How to Keep your Church Healthy During COVID-19

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Churches are closed. And we don’t know when they’re going to open again.

Curves are flattening, but timelines are lengthening. It looks like there isn’t a quick end to the worldwide pandemic known as COVID-19.

What does that mean for your church?

What can you do to have a healthy church when we come out the other side? How do you lead your church through this?

Here are 8 priorities to keep your church healthy during the coronavirus pandemic.

It will help if you identify your priorities, know what a win looks like, and look ahead to what your church can become.

1. Stay in touch with your congregation.

Have you noticed that you’re getting an email from every organization you’ve ever known to reassure you of their commitment to your well-being? The emails blur together in your inbox, but before long you’ll wonder about the organizations you didn’t hear from. Maybe they don’t have their act together.

Church is that times ten. Your people need to hear from you. Frequently. Your words carry more reassurance into their hearts than you realize.

Communication is essential.

I made a commitment to write a devotional to my church members every day. They get them by email or on Facebook. You can see them here. Feel free to use any of it that you want with your church.

2. Give care to your church members.

There are three kinds of care the people in your church need:

  1. Emotional support.
  2. Spiritual refreshment.
  3. Crisis help.

We set up a team of Care Connectors.

We asked for people who wanted to call, text, or email people every week. Twenty-seven people volunteered to be in touch with everyone in our church who isn’t in a Life Group or our children’s and youth ministries. People already in groups will be cared for by their group leaders.

Our Care Connectors team is being led by the Prayer Partners team leader. She organized the groups and checks in with the Care Connectors.

I’m hearing stories of how someone called at just the right time, of how meaningful it is to the people making the calls, of new friendships forming, and of how deeper needs are uncovered and helped.

I hope we’ll keep this up after the coronavirus fades.

3. Continue to improve your online weekend services.

We’re all in different places when it comes to delivering an online service, but my guess is that none of us feel like we’ve nailed it.

Don’t be discouraged. Give yourself and your team space to grow, and do something to get better each week.

You might need to invest in some new equipment which feels risky right now. Untangle the decision by evaluating if the reward outweighs the risk.

I’ve been watching what some of the mega-churches are doing for ideas. One thing I realized is that they’re interpreting the number of people that can be in a room together differently than we were. We’re going back to a light band and some tech people for this coming weekend.

Two Good Resources for Online Services

My friends at Outreach are providing free streaming service for your church at FreeOnlineChurch.com.

The Coronavirus and the Church  site has some good articles about how to move to and improve your online services.

4. Help your staff learn to work remotely.

The switch to remote work expedited by the coronavirus won’t come undone when the virus fades. It’s worth your time to establish new standards for how your staff works remotely.

Here are some best practices for a remote work team:

  • Meet weekly on Zoom or the newest video-conference app.
  • Continue your one-on-one meetings with direct reports using your phone or computer.
  • Make frequent phone calls among leaders to talk through issues and decisions.
  • Implement a short check-in video meeting in the mornings.
  • Use software that makes it easy for your team to communicate, like Slack for conversations and Asana for projects.
  • Have essential resources where everyone can get them, like Google Drive or your own in-house website or wiki.
  • Ask questions and listen to your staff. Do they have what they need? Is there something they’d like to talk about?
  • Delegate clearly, and provide accountability and support.

Leadership Freak, a blog by Dan Rockwell, is my favorite daily dose of human resource development. I click through each day to hear what he has to say about how to lead better, and now to learn more about how to lead my staff through the coronavirus crisis.

This article from Dan will give you questions you can ask to open up staff dialogue: 15 Discussion Topics to Strengthen Teams During Stress. You can subscribe to the blog from that page.

5. Do all you can for your church finances.

The good news about having the church doors closed and events cancelled is that your expenses should be lower. The bad news is that many of your expenses are fixed and giving is definitely down.

These strategies can help:

  • Identify what you need to suspend, reduce, and eliminate for the time being.
  • Regularly ask your congregation to continue their giving to the church.
  • Express sensitivity to people who have reduced income.
  • Set up online giving if you haven’t and explain how to use it.
  • Encourage your members to use bill pay through their bank.
  • Apply for a Small Business Loan. See the FAQs here.
  • Connect with your major donors about their ability to help the church during this time.

If the church finances are keeping you awake at night, read a book like either of these to help you see God’s sovereignty and blessing:

6. Plan ahead for when your church opens the door again.

Anticipate that opening up won’t be straightforward.

  • Federal and local governments may disagree on the timing.
  • Public gatherings may have size restrictions. Smaller churches could resume weekend services in the building when larger churches cannot.
  • People in your congregation may continue to stay at home.
  • Volunteers and team leaders may not be available to serve.
  • You may not have a lot of lead time to switch back to live services.

Follow the facts.

Keep up with the national, state, and county briefings to hear the news firsthand; or get your news summaries from credible sources.

Your congregation will expect you to abide by the government orders. Going against the mandates won’t attract people to Christ, and it may endanger lives in your congregation.

Make the best decisions you can and don’t be surprised when you get some things wrong.

It’s called being nimble. Don’t be afraid to make a decision and change it the next week.

We’re all in new territory and we’re getting used to things changing from week to week. Give yourself, and your leaders, grace when you see that what you tried needs to be rethought, or when circumstances require you to change again.

I like this quote that Michael Hyatt shares from Robert Updegraff:

“A man should be grateful every hour of every day for the troubles of his job: they pay at least half his wage or salary. For if there were no troubles it would be easy to get someone to do his work for half, or even a third, of the pay he is getting.”

7. Decide how your church will make a difference in your community.

The Rock Church in San Diego decided that their focus would be Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). By Easter, they had donated thousands of items to hospitals in San Diego County, and taken on the project to repair 300,000 defective protective masks.

Here’s the brilliance in their plan: providing PPE addresses a need in the city; it gives the church members a way to help others; and it shows San Diego that the city benefits from the presence of the Church.

Some ways your church can be a force for good in your city:

  • Deliver Meals
  • Donate to a Shelter or Food Bank
  • Volunteer at a Food Bank
  • Wellness checks – check on older neighbors with a call, text, or talk through the door
  • Work with a restaurant to provide a meal for First Responders or medical workers
  • Donate blood
  • Create hygiene kits for the homeless; or face masks to give away
  • Be quick to pray for people and to provide a word of hope and encouragement.

When you focus the good your church does on one project, you make a bigger impact than if everyone is doing their own thing. New Song Church is the fourth largest blood donor in North San Diego County. It’s a little thing, but we feel good about it.

Get input from your church leaders, ask city leaders, and pray for direction as you choose your church’s compassion emphasis.

8. Assess how life is going to change, and look for opportunities.

Don’t wait for things to return to normal. Life is never going back to the way it was.

And we wouldn’t want it to. If we go back to the way things were we will have lost the lesson. We want to make the most of this trial and move forward to be better after it.

The key question for your church is: what does this make possible?

  • Where does your church have opportunity, and freedom to do things you never would have done if life remained as it was?
  • What does God have in mind for you to do in this new world we’re in?

I pull out a piece of paper and do a SWOT analysis when I need to think through a situation.

Make a list of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats you are facing.

Here’s an article from MindTools that walks you through how to do a SWOT Analysis.

The real power comes when you bounce the boxes off each other. How do your strengths and opportunities reinforce each other? Where do strengths mitigate weaknesses? How do threats lead to opportunities?

May you have the courage to lead your church to do something new and different. Maybe everything will be new and different.

What’s Next?

Where is the Holy Spirit prompting you to focus your efforts to keep your church healthy during COVID-19?

“Do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you; I will help you;
I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand.”  ~ Isaiah 41:10

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