I believe that as leaders, we need to start thinking and planning on the assumption that the COVID-19 pandemic will last longer than we had hoped. Recent articles and studies suggest that we may have to continue wearing masks and social distancing for many more months to come.
Based on that assumption, this situation has the potential to have some long-term negative consequences for our churches. Many people may not “ever” come back. Some of our people may start attending other churches and some may quit all together. Our budgets, staffing, outreach, and other ministry programs may all be adversely affected.
What are we to do about it? Obviously, doing nothing is NOT a good solution. So, what should we be doing right now, in the short-term, that would help us navigate these troubling times? Here are some of my thoughts based on what I’ve been reading over the past couple of weeks.
1. Pray more: In times like these, prayer should be our first response and not our last resort. As leaders, we need to mobilize our people to become prayer “warriors”. But, how can we do this? We could host an old fashioned Wednesday evening prayer meeting using Zoom. Maybe we should consider compiling and sending out a weekly prayer list like smaller churches still do. We could host a leaders Zoom prayer meeting once or twice a month with our elders, staff, and other lay leaders. Some churches are sending out a daily devotion that includes a short list of items to pray about. In any case, we need to fully utilize our greatest “weapon”, and that is the power of prayer.
2. Communicate more: During times of crisis, uncertainty, and change, it is important that leaders communicate more often with their people. Why? Because in times like these, people need to be reassured and encouraged. They want to know what is going on and they need to feel that they are important. By communicating with them, you show people that you care about them. Please remember, you cannot “over” communicate.
When you communicate, remember to use multiple means such as, your website, email, old- fashioned “snail” mail, social media, etc. Let people know what is going on. Share your concerns and needs. Be transparent. Tell them about the positive things and those things that are not so positive. Share uplifting stories and encourage people to “keep on keeping on”, to remain faithful, and share their faith with others who may not know Jesus.
3. Make sure everyone is connected: This is one of the most important things that leaders need to do right now. Studies show that people who are connected through a small group, or Sunday school class, are less likely to leave and go somewhere else. It is critically important to get everyone into a small group of some type. Your small groups should be meeting regularly during this time, if not in person at least online through Zoom or some similar service. Also, be sure to regularly connect with your leaders, such as, elders, deacons, Sunday School teachers, small group leaders, and other ministry leaders to encourage them, pray together, etc.
To help “connect” those who may not be part of a small group or Sunday school class, you might consider having a staff member, elder, or deacon start a 4-6 week online Zoom class on a specific topic or subject that people might be interested in. Announce it to your church several weeks in advance and be sure to specifically send a special invite to people that you know are not connected to one of your small groups. of 1 2
4. Help your people find ways that they can serve others: When we serve others, we are more likely to take our minds off of our own problems and are more likely to see God’s bigger picture of what He wants for us. Unfortunately, it is difficult right now to organize opportunities where your members can work together to serve others. But, I believe that there are ways that you can encourage them to do so, on their own, or as part of a small group.
Here are a few ideas as to how your people can serve others while still staying safe and healthy:
• Send encouragement cards to residents and staff of nursing homes or senior living facilities. • Volunteer to go grocery shopping, run errands, or mow the lawn for a neighbor or church member that is a senior citizen or single mother. • Purchase and give gift cards to hospital workers, police, firemen, or even someone who works at the grocery store you shop at. Give the gift card to them, tell them that you are thankful for what they do, and ask them if you can pray for them.
These are just a few of the many things that you can suggest your people do in order to serve others and share God’s love. Challenge them to be creative and “be the church” even if they can’t come to the church.
5. Chase down the “strays”: These are the people who are not connected to a small group, Sunday school class, or other ministry of your church, and they may be only occasional attenders. These folks are likely at risk to go elsewhere or to stop attending all together.
Hopefully, you have a good contact list with updated addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. If not, you’ve got some additional work to do. But, it you know who these people are, and you have their contact information, you can have some of your leaders and staff personally contact them in order to check on them, see how they are doing, and remind them of the ways that they can get connected. A simple phone call will mean a lot and be greatly appreciated.
We are in the greatest period of uncertainty that I’ve experienced in my lifetime and I know that being a leader in times like these is very, very challenging. The Apostle Paul also ministered during a great time of uncertainty and his life and leadership should be an example for us all. He was arrested, beaten, put into prison, shipwrecked, stoned and left for dead, and eventually he was put to death. But, in spite of Paul’s trials and troubles, he remained focused on God’s mission and purpose for his life and ministry.
I encourage you to follow Paul’s example and hang-in there, continue to “shepherd” the flock, seek out the lost, and follow our Savior as He leads you. He’s got this!
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33