As the coronavirus disease spreads around the globe, thousands of deaths have forced decision-makers to cancel sporting events, restrict international travel, and discourage common social interactions. Individuals are being asked to self-quarantine. Daily lives are being disrupted. For the elderly and others with weakened immune systems, the virus is more than an inconvenience: It is a deadly threat.
Churches are also affected. Meeting for worship, Bible study, and fellowship, Christian congregations often represent the largest weekly gatherings in their communities. Church members sit near one another. They shake hands. They hug. They share meals. However, those routine interactions can easily facilitate disease transmission.
So what should church leaders do to keep members safe? How can churches serve the hurting ones around them without exposing them to further harm (by unintentionally spreading the disease)?
Here are five ways churches can respond to the dangers and disruptions associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
1. Rely on the Lord for His guidance and power
Natural disasters and global pandemics force us to face our human frailty and mortality. Life as we know it is threatened, and death becomes an imminent possibility. Priorities change. Fear becomes a constant companion.
Christians are not immune to anxiety. Church leaders have a remarkable opportunity to encourage His people to seek Him during the crisis. If Jesus is present, then we lack nothing. He will supply all we need to do everything He calls us to do during this coronavirus pandemic. Trust Him to give you the next step as you walk together through this crisis.
2. Gather reliable information
Misinformation and conflicting advice spread faster than the crisis. Don’t waste your time and endanger yourself and others with information that may be incorrect or false.
Go directly to the most reliable sources of information. In addition to the facts about disease transmission, the best sources will provide guidance concerning prevention, testing, and treatment. For the coronavirus, that would include websites for the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and your state’s health department.
3. Cooperate with your local authorities
Local municipalities and county/parish governments are working hard to protect the people within their jurisdiction. Consider contacting them to learn what you might do to help as a church. Help get the word out concerning any community initiatives or protective measures being implemented.
To prevent exposure to the virus, government officials in some parts of the country are asking churches not to meet for several weeks. Although churches have a constitutional right to meet for worship, a warm and cooperative spirit may help to spread the gospel during the national effort to stop the spread of the disease.
4. Develop a response plan for your congregation
What is your church going to do to protect members from the coronavirus? LifeWay Christian Resources has prepared four brief videos and multiple downloads to help pastors and church leaders develop a response plan. GuideStone Financial Services has additional resources to aid you.
Consider gathering a study group composed of deacons, teachers, greeters, childcare volunteers and staff. After watching the videos and reviewing the materials, list the actions you need to incorporate into your church’s response plan. Key questions your plan needs to address include:
— What changes do we need to make to our schedule and services, and when do we need to make them?
— What materials do we need to make available to our members on the church premises? (e.g. hand sanitizer)
— How will we communicate this plan to members?
5. Plan for ongoing ministry
Numbers of people are having to stay at home during the active phase of the pandemic. The elderly are especially vulnerable and do not need to be in public spaces like grocery stores or worship services. Those forced to stay at home may need assistance picking up groceries, basic household items or prescriptions. You can encourage them with a phone call to see how they are doing and offering to pray with them.
You might also consider ways to include them in the worship services of the church with recorded options on CD, DVD or online. Relatively easy options for putting your service online include: Facebook Livestream, Vimeo or YouTube. Some options for online giving include: Tithe.ly, Kindred, Continue to Give, SecureGive, PushPay, Mogiv, or EasyTithe.
Consider ways to minister to those serving on the front lines of the crisis. Healthcare professionals, first responders and government leaders could use your prayers and words of encouragement. Express appreciation for their efforts in writing, sending emails or cards.
— Don Pucik is associational mission strategist for Northshore Baptist Association near New Orleans.