Craig Groeschel, senior pastor of Life.Church, and Bobby Gruenewald, Life.Church’s pastor and innovation leader, have been quarantined due to being exposed to the coronavirus while attending a leadership conference in Germany.
“We will not be at church, don’t worry,” said Groeschel in a video posted to YouTube on March 4. “We’re going to stay completely away. We’re trying to do this with an abundance of caution to make sure that everybody’s safe.”
Life.Church Pastors Quarantined for 14 Days
Life.Church is based in Oklahoma, but currently has 34 locations throughout the country. Groeschel was a featured speaker at the Willow Creek Deutschland Leitungskongress 2020, which had around 7,400 attendees, according to Religion News Service.
The conference took place in Karlsruhe, in southwest Germany, and was set to run from February 27-29. It was cut short, however, after one of the scheduled speakers contracted the coronavirus. Groeschel said that he and Gruenewald heard the news on their flight back to the States. They then told a flight attendant about the situation, in addition to informing health authorities once they landed. After that, said Groeschel, “We decided to isolate ourselves for the full 14 days. No contact with anyone whatsoever. The good news is I’ve got a lot of time to pray. I’ve written outlines through almost the end of May for sermon messages. I’m working out like crazy…Pastor Bobby will probably invent another app.”
Groeschel emphasized that he and Gruenewald were healthy and not showing any symptoms of the virus: “We feel 100 percent great. We’ve only got a few more days before we will be completely cleared.” People have been asking how they can pray for the two quarantined pastors, to which Groeschel responded, “I don’t think we need prayers for our health. I need prayers because I haven’t seen Amy or my kids in a long time.”
Gruenewald (who is the founder of the YouVersion Bible app) also released a statement about being quarantined, saying, “Pastor Craig and I remain at home and healthy…We have no symptoms, and someone is checking on us regularly. In the meantime, we’re making the most of this time to focus on ministry work and look forward to getting back to our normal routines.”
On March 3, the conference’s organizers posted a statement explaining why they chose to end the event early. “This was done as a precaution,” they said. “According to health authorities, there was never any danger to the participants. However, we decided to cancel this event as a preventive measure in order to give all participants the opportunity to come home in peace and quiet.”
The speaker who tested positive for the coronavirus was never present during the actual event, said conference leaders, but rather, “In the run-up…he had personal contact with some senior people who are now in quarantine.” In the update, the organizers also said they had learned that three other people who had had contact with the speaker had since tested positive for the virus, although they were showing “only slight or no symptoms” so far [Editor’s note: Quotes from conference leaders were obtained using Google Translate].
Is Your Church Prepared for the Coronavirus?
The situation the Life.Church pastors find themselves in underscores the need for American churches to prepare in the event the coronavirus outbreak escalates in the United States. Besides the normal precautions people take to avoid contracting any illness (washing hands, cleaning surfaces, staying home if sick), this could mean adjusting certain aspects of your worship service. For example, you might consider asking congregants not to shake hands with one another.
But there could come a time when it would be better for your church to temporarily stop meeting in person, as many churches in Asia have done. Should you find yourself in that situation, it does not mean your entire ministry needs to come to a screeching halt. Sociology professor Scott Thumma says it is advantageous that Life.Church already streams online and has online platforms for giving and taking prayer requests. He said, “They could worship online for a month and not miss a beat.”
See this article from ChurchLeaders for further recommendations regarding how you can protect your church members from the coronavirus.
A Spiritual Battle and Opportunity
Beyond the health impact to your members and your ministry, remember that the spread of the coronavirus presents a unique opportunity to share the gospel with people. Greg Stier says that a discussion about death is an important conversation “[for youth ministry workers] to have with our teenagers right away.”
One pastor in Wuhan, China (where the coronavirus originated), has emphasized, “You must know that this is not just an observable disaster, but even more it is a spiritual struggle.” He sees the coronavirus as a chance to fight for the souls of the people of Wuhan. By extension, all believers throughout the world have opportunities to minister to communities impacted by the virus. Said the pastor, “Christians are not only to suffer with the people of this city, but we have a responsibility to pray for those in this city who are fearful, and to bring to them the peace of Christ.”