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Exclusive: Tim Keller compares coronavirus to 9/11 for potential impact on church

by Cara Bentley

Pastor and theologian Tim Keller has been speaking to Premier about what obstacles a global pandemic will cause for the church. You can watch the full interview below. 

Tim Keller is the founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, a Calvinist theologian and author of 'The Reason for God'. He also co-founded The Gospel Coalition and now trains gospel leaders. 

Speaking from his New York apartment about how coronavirus will change the church, Keller said he thinks it will be hard to be a pastor when coronavirus is over, with a large percentage of the congregation out of work or having experienced devastation. "I think that almost all churches and non-profits are going to be in a position where there'll be more to do but there'll be less financial resources...that's going to be a problem for ministry leaders everywhere in the country and in the world."

He compared it to the attack on the Twin Towers and the aftershock then: "After 9/11, which had a huge impact on the city in a way you didn't see in the rest of the country or the world, it took several weeks at least for us to figure out at our church 'what does this mean for us in the future?' We can't go on with business as usual. We have to find out 'what is God calling us to be?' and it can't be the same. I think that will emerge and I don't think it's easy to tell."



Keller explained how the current pandemic is affecting parts of the church community in New York, where the virus is spreading quickly: "The poorer churches can't even go online. In the city, a lot of the working-class and poorer churches, they don't have people who've got Wi-Fi at home. It's really difficult for them. There are some churches in the city in which 80% or more of the members are out of work and they can't just say, 'oh, we're going to stream online, we're going to do our small groups online', and even the churches that are more middle-class who are able to do that, you still feel the lack of real contact."

He acknowledged the positive indication that many people are watching the gospel being preached online though, saying: "Churches that would ordinarily have 200 people in a service, if they go on the livestream, they'll realise that a thousand people heard the sermon." 

When asked if he thinks the move to online church will be permanent, he replied: "Online visiting with each other can enhance but it can't start or sustain a relationship. I don't know if you've ever done computer dating - if you're trying to have a romantic relationship with somebody over Skype, there's a limit to it. I think it's the same thing for us. We'll probably become a little more adept but I don't think that's going to revolutionise."

One way Keller thinks coronavirus will affect the church is by bringing people to a faith. He compared it to the terror attack in 2001 again: "There's quite a number of folks who are Christians today because they started coming to church right after 9/11 just because they were scared and they wouldn't they wouldn't have gone to church. Right now that's happening online - and it's less effective than when you actually show up in the body - but nevertheless, something like that is happening now and there will be fruit. People will say 'I came to Christ during the virus'."

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