As our communities scramble to respond to the novel coronavirus, churches have an opportunity to lead the way in faithful, compassionate service to the sick, needy and those at-risk. This really is a make-or-break time for churches to be load-bearing institutions in our cities. Here are ways those of us in church leadership can mobilize our faith-communities to respond to COVID-19:
Create a communication plan (and anticipate holes)
Your congregants are likely wondering how the coronavirus will affect upcoming programming, gatherings and service opportunities. As a leader of congregations, our job is to discern how we can — with as much clarity, honesty and flexibility as possible — organize our messaging in a way that informs our community of our response to the disease, clarifies how programs are affected and offers our church a pathway toward engagement in neighboring in our city. While plans change regularly because of the rapid development of the situation, not having a plan is simply not a wise option to exercise. With that in mind, start asking questions such as:
“What do people really need to know?”
“How do most of our people communicate?”
“How are we encouraging the proper response — in both actions and disposition — in our people?”
“If our communication efforts fail to reach some in our congregation, how can we show up for them?” (Measures must be in place to ensure every opportunity for awareness.)
In your communication plan, be sure to emphasize wisdom and activism in your community. Every person has a default toward either dismissiveness or panic, activism or hiding, compassion or hard-heartedness. The way we invite our congregation to partner with our communities will be telling, in many ways, of our existing approach to the people God’s called us to love.
Emphasize the importance of neighboring
Churches in this climate will be effective not by gathering lots of people, but by sending people deeply into their community to serve those affected by this disease (whether ill, at-risk or at a loss of nutritious food or adequate pay/childcare). To see our guide toward being a good neighbor during COVID-19, click here.
Coordinate calls to those homebound or ill
Those who are either ill or high-risk still need spiritual care during the times they’re unable to gather in worship. Especially as visitations are cancelled or closely guarded, consider asking a group of church members to make a “call schedule” to organize touch-ins with those who are unable to receive visitation any other way.
Create a prayer sheet
As people gather in their homes (as little churches or as families), consider creating a guide that walks them through prayer for their local and global neighbors and for those leading the response at every level.
Organize a response team in partnership with local organizations
In many communities, school districts, hospitals and nonprofits are working together to build strategies to address food shortages, broader testing and best practices that protect those at-risk, while also maintaining the community’s way of life. Reach out to your local officials asking what you can do to help, and when they respond, organize your people to respond.
Create alternate ways to approach pastoral care and small group gatherings
Some small group leaders will likely cancel their in-person small groups, but especially as larger church gatherings are prohibited, caring community is essential. Consider how you might still regularly and personally communicate with those who need care, and communicate with small group leaders about their plans and alternative ways of gathering — whether going online, coming together and practicing social distance, etc. Organizing small group leaders as shepherds who can care for and communicate the needs of the groups they lead or the neighbors they take responsibility for will be a mark of successful leadership within the congregation and community.
Our conviction is that every moment, every hour, every day of this crisis presents us with new opportunities to learn how to move into our neighborhoods and love the people God’s invited us to love. For more information on The Wesleyan Church’s response to the coronavirus, visit wesleyan.org.
Ethan Linder serves as pastor of hospitality, collegians and young adults at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana.