Just a quick internet search will yield any number of results linking net travelers to articles expressing the same amazement at or offering medical reasons for the drastic decrease in flu cases. Healthline.com shared an article entitled “Why the Flu Almost Disappeared This Year.” Another study provided by Harvard Health Care addressed the issue in an article titled, “Amid COVID-19, a Stunning Reversal in Flu Seasons Around the World.” On the CDC’s official website, you can also find an article entitled, “Decreased Influenza Activity During the COVID-19 Pandemic –United States, Australia, Chile, and South Africa, 2020.”
Some would argue that the decrease in flu cases is directly tied to distancing, sanitizing, and masking that has been a staple in our world since the middle of last year. The case could be made that since we are being more careful about germs that our extra measures have served as protection from the flu. Others would suggest that the decrease in numbers rests in the skewing of data and the seemingly inflated COVID-19 numbers. It has been argued that flu cases may have disappeared because some are simply not interested in testing for and reporting on the flu in the middle of this pandemic. “Everything is just considered COVID.” (The thoughts of some not necessarily mine).
Personally, I don’t know what to make of the decrease and I am not really worried about which side (if either) is right. But there is a spiritual parallel that does concern me and gives great pause for reflection. Isn’t it amazing that, since March of last year, no one has fallen away from the church? Not a single person has purposefully forsaken the weekly gathering of the saints. No families have been overtaken by the world and lost their zeal for church activities. No active Christians have been weakened to the point of apathy. There has been no spiritual desertion, no abandoning the faith, no unfaithfulness, and no falling short.
Of course, these statements are absurd. Temptation is alive and well (Jam. 1:13-15). Failure is still possible (2 Pet. 1:10). Sin is still a reality (Rom. 3:23). God’s people are still under attack (Eph. 6:12). But if you listen to the way we talk and watch the work we are doing (or not doing), we will certainly give the impression that the only reason some are not attending and active is due to the pandemic of our time. Just as “COVID has eradicated the flu” it seems to have also made apostasy a thing of the past.
When is the last time we have checked on someone who isn’t participating in our weekly gatherings to make sure that their faith was not weakening? When is the last time we approached friends and family who have decided not to “risk it” for Sunday or Wednesday evening Bible classes? When was the last time we thought that something other than physical sickness or high-risk concerns might be the reason our church buildings are not full anymore and that our numbers have decreased during the last eleven months? We’ve been conditioned to chalk it up to COVID and shamed if we suggest that worship, at some point, is worth a risk.
Friends, we seem to have been forced into these assumptions because it is unpopular or considered uncouth to address the decreased numbers in our local assemblies. The popular belief about the dangers of crowds and gatherings has silenced us in speaking against backsliding and asking why people are not attending and when they will return. We have allowed restaurants, workplaces, holiday gatherings, hair appointments, school attendance, doctor visits, and HEB trips to be essential, but corporate worship and hands-on participation in church matters to remain unnecessary until a time deemed right by medical professionals, government agencies, or even local elderships.
I am well aware that some will hear these words as harsh and unsympathetic –that is fair if you don’t know me or my love for the church. If you do know me, then you should know that I have cried tears over these issues and struggled with my own views throughout this entire process. As I have said numerous times, I understand (not that I am the standard by any means) the risk and concern of some. But not everything is COVID. Furthermore, some are distancing from church gatherings and functions, but not the things deemed “necessary” for everyday life. Our life with and as the church is one of the most necessary things we have. Apathy and apostasy are still very present realities. At some point, we have to reinvest in the business of God and continue living with the assurance that heaven is ours. The church must, must, must be essential and your local church family needs you desperately.