This article has been updated to address planning through the next year. You can read those updates here: COVID-19 and church planning: 3 considerations
The news and our personal conversations are now being fully monopolized by the coronavirus. However, as believers, fear should never be our response.
It’s one thing to have a healthy respect for illness and what it can do to our lives. We should do that – and be wise in preventive measures. But the Bible contains 365 references to God telling his people to “fear not.”
Because of our faith in a mighty God, we should be the people, “who keep their heads when all about you are losing theirs.” We should be a model to the world of how to respond.
We’ve put together 11 ideas for your church to consider during a time in which our communities are in a heightened state of fear and concern.
- Plan for a realistic timeline: Unless things radically change, we are looking at weeks more of increased distancing and isolation. On the plus side, this gives us a planning window. Use April for a clear season around Easter and the new life found in Christ. Use May for a different focus. Sketch out your June just in case.
- Minister to those with COVID-19: Make a plan for how you will minister to those who are sick. Many pastors are already wrestling with this. With distancing rules, you’ll need to think phone, video, and care packages delivered. Many will get the virus and recover. If health experts assure us that the recovered have immunity (and if they are willing) those who were confirmed cases and have recovered may become the ones to encourage the sick. They will have a far better understanding of what the sick are going through.
- Communicate hope, and report only facts: When our community is in a state of fear and uncertainty, you have a great opportunity for ministry. We have a marvelous opportunity to speak in terms of our hope and confidence in God through this season. Fear is a psychological, emotional, and spiritual battle. You have the opportunity to offer comfort. And be sure to communicate accurate information. Sources such as the CDC and WHO should be your ultimate source for facts. It is important not to unconsciously spread misinformation.
- Consider economic impact: In these times of economic distress, members of your community may seek assistance and support from their local church. Counselors, support groups, and benevolence ministry are all opportunities for you to be a resource. Know your community partners who are in the field or seek some out. This may also be an opportunity to establish a crisis needs fund. Many will be out of work and miss paychecks. Students who rely on school programs for meals will go without. If the need is wide enough, you could ask for special gifts to serve the needs of people in crisis.
- Take precautions to protect the vulnerable, and remember the lonely: Several churches are setting up task forces with medical professionals to announce slight changes. This is an example of a “Short Term Activated Team.” These types of action steps ensure your congregation is informed and shows them you are being proactive. And consider those in your church who may be lonely. 28 percent of American households have only one person. People in these circumstances may have little interaction during these weeks. Develop a phone call routine. Enlist others to consistently help you.
- Go digital, and be creative: This is absolutely an opportunity to expand your online efforts. Use simple streaming tactics, or pilot multiple online, digital communication strategies that keep people connected and encouraged. This first starts in worship streaming. Check out this article from Portable Church featuring live-stream kits. An alternative to investing in live stream equipment would be to partner with another local church who does have the live-stream capabilities. Then, you can save your funds to serve your neighbors facing economic hardship in this time. And be creative with the arts. It’s been amazing to see many musicians do mini concerts online and via Facebook. Could your team produce 5-7 minute encouragement online in this way? Build a special Spotify playlist of worship songs focused on God’s presence, healing, and salvation. Share it widely via social media. Consider a “daily dose” audio podcast that is a daily message of prayer, affirmation, and teaching (2-5 minutes). Use Instagram and Facebook Live to stay in communication. Consider your worship leaders calling to play a song for someone who is sick.
- Tap into your small groups, and minister through your people: This is the time for small groups to shine. Let them figure out google hangouts, zoom calls, and other methods quickly. Encourage them to meet MORE frequently than normal. Give the leaders some slide decks to do some church announcements. This is a great opportunity to get your people focused on caring for friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Ask, “As you find people impacted that we can serve, would you please let us know?” This reporting system could be met with the response of many possibilities. But make sure you’re careful to follow through. False promises of help will discourage your members who are eager to serve others. Be bold with sharing the gospel.
- Teach about giving: During times of crisis, giving is undoubtedly affected. Use this as an opportunity to teach regularity in stewardship. Ministries still continue, and missionaries still need support, even if the church is not meeting regularly. And your church is still in need of loyal stewards who will walk with you through thick and thin. Your church may already be using online giving. This is a great time to remind your church how easy it is to set up and use. Prepare an easy step-by-step guide for using your online giving as well as setting up recurring giving, and include it in your communications.
- Issue a mission of the day: Post on social media or your church’s website with a mission they can do each day: bake something for a neighbor, write a note, give a neighbor your phone number to call if they are lonely. Place the note in a plastic bag or envelope and tape it to the mailbox. Serve those neighbors in some creative way. Then ask for reports of how this went for those who tried it.
- Consider drive-in or drive-thru options: With the right set up and good social distancing, this could be a real possibility. This takes some creativity and work to set up but should be considered. You could use the drive-in option for prayer or for a large service (if you have the technology). You could use your own parking lot, a drive-in theater, or any place wide open that allows enough space.
- Plan for pregnant women, kids, and families: Some of your people may be pregnant with a child right now, consider special touches to reach out to them. Perhaps organize a virtual shower through a gift list and zoom. And with no youth sports or schools open – consider the myriad opportunities with digital outreach for kids. These could include story time with a pastor at 9 a.m. and an 8 p.m. Bible lesson every night. One church said they are encouraging “family worship time” every night at a set hour with a broadcast for 10 minutes that has guided session for families.
And pray for revival! Crises can also lead to reawakenings. Most people come to faith during a crisis, or at some turning point in their lives. I will never forget the day I witnessed more than 400 people being baptized on one day right after September 11, 2001 at a church with a strong military presence. People realized they needed God, and they were turning to his church for answers. This could be a marvelous harvest season if we respond not from fear but with compassion and boldness.