During the COVID-19 crisis, social distancing is crucial to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. While internet adoption and the growth of smartphone usage over the past five years have made digital access almost ubiquitous, offline communication still helps amplify your church communication efforts.
Here are several ideas to help you connect with the unplugged:
Establish calling circles
Churches have used calling trees and prayer chains since the advent of the telephone. Break your church into groups of six to eight people, and create a list of phone numbers for each group to call. The first person will call the next on the list and share a kind word, a prayer or information. The last person on the list should call the initial caller to complete the circle.
Use conference calls to stay connected
Churches can also set up a conference call to pray and meet as a church or small group. It’s as simple as dialing a number and entering the provided PIN number. (Hosts of the call have a few more steps to get started. Easy instructions vary by service.) Send out an invitation using Google Calendar or Outlook. After accepting the meeting, people can choose to add it to their calendar and get a reminder 15 minutes before the call.
Shower people with handwritten cards and letters
In this time of social distancing, handwritten letters and cards can create a great connection with people in your church and community. (Be mindful to wash your hands prior to composing the note.) Using your church directory, divide the membership into manageably sized lists. Invite small groups, youth groups and others to adopt members. Write and mail a short personalized note to help the recipient feel appreciated and connected.
Broadcast text messaging service
Given broad adoption of smartphones and mobile technology, bulk text messaging services can play a role in keeping people connected. Use it for critical messages or reminders that apply to the whole church. Some group text providers allow you to create groups for more focused messaging. Ask people to opt-in, and keep them interested by limiting the delivery frequency and content of the messages. Always offer a way for people to opt out in every message (“Text STOP”).
Robocall for good
We’re all familiar with unwanted marketing robocalls that tend to happen while we’re working or spending time with loved ones. But churches can use automatic calling to help spread the word about key events and updates to the congregation. Make sure people opt-in to this communication. Respect boundaries by offering an easy way to opt out of them and by only sending one message per week. However, in emergencies, increased frequency may be acceptable.
“Egg” someone’s house
This is not throwing eggs at someone’s house but creating an egg hunt for your neighbor — even if Easter has already passed. Find plastic eggs in the clearance aisles or online. Fill them with individually (non-melting and pet-friendly) wrapped candy, small toys, school supplies or kind notes. Hide them in your neighbor’s yard while they’re out or have turned in for the night. Post a sign notifying them that they’ve been “egged.” Make sure to tell them how many eggs you left (so they find them all), and don’t make the hidden treats too hard to find. Sign the note from the church and express that you love and appreciate them. This can be an amazing distraction for young families whose kids are attending online classes for hours during the day.
Leave encouraging messages in the driveway or road
Buy sidewalk chalk and unleash your inner artist to leave encouraging messages and artwork on neighborhood driveways or roads. Make sure to sign the message from the church. This is a great way to get kids involved in sharing the love of God with your neighborhood.
Deliver supplies to neighbors
Offer to pick up supplies for members of limited mobility. When delivering them, insert a short note to let them know the church cares.
Organize a neighborhood talent parade
Consider hosting a talent show that rotates from house to house in the neighborhood. Ask families to work together to create a skit, sing a song or do a magic trick. Rotate “performers” from house to house. Send a postcard or place a note on the porches or doors of neighbors to announce when the “talent parade” will happen, asking them to stay on their porch or at the far end of their driveway to watch.
Host a drive-in movie
Consider hosting a drive-in movie at the church. Set up your projector and large screen (or a bedsheet). Consider purchasing a FM transmitter so people can listen to the movie from the safety of their cars. When selecting a film, be mindful to stay legal with copyright/licensing permissions.
Regardless of the situation, it’s important for churches to strengthen ties with all members and the community. These ideas used in combination with those to connect with the digitally “plugged-in” can help the church see its way through difficult times apart — whether pandemic or bad weather. One day, the COVID-19 crisis will end. Don't lose the momentum of all of the creative offline and online strategies you've adopted. Remember the goal is to be where your people are, online and offline.
Start planning for life after COVID-19 now so your church can move quickly and continue to thrive.
Eric Seiberling is part of a husband-wife duo working to help the church embody "1 > 99" at brokensheep.com. He leverages his 20+ years of marketing and consulting experience to help churches "baptize" and use secular techniques to be more effective at reaching the lost, the least and the last for Jesus Christ.