By Laura Haley, reprinted from The Chalmers Center.
We’re all reeling from the changes the world has experienced almost overnight from the COVID-19 outbreak. In addition to the very real dangers the disease itself poses, the upending of our economic, social, and educational systems is taking a toll on us all. Even church services have been forced to move online, disrupting our rhythms of worship and fellowship. Here are some ways your church can respond with love and mercy during this time.
1. Take extra care to engage vulnerable congregation members.
- Is there anyone in your small group or congregation who is sick or experiencing job loss? Practicing physical distancing and staying at home doesn’t take away our obligations and responsibilities to other members of our churches. Phone calls, texts, and video chats are all good, safe ways to connect, and can go a long way toward lifting people’s spirits.
- Make sure to reach out directly to members and attendees individually. A mass e-mail from the church may not reach as many people as you think – especially the most vulnerable members who are elderly or homebound for health reasons.
- Recruit volunteers to purchase groceries and deliver them to vulnerable church members to prevent them from having to go out in public.
- Don’t forget members who are physically healthy, but who will struggle especially during isolation from your community due to addictions, anxiety, depression and other mental and emotional health issues.
- Make special efforts to check in on members and those your church is connected to who have limited access to transportation, limited space to stay home during a lockdown, and limited financial means even during the best of times – the materially poor. Explore new ways to provide for their most pressing needs.
2. Prayerfully evaluate your church’s benevolence policies.
- Under normal circumstances, many of the people asking your church for assistance are not in a crisis. They are in a chronic state of poverty that requires long-term development, which can actually be undermined by providing immediate, material assistance. But for many people, this pandemic has already created a very real short-term financial crisis. In such cases, providing immediate material and non-material assistance is the appropriate response.
- If you don’t have one already, make a plan for how your church will respond to requests for help from members of the church and community.
- It’s hard to think too far ahead in the midst of a crisis. But remember: this will pass eventually. When it does, many people will need long-term developmental help again – such as job training or financial education.
3. See how you can support other churches
- Maybe you don’t have a lot of needs at your church currently. Praise God! Perhaps this is a blessing that is equipping your church to serve other churches.
- Pastors and leaders, connect with local churches in your area to see if there are ways to support each other during this time of need. For example, A local non-profit in Chattanooga has set up weekly zoom calls to connect pastors with one another during this time.
- Consider designating a handful of partner churches and transferring lump sums from your benevolence funds to theirs so that they can distribute to their members based on awareness of needs.
4. Find ministries and non-profits to support in your community
- Check in with community ministries that your church regularly supports through funding or volunteer efforts. Try to find ways to give generously during this time.
- In addition, organizations like Love INC, the YMCA, United Way, and local food pantries and shelters may be coordinating donations or volunteers to put together aid packages for families experiencing food insufficiencies.
- Pray for the sick, for healthcare providers, for researchers and for public health officials.
- Pray for the people experiencing job loss now and in the coming months.
- Pray for those experiencing loneliness and isolation during this time of physical distancing.
- Pray for our churches to be more generous, more engaged, and more faithful.
- Pray for God’s provision of all your church’s needs.