A virus is a contagious organism specifically designed to reproduce and multiply at a rapid rate. Because of this innate capacity, it can spread quickly through a population that is in close contact with each other. To combat the impact of viral infection, especially in the case of COVID-19, we are asked to maintain social distancing. By staying six feet apart, we can reduce the likelihood of the virus passing from one person to the next.

The early church understood this principle. They knew that the spread of the gospel depended on intimate contact with sinners who desperately need the hope of Christ. So they refused to huddle up in holy quarantine and, instead, moved toward people. They engaged with them. They got close enough to pass along a message that can best be understood in proximity.

Yes, the gospel can be shared from a distance across all kinds of media. But it’s most effective, and spreads at a much more rapid pace, when passed directly from the carrier to the recipient in close personal contact. And that’s the problem. Many Christ followers practice a form of self-quarantine. They keep nonbelievers at an arm’s length and refuse to engage in the kind of intimacy that facilitates a contagious transmission.

This same principle is operative in churches. They develop all kinds of programs to meet unbelievers while keeping them at a manageable distance. The results are predictable. There are many acquaintances but few relationships. Minimal intimacy leads to minimal transmission, and the gospel fails to spread as God intended.

Do you have a viral church or a quarantined church? What evidence is there that your people are living in contagious intimacy with people outside your church? The best way to make such a determination is to measure the rate of infection.

Clare Jewell is national church planting coordinator for Regular Baptist Churches.