fives and suckers at Calvary, not tears.
- How would we care for the most vulnerable? The highest rates of infection are found in those ages 20-60, yet death rates disproportionately affect vulnerable adults, with 95+% of deaths occurring with those 60 and older. Loving your neighbor means caring for those most vulnerable in our midst.
- Your friend’s church is opening, how do you respond? No doubt, there will be churches that choose to reopen sooner than later. How will we respond? We will respond the way Calvary always does: You will love them (Socially distant and masked, of course). But, seriously, we will love them and encourage them to stay safe.
So, when will we gather again? We will gather again for worship when we can provide a better experience in the building than we can provide online. When will this happen? When will we know people are ready? We will know it is time to worship together again when people feel comfortable attending sporting events and concerts again—events where people sit comfortably, without hesitation, side-by-side. The leaders of your church—staff and church council—are praying, working and carefully discerning a reopening plan that is right for us here at Calvary.
Here’s what we all know: Churches are essential. And Calvary, our leadership in our community is more essential now than ever before. The church is not a building. The church is a community of people so captured by the love of Christ that we are constantly doing the unthinkable out of love for our neighbors and for one another. We’re going to keep being the essential love of God in our community during these trying times. The building isn’t essential to do that!
I can’t wait to worship with you tomorrow! I’m wrapping up our series: Didn’t See that Coming by sharing a message from my garage!? Yup, you read that right. Curious?
We’re going to get through this.
With each other!
Updated 5/15/20 at 1:30pm
With Governor Walz’s announcement Wednesday, we will begin to see some new signs of “normalcy” around us. As of June 1, you can get your haircut from your favorite stylist again and eat at your favorite restaurant again. Yes, it will be different. Restaurants will reduce their capacity and restrictions will keep the most vulnerable among us safe. But we are taking another step toward a “new normal.”
Now, because you care about your church, I’m certain you are wondering: When will we worship together in person again?
First off, I really miss seeing all of you! Talking to a camera in an empty room just doesn’t cut it. I LOVE when we are together. Gathering physically does something for our souls, and I miss it.
So, when will in-person worship resume? Your safety and the safety of the most vulnerable is most important to us. We have thought long and hard about what conditions would need to be met for us to gather.
First, we want everyone to know we will not end online worship opportunities once in-person worship starts. We have clearly seen that online worship is a great place for new people to connect, and it will become even more of a need as we get back to busy weekend schedules. Additionally, some people will not feel comfortable coming into a church building for a long time.
Second, even when restrictions on gatherings are lifted and we are “allowed” to meet, you need to know that Calvary is not an average church. We are a larger than average church. Our gatherings do not represent the typical church gatherings of 50-75 people, so we will proceed with caution.
Here are 3 things I’d like us to think about when it comes to worshipping in person. These three realities will guide our timeline for reopening:
- Worship. If you’ve watched the news at all, you’ve likely noticed that the 4 most contagious environments for COVID-19 are nursing homes, cruise ships, meat packing plants and… choirs. You likely heard of the church choir in Seattle where 60 people gathered for practice. Even with social distancing, 35 contracted the virus and a few of them died. When we sing, we spew mass amounts of particles into the air. Imagine what worship would be like with no singing?
- Children’s Ministry. As restrictions are lifted, young parents are going to be excited to gather with friends and neighbors and see their kids playing together again, but parents are not going to be comfortable sending their kids off with the children of strangers. Here’s what we all know: Kids don’t social distance! And, even if we could enforce social distancing, do you have any idea how many tears there would be? We want to give kids high fives and suckers at Calvary, not tears.
- Quality. Imagine what it would be like to hold worship today: We would count and monitor how many people enter the building; your temperature would be taken upon arrival; the sanctuary would be kept to 1/3-1/2 full; ushers would enforce strict social distancing; there would be no communion or offering; everyone would be required to wear a mask; restrooms would be closed or cleaned after every use; door handles would be constantly washed; there would be no children’s message, no singing, no coffee, and no cookies! Do you know what that experience would be like? Lame! You might come the first Sunday, but the novelty would wear off quickly. And, most importantly, no visitor would ever come back!
So, when will we gather again? We will gather again for worship when we can provide a better experience in the building than we can provide online.
When will this happen? When will we know people are ready? We will know it is time to worship together again when people feel comfortable attending sporting events and concerts again—events where people sit comfortably, without hesitation, side-by-side. Our church council leaders will be working closely with our staff leadership to build out a reopening plan that is right for Calvary.
Friends, our mission is to lead all people to a lifelong faith in Christ by worshipping, connecting and serving God’s people. Here’s what I know: We all want our church to spend 80% of its time, energy and resources reaching people with the Gospel of Jesus, rather than spending 80% trying to figure out how we will social distance, take temperatures, disinfect, and regulate who can come through the door.
Thanks for loving your church and for loving our mission. Feel free to reach out with any questions.
We’re going to get through this.
With each other!
Updated 3/17/20 at 4:41pm
I want to start by saying: Your church loves you. I love you. If you own a business, its a scary time. If you are a parent, you are beginning a new adventure as unintentional homeschool parents. If you are elderly, you’re tired of being cooped up. If you are a retiree, you’re watching the stock market. This is a hard, hard time and we want you to know: Your church loves you. I love you.
I’ve been reciting my favorite Bible verse a lot lately:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life...neither the present nor the future neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Romans 8:38-39
Friends, nothing will separate you from God’s love - no virus, no stock market, no anxiety, fear or worry. Nothing.
We want you to know your church is here for you, but our presence is going to look different for a while. Calvary Council and Staff met over the past 24 hours and have decided that the best way for us to love our neighbor is to protect our neighbor.
Beginning tomorrow morning, we will move all church activities to an online or virtual format (where possible), and will close our church building to staff members only.
Our staff is working overtime to retool ministry and we have some unique ministry we will be bringing to you. We are available via phone, email, social media or text message. Until the CDC recommends otherwise, we will be postponing all weddings, funerals or baptisms, and our preschool will follow the Governor’s declarations regarding school closures.
We will share updates with you in four ways: via email, our website, Facebook and phone (320.763.5178). We now have a secure deposit slot in the office vestibule where you can drop off your offerings, correspondence or any such items at the church. In order to keep everyone safe, though, you will not be allowed in the church office.
You are likely wondering:
If we can’t gather at Calvary, what will church look like moving forward?
We are so glad you asked! The church has never been and never will be the building. The church is people like you and me who love God, love each other and love our neighbors. The building is simply a tool for ministry. So, we’re going to be getting creative. Here’s a peek:
Worship - Sundays at 9am
Worship will come to you, broadcast each week in the following ways:
www.calvaryalex.org, Facebook, Charter Cable - channel 181,
and KXRA 99.3 FM radio (10:30am)
The “Daily Dose” - Weeknights at 6:15pm
We hope you find these short daily devotional videos encouraging.
www.calvaryalex.org and Facebook
Virtual & Family Connect Group Opportunities
We’ll provide you with the tools to reflect & connect with your Connect Group virtually, or with your family in person. Contact Katie Dahl at for more information.
Student Ministry Online - Wednesdays at 6:15pm
We know this is an anxious time for our students. Students and parents are invited to together tune in for a special message designed for our 4-12th graders and their families.
www.calvaryalex.org and Facebook
Calvary Kids Live! - Monday-Friday at 10am
Moms & Dads - home with your kiddos you are going to do a lot of entertaining. Let us help you. Tune in for a special message designed for our PreK-3rd graders.
www.calvaryalex.org and Facebook
Caring Ministry - 24/7
We know there will be some tough moments for all of us. Know you can reach out anytime. We will be connecting especially with our homebound members in the coming weeks.
We wanted you to know that our local school districts reached out to Calvary and a very small team will be doing a big packing event in the coming weeks. Let us know if you hear of ways we can serve our community.
Finally, for those of you who normally give your offerings when you come to worship, thank you ahead of time for continuing your faithful giving. Our church leadership has been fiscally conservative, but everything we do relies on your incredible generosity. If you haven’t already, now is the time to sign up for automated giving, or make a gift online today! It’s easy. Or - if you need to get out - drop a check off at the church.
Calvary, we love you. God loves you. We are going to get through this. With God. With each other.