Moving Forward Re: COVID-19 and the Church

This season of ministry continues to be fluid as churches find themselves aiming at a moving target. Staying connected to church membership, ministering to the community, and working through digital worship gatherings all seem to present new difficulties (and new opportunities) every day. I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but there are some things I believe we can likely anticipate as we move through the next several months. Some has been written on this elsewhere, but I thought it beneficial this morning to condense and communicate.

What follows is a list of anticipations through which churches need to be thinking and strategizing considering the upcoming weeks and months of ministry.

1. The need for completely online worship and small group opportunities will likely continue, if not increase, at least through April. The trend from local, state, and national governments seems to continue toward a tightening of gathering restrictions, not a loosening of gathering restrictions. Yes, that most likely means that Easter services this year will need to be offered through some form of remote worship platform. Yes, that also means that if small groups, Sunday School, or other ongoing discipleship programs are to continue, they will need to be moved to some form of videoconverence or prerecorded video medium. Go ahead and make plans for this now.

2. It is very likely that your church (possibly even your immediate family) will have a confirmed case of the COVID-19 virus within the next few weeks. Churches must right now think through what they can communicate, with whom they can communicate it, and how to best communicate it. It may be wise to contact your city or county officials to ask for advice on this. Or if your church has a lawyer on retainer, now is a good time to speak with him or her about this, proactively. Churches will also need to think through ways to minister to infected individuals and their families, while minimizing hysteria and maximizing real-time, first-world ministry.

3. Your community engagement and outreach will need to be increasingly innovative and creative. Your church cannot afford to retract its visible ministry to the community for the next few months. This is an opportunity to redeem the time, and to show your community how the church of Jesus steps up to the plate to serve, to love, to give, and to go. You’ll need to think through creative ways to do this. Your ministry outreach in this season is only limited by your creativity and your willingness to innovate: drive-by prayer videos for businesses (tagging them on social media), food bank distribution in full compliance with gathering restrictions, transportation for the elderly and immobilized to the doctor or the grocery store, hand-written cards to school teachers or emergency response personnel. The church has the most gifted, creative, and servant-hearted people on the planet. Now is the time to prove it.

4. The Church’s budget will need to be reevaluated and streamlined. Obviously, your people need to be informed how to continue to give faithfully through this season of social distancing, and most of them will. However, many of your families are experiencing financial shortfalls of their own due to lack of work, strain on small business, and more. Even if 100% of your membership continues to give 10% faithfully, 10% will be less tomorrow than it was yesterday. Count on it. Freeze unnecessary spending, rethink budget priorities, and don’t forget to continue pouring most of your church’s resources into local, state, national, and international missions and ministry.

5. Your church and community members with tendencies toward anxiety, depression, or other forms of emotional dysfunction will struggle more now than ever. They will have to learn how to socially withdraw without emotionally detaching, and for them, this is extremely difficult. Left to themselves, their minds will race while entertaining worst-case scenarios. Solutions will seem to escape them while problem grows ever larger before them. If you know of these individuals in your church or community, set up a contact plan to make sure someone is regularly (weekly at minimum) in touch with them.

6. Church leaders must begin now thinking through post- COVID-19 ministry. When we emerge from this season, some of your church and community members will experience levels of PTSD, social fears, depression, and obsessiveness that they would never expect. Some of your church members will also experience financial difficulties they have not yet considered. The church needs to think through practical ways to maintain a safe and sanitary physical environment for the long-haul, not just for the next couple of months. And you need to think through how you will respond to the new financial needs of some of your families. Some churches are launching into online worship and groups for the first time, and they need to begin thinking now through whether or not they will continue these activities in the future; pastors and church leaders need to begin contemplating the theology, ecclesiology, and practicality of it all so that they have a unified voice when these questions are asked in the coming weeks.

“When your church gets serious about innovating new ways to advance the gospel and minister to people, doors to the gospel that have been shut and locked for decades will fling wide open.”

7. As always, this crisis presents a great opportunity. The church is not designed to merely survive through seasons of social distress. It is designed to thrive through them. When your church gets serious about innovating new ways to advance the gospel and minister to people, doors to the gospel that have been shut and locked for decades will fling wide open. This week I have already heard reports of more participations, engagements, and responses to weekly worship gatherings than some churches have ever had in over a century of faithful weekly ministry. People are hungry for hope, and your church has a kitchen full. God has been good to us in giving us the digital tools necessary to take the gospel to people in our communities and all over the world who would never have stepped foot in our physical buildings. You can choose to lament the loss of church as usual. Or you can capture this opportunity to reach more people than ever with the life-saving, eternity-changing truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“The church is not designed to merely survive through seasons of social distress. It is designed to thrive through them”

These are just few ideas to be thinking through as the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold. All things considered, Jesus still saves, the church is still Holy Spirit empowered, God is still on His throne, and we’ve still got work to do.

For ideas, resources, connections, encouragement, and assistance visit the SBTC’s COVID-19 Resource Page.

Grace and Peace,

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