Churches and pastors everywhere are adjusting to the unique challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The limitations of physical distancing and quarantines have created changing demands in every sector. Well known brands are celebrated for forgoing their usual work to provide much needed supplies — from hand sanitizers to medical masks. However, these companies recognize that the ability to adapt quickly to changing demands is essential for continued success whether in the midst of a crisis or not.
This pandemic has shown churches that they are not immune to the need for adaptation. COVID-19 has left people feeling frightened and alone. Amidst the epidemic, many have sought solace and security through the church. Our churches have been forced to transition to online worship services or other distanced options.
These sudden changes give churches a uniquely non-traditional reach and audience. As churches enjoy this time of increased spiritual receptivity, we anticipate that things will eventually return to normal as quarantine restrictions gradually ease. The questions then become:
- How do we prepare for the relief from COVID-19?
- How do we retain the people who have sought our counsel and comfort during the disaster?
Here are some ideas to get you and your congregation ready for post-crisis church life.
Your online presence
It’s wonderful if your church has a strong online presence with a slick webpage and an active Instagram account. If not, research and evaluate other church websites. Take time to learn how to build and launch your church website.
For many churches, starting a Facebook page may be an easy way to begin. Facebook is familiar and user friendly. You can begin by posting encouraging words and prayers. It’s also easy to use a smartphone to post videos to your church’s profile page. If you thought putting sermons online was too hard, Facebook may make you think again.
Once you’re set up, immediately encourage people to like and follow your Facebook page. This will help you stay connected with people visiting your page or seeing your posts. This is the equivalent of getting first-time guest information. Once you have your online platform, work on your relationships.
People typically visit, join and stay at churches because of the relationships they form. Treat online viewers like first-time visitors. People need information provided to them about church news and programs regardless of whether they're worshiping in-person or online.
Create ministry highlights
These can be presented in videos, text or photographs. Think about ways you can connect with visitors using video. Phone calls, handwritten cards and letters, small gifts and virtual small groups are all ways to connect. Take some time to learn how to connect with your “plugged-in” community and build relationships.
Invite! Invite! Invite!
Everybody wants to be known and addressed by name. Everything that goes out of your church right now should end with an invitation. As we near the end of social distancing, members of the congregation should start to invite online guests to join in real life. This invitation should be low pressure, casual and upbeat. Remember, it’s a privilege to minister to people during this time of crisis.
New ministry strategy
Since we cannot minister to people face to face, we need to help our church members learn new ways of ministering to our friends, family, neighbors and coworkers. We’re talking with neighbors we may have never met before. Ministering to others has never been so important.
Simple acts of kindness — like sharing toilet paper or canned goods — are effective. Children can also participate by leaving chalk messages of hope on sidewalks or driveways. (With permission, of course.) You can surprise a family with children by hiding treasures in their yard. (Similar to an Easter egg hunt.) Leave a note on the door letting them know a much-needed diversion has been arranged for the kids.
Cards, phone calls and small gifts left on the front porch are also great ways to reach out to people. (Just be mindful to have clean hands when handling presents.) These are all ways to build relationships and pave the way for an eventual invitation to church.
Train your laity
When church attendance rebounds, we want to be ready. This is a wonderful time to train our laity in hospitality. Publish material that reminds your congregation of greeting and welcoming first-time guests. If you don’t have a hospitality program, now is a great time to begin talking about how guests are greeted, how they receive information about the church and how your church will make them feel welcome.
Give a reason to come
Once all of the relationships have been formed, it’s an ideal time to create an event for people to come to after the COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed. This provides a way to invite virtual visitors and newly forged friends to church. Consider a special meal or worship service to show your gratitude to essential workers, such as grocery and drive-thru/carry-out workers, postal and delivery staff, first responders and hospital workers. If your neighborhood was deeply affected, a memorial service to remember those who were victims of COVID-19 might be more appropriate. A more festive gathering featuring welcoming signage, food, games and balloons may even be what’s needed most in your community.
Remember, it’s a privilege to minister to people at all times, including this time of crisis. People are showing a great deal of trust in the church right now, and you don’t want to disappoint them. We don’t do these things just so people come to our church. We minister with people in hope that one day they can come to know Jesus. But Jesus never forced people to come to him. It was through his kindness and acceptance that people were drawn to him.
Dr. Kim Pope-Seiberling is part of a husband-wife duo working to help the church embody 1 > 99 at brokensheep.com. She has been a pastor of growing churches in urban, suburban and rural settings for over 17 years, helping turn them around after years of decline.