How Will Your Church Respond to the COVID-19 Crisis?
When recounting a crisis situation, it is common for people to emphasize their proximity to it, involvement in it, and contribution to its resolution. But, not surprisingly, those claims are often embellishments at best and patently false at worst. Nobody recalls seeing those people, others didn’t benefit from those contributions, and those people didn’t actually help resolve the crisis in any way. On the other hand, some people really were there, they were involved, and their efforts did help bring the crisis to an end—and those are the people who will have opportunities and credibility to have significant influence in the future.
We will all be looking at the COVID-19 crisis in hindsight sometime in the next several months and, whenever that moment comes, the question that could legitimately be asked about every church in the country is, “How did that congregation respond during the most significant social and economic disruption in recent memory?” As a church leader, now is when you have to answer that question. Don’t find yourself in four months wishing you had a story to tell about how your church stepped up and stepped out in response to the COVID-19 crisis—not out of pride or selfish ambition, but to open immediate and future doors to share the gospel.
Being active in your neighborhood while practicing social distancing can be tricky, and not meeting corporately on the weekend can certainly create a sense of isolation. But these realities don’t mean that your church has to fade to invisibility. In fact, this is a perfect time to strategically leverage the fact that your church members are dispersed, living and worshiping at the front lines of the crisis. You have a unique opportunity to help focus their attention and efforts on being salt and light.
Determine what real needs are emerging in your neighborhood. Consider using an online survey, run ads in the local newspaper, set up a phone line or email address to gather information, or empower church members to make phone calls. You’ll learn that some people need food. Others need companionship—via phone, Internet, or written letter, of course. Older neighbors need help with lawn work. Parents need strategies for keeping kids busy (a.k.a. out of trouble) during the isolation period. Lots of people need encouragement. Most importantly, everybody needs prayer, and it is worth noting that disruptive events like this tend to be times when even typically non-religious people will be open to prayer on their behalf. Once you have learned the specific needs around you, your next step will become clear.
The worst thing you can say in October is that you and your church did nothing during the crisis other than hunker down and wait it out. You will be happier knowing you didn’t just bury your talent, your congregation will be more energized knowing they made difference, and your community will be more open to your church’s influence if you were there for them in a meaningful way during a difficult time. Open a dialogue with your congregation to answer the question, “What are we are going to do to respond specifically to the COVID-19 crisis?” The answers don’t have to be extravagant. They don’t have to be expensive. And they don’t have to—and ideally shouldn’t–expose your members to health risks. They just have to be relevant, actionable, and executed. Make a plan and do something.
Gather and Share Stories
Self-promotion gets a bad rap, which means people are often hesitant to gather stories. But that is a huge missed opportunity because stories provide important benefits in both the short and long term. One immediate payoff is they allow you to see whether or not you are achieving your goals. Stories can also build energy around exciting things happening through the ministry of your church and encourage others to use their talents and passions to make a difference in the lives of people around them. In the long term, stories are powerful reminders of what the church looks like when it is fulfilling its mission. They can help create and sustain an external focus and build momentum around future ministry efforts. Capture as many stories as you can. Write them down, use video whenever possible, and then share them often.
I’m reminded of Mordecai’s encouragement to Esther when he suggested the possibility that her royal position was intended “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). She chose to take a step of faith, and by doing so, she saved her people. Today, there is no doubt that God planted your church in its neighborhood for such times as this—days marked by widespread anxiety, fear, and loneliness driven by social isolation and economic uncertainty. It will take a big step of faith on your part and on the part of your congregation but take the leap because choosing to act in the midst of this storm will strengthen your church, reveal God’s love, and open doors to share the gospel.