An essential part of ministry is ongoing pastoral care. This responsibility increases during times of economic depression or seasons of increased illness. Inevitably, some people are overlooked. However, a healthy communication system can help church leaders minimize gaps in pastoral care.
The news every leader fears: “No one called me.”
Occasionally, someone journeys through a difficult situation alone because he or she chooses to do so. However, more often than not, there are those who want support, yet “fall through the cracks.” No one visits a hospitalized person, or someone in the midst of crisis suffers alone. Damaged trust, hurt feelings, and missed opportunities are the result. Many times, people thought they “told” someone they needed help, but the message did not arrive on time or to the right person. This news can be heartbreaking.
To help ensure these gaps in pastoral care don’t occur, borrow wisdom from two industries that live or die by processes: engineering and air traffic control.
Most congregations have a heart for people, but many don't have processes to care for dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people at a time. To do so effectively and consistently requires overlapping, fail-safe systems. Churches can learn from the engineers who design everything from computers to electrical grids to create something they call “redundancy”.
Redundancy is duplicating systems to increase reliability and provide backups in case of failure. In the church, it is better for the electricity to go out than to miss opportunities to provide care for one another.
Throughout the country, ground-based air-traffic controllers directing airline traffic rely on constant communication. Their main task is managing and monitoring information.
To create a system of redundancy, churches can appoint a few trusted individuals to designate a place or create a database to gather pastoral care needs that emerge from many different sources. These needs can then be accessed by pastors and congregational care leaders.
Creating pastoral care redundancy and a place to manage information is the secret to helping prevent people (who want help) from suffering alone. Below are four ways to provide weekly pastoral care. When used together and combined with constant, intentional communication, they will help ensure everyone experiences the love and care they need from the body of Christ.
Six ways to prevent pastoral care breakdowns:
1. Create an opt-in buddy system
Unfortunately, many people won't have friends or family members who notice when they don't attend church. In this case, an online form or prayer-request card would fail. To address this issue, assign three households in the church to be aware of each other. If one or even two households are missing, the other/s should call to find out if they just took a week off or if they need help. It would have to be an opt-in program because people assigned a task in which they don't believe may not be reliable.
2. Appoint a few people to be first points of contact in the prayer chain.
If the pastor cannot be reached, it is a good idea to have a few other people in charge of contacting them or other clergy to share any urgent needs. Put the Staff Pastor Parish Relations Committee chairperson at the top of the prayer chain, along with anyone else who would like to take responsibility for getting important news to the pastor in a timely manner.
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3. Create an online prayer request form.
Many content-management system platforms offer online forms, but using them often requires more knowledge of technology than most people have. Wufoo offers an easy-to-use online form that many churches use to receive prayer requests. Watch these tutorial videos to learn how to create a form, embed the form on your website and create reports. You can post the prayer requests within the admin interface, get email updates, subscribe via RSS feed or export them as an Excel document!
Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, Mo. provides an excellent prayer request template you can use to design your own form. It goes into detail about to whom the request should go, how confidential it is and local hospitals where patients can be visited, if applicable.
4. Insert a prayer card in the bulletin each week.
Encourage every person who attends worship to fill out a card with prayer needs of their friends and family (or themselves). These requests can be marked as “confidential” for the pastor only or “public prayer list” for anyone in the congregation who desires to pray for them.
Compile these cards after worship. Ask a trusted leader who also knows the importance of confidentiality to sort them and give them to pastors and prayer partners.
5. Pray through the alphabet.
Pray for the entire congregation by dividing the membership alphabetically and praying for a few families or individuals each day. To do so, send quarterly emails and biannual letters requesting everyone’s prayer requests. Invite members to email, complete the online prayer-request form or call regularly with specific prayer requests.
Announce that a church leader will pray for each person one day a week for at least two weeks or for as many weeks as specified in the request. Remember that face-to-face visits and phone calls are also important. Determine the need on a case-by-case basis.
6. Provide congregational care courses and small group study.
Begin to offer small-group opportunities for people in transition or in need of care. Encourage group leaders to communicate specific needs to the congregational care leaders. Many organizations offer “box set” kits to educate or to launch care groups such as Divorce Care, Grief Share, Stephen Ministries and Powerful Tools for Caregivers.
To care for one another, use these systems of redundancy and consistent communication to ensure everyone feels the power of God’s love.