The Church Guide to Coronavirus is here to help your church prepare for the potential disruption and gospel opportunities.
As COVID-19 (the disease caused by the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2) continues to spread outside of the epicenter in China, churches would be wise to have a Coronavirus Response Operating Procedure in place. This is why ChurchLeaders.com, SermonCentral.com, OutreachMagazine.com (under the umbrella of Outreach.com) have created The Church Guide to Coronavirus.
It is no understatement to say that the church faces a great challenge in the recent outbreak of COVID-19. First reported in Wuhan, China, on December 31, 2019, the coronavirus has shut down cities in Iran, Italy, South Korea, and the Philippines and is currently spreading in the United States. The virus has made an impact on our world from international travel to the global markets. Businesses and industries are experiencing declining attendance, customers, and revenue. The church will not be immune from these impacts.
The threat of a pandemic also creates an opportunity for the church. People will be more open to the gospel than ever before. Will your church be ready to provide services, to speak hope, to trust in God heroically? Or will your church shrink back in fear and self-protection? Our hope and prayer is that The Church Guide to Coronavirus can help your church develop healthy practices to keep your church attenders safe and to rise up valiantly in these days.
To share ideas with other churches and receive immediate updates, join the Church and Coronavirus Facebook Group today.
YOUR CHURCH GUIDE TO CORONAVIRUS: HOW TO PREPARE FOR CORONAVIRUS-RELATED DISRUPTIONS
If your church has not created a Coronavirus Response Operating Procedure, now is the time to do that. And this Church Guide to Coronavirus can help.
Share The Church Guide to Coronavirus with your church leaders. And consider these CDC recommendations as you create your plan:
• Ensure the plan is flexible and involves your church leadership and staff in developing and reviewing your plan.
• Conduct a focused discussion or exercise using your plan, to find out ahead of time whether the plan has gaps or problems that need to be corrected.
• Share your plan with church staff and leadership.
• Share best practices with other churches to improve community response efforts.
• Review the CDC’s guidance for businesses and employers.
Keep reading this Church Guide to Coronavirus to discover four possible disruptions.
POSSIBLE DISRUPTION #1: Temporary Closure of Church Services
The U.S. government has the right to shut down church services of a certain size. According to the Centers for Disease Control on February 8, 2020:
Public health orders are legally enforceable directives issued under the authority of a relevant federal, state, or local entity that, when applied to a person or group, may place restrictions on the activities undertaken by that person or group, potentially including movement restrictions or a requirement for monitoring by a public health authority, for the purposes of protecting the public’s health. Federal, state, or local public health orders may be issued to enforce isolation, quarantine or conditional release. The list of quarantinable communicable diseases for which federal public health orders are authorized is defined by Executive Order and includes “severe acute respiratory syndromes.” COVID-19 meets the definition for “severe acute respiratory syndromes” as set forth in Executive Order 13295, as amended by Executive Order 13375 and 13674, and, therefore, is a federally quarantinable communicable disease.
When a federally quarantinable communicable disease is threatening public health, one of the first places evaluated is “congregate settings.” According to the CDC, “congregate settings are public places where close contact with others may occur. Congregate settings include settings such as shopping centers, movie theaters, stadiums, workplaces, and schools and other classroom settings.” Churches are not in that list, but they definitely fit the criteria of “congregate settings” and may be required to practice social distancing.
The CDC further explains:
Social distancing means remaining out of congregate settings and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others. If social distancing is recommended, presence in congregate settings should only occur with approval of local or state health authorities.
There are two reasons your church must be prepared for potential closure of your church services.
1. Your church leadership may choose to close its services for the sake of public health.
2. Your church may be required to close your services for the sake of public health.
How would you minister to your church members and community should your church services close?
HOW YOUR CHURCH CAN PREPARE FOR POSSIBLE CLOSURE OF SERVICES
If your church service is temporarily closed, you will need to have plans in place for communication, worship, pastoral care, leadership, and community outreach.
GENERAL PRACTICES IF CLOSED:
• Temporarily cancel extracurricular group activities and large events.
• Discourage congregants and staff from gathering or socializing anywhere.
• Discourage gatherings at places like a friend’s house, a favorite restaurant, or the local coffee shop.
Create a communication plan and make sure your communication systems are ready. The way you communicate to your congregation is really important. The tone of your communication is important. You want your congregation to be aware you are taking these measures out of an abundance of caution and that there is no reason to be fearful. If it is necessary to adjust your meetings or suspend them, communicate that you are doing these things out of common sense and a desire to mitigate any risk the virus may present.
Now is the time to beef up any communication channels that may be weak. Do you have your congregants’ email addresses and phone numbers? A simple sign-up sheet or connection card on Sunday mornings can remedy this problem if you don’t have them already.
Follow these steps:
• Gather necessary contact information now, including phone numbers (cell and home), email addresses, and physical addresses.
• Gather family census information: family members’ names/ages, workplaces, and schools.
• Create communication plans for use with your church community.
• Include strategies for sharing information with staff and your church community.
• Include information about steps being taken by your church to prepare for the coronavirus and how additional information will be shared. Click here to see a Facebook announcement made by Kalos Church in Bellevue, Washington.
• Send out a weekly email newsletter with updates about church life, prayer requests, and health updates. Constant Contact is a great tool for sending mass emails to your people.
TAKE MORE OF YOUR MINISTRY AND COMMUNICATION ONLINE.
If your church is unable to hold public services or even if some of your church members decide to not attend services, it will be important for your church to be able to do ministry online. This can include your website, social media, and mobile apps.
1. Create or Improve Your Church Website.
It’s a dated analogy but not having a church website in this day and age (and even more in the midst of a crisis) is like not being listed in the Yellow Pages. You must have an online presence if you expect people to find your church. Get started with these steps:
• Audit your site to see if it’s current. Your website must be up to date with current information. Double check your phone number, emails, physical address, and any other contact info.
• Add a “Here to Help” section. In times of need, people will look to the church more for help and hope. Provide a hopeful and Bible-based message here with a listing of available resources for help.
• Add a “We Meet Here” section. If your church is no longer meeting in physical space, ensure that everyone can find you by listing links and online service times here.
If you lack the resources to start or improve your church website, we are here to help. We want you focused on building your community, not your website. Let Outreach help you build a site you love. With some guidance from you, we can start fresh OR use content from your old website to build your new one that will include free live streaming. There is no upfront cost and only $40 per month for hosting and service.
2. Increase your church’s Facebook presence.
Facebook is built around a community focus. If your church is unable to meet, your church’s Facebook pages may be a primary way for your church members to communicate, care for one another, and reach out to one another.
Start a Facebook page or Facebook private group. If you don’t have a Facebook page, then start one now. After having a public Facebook page for your church, consider creating private Facebook groups for specific ministries, such as youth ministry, children’s ministry, and even specific Sunday school classes and small groups for people to stay in touch and informed.
Ask members to follow and like your Facebook page. For most churches, only a small percentage of their attenders follow the church’s Facebook page. In a Sunday service during announcements and via email, ask church members to go to your Facebook page to follow and like your page. This will ensure that when posts happen on your page that your church members will have a better chance of seeing the posts in their Facebook news feeds.
Increase your Facebook posts. If your church is not able to meet or if attendance decreases, then increasing your posts, updates, ministry requests and videos on Facebook will be crucial. Every post provides an opportunity for your church members to share those posts with their friends and expand your ministry reach during a time when people will be open to the Gospel.
Most churches do not have the design resources or social media person to focus on this so Outreach Social has over 1,900 posts ready to go including many for coronavirus concerns. Outreach Social also features daily automated posting to Facebook and Twitter with custom church logo branding on every post. To help more churches expand their social media communication in response to the coronavirus concerns, new signups get 50% off their first year. Use code: SelEHxce
3. Share your worship services online.
Your church may already live stream your messages. If so, you are ahead of the game. If not, you can get started live streaming or use the easier tool of Facebook Live.
• Start live streaming. Live streaming multiplies the reach of your church. While there may be certain aspects of community worship that are difficult online, you can serve through technologies like live streaming.
There are fundamental steps you must take first.
- Boost your internet connection. Live streaming requires 5 Mbps per second at the very minimum, and really, 10 Mbps should be your base rate.
- Get your gear:
• external microphone
• HD Box/Computer/Broadcaster/Video Encoder,
Enlist someone who has the technical know-how to manage production and streaming. For more information, read this: Live Streaming 101: How to Get in the Game
For gear, check out these recommended suppliers:
• Use Facebook Live video. Some larger churches have video streaming of their services on their church websites, but most small churches don’t have the equipment, knowledge, or finances for live streaming. Facebook Live allows a church to stream a message from staff members or a church service directly onto Facebook. Outreach is offering a new free solution that provides your church a Live Stream page that links from your website and automatically features your Facebook Live or YouTube Live streams. This allows online viewers to easily connect from your site to your live online services. This tool is expected to go live March 20, watch for updates at FreeOnlineChurch.com.
If your church cannot meet for a time, here are a few ideas to continue discipleship and Christian education online.
• Convert face-to-face lessons into online lessons and train teachers to do so.
• Determine how to triage technical issues if faced with limited IT support and staff.
• Determine how to deal with the potential lack of access your congregants may have to computers and the internet at home.
• Remember the children. Use online resources to continue their Christian education. Check out resources from Life.Church Open Network.
INCREASE YOUR MARKETING AND OUTREACH.
During times of fear and uncertainty, people will be looking for hope and will be more open to the Gospel. As they are searching both locally and online, will they find your church? This is not a time to decrease your communication but a time to increase it.
Here are some practical things your church can do to let your community know there is hope.
• Increase your social media presence.
• Invite people to your church. Make invite cards for your members to hand out that invite people in your community to join your church services online or on Facebook. People will be more open to receiving an invite card right now. Outreach has many ready-made designs that you can customize in a few minutes or upload your own artwork.
• Share hope with outdoor banners. Consider putting up a banner outside of your church on the street that says “We Are Here for You!” to let your community know you are a church that cares. Add your website and phone number to the banner. Or put up a banner that says “Join us online for church at ________” to let your community know that you have an online ministry that they can go to. Outreach has many ready made designs that you can customize in a few minutes or upload your own artwork.
PROVIDE ONGOING PASTORAL CARE AND LEADERSHIP TO YOUR CHURCH MEMBERS.
A pastor’s job is to shepherd the flock–even if the flock is somewhat scattered. If your church is unable to meet regularly, there are still practical ways you can provide counseling, encouragement, and pastoral care during this time.
• Address people’s fears with the hope of Christ.
• Use phone calls, texting, and emails to check in with your congregants regularly.
• Communicate through podcasts. Podcasts are a great way to provide comfort and communicate biblical perspective during times of crisis. You can use Facebook Live as a simple tool for podcasting. For more detailed podcast guidance, read “Your Complete Guide to Podcasting.”
• Pastors have an obligation and duty to their flock in sickness and death. In a health crisis, the demands on pastoral staff may greatly increase for funerals and comforting the bereaved. Consider live streaming funerals as people may not be able to attend due to isolation or quarantine.
• Plan for outreach to shut-ins, people with special needs, and the elderly.
CONTINUE COMMUNITY OUTREACH.
People will be more open to the Gospel in words and in deeds than maybe ever before. Determine to speak the truth of the Gospel at this time and to serve in Jesus’ name. Whatever you decide to do to serve your community, ensure that you tell people what you’re doing. You can use invite cards, your website, your Facebook page, Facebook groups, other social media accounts to inform people of your services.
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Provide food and household supplies.
• Stock up on food for those who may be quarantined and coordinate delivery teams. See what local food donation organizations you may be available to partner with. They may be looking for help in food distribution and you can serve there.
• Encourage local grocery markets and pharmacies to deliver. You could even help facilitate these deliveries.
• Help elderly people set up online ordering systems so they can order from home.
• If there is community spread of COVID-19, design strategies to avoid distribution in group settings. Consider options such as drive-through bagged lunches or meal delivery.
Provide varied types of assistance.
• Care for families who may have someone sick or in the hospital.
• Provide burial care if necessary. Again, consider live streaming these services for people who cannot attend.
• Set up a “hotline” for people to call with any needs you haven’t yet identified. Then connect your church members to meet these needs.
• Consider how to help with pets. There may be medical needs with pets that quarantined people cannot accommodate.
• Provide financial assistance for people who may need to miss work because of illness, to care for someone, or to care for children should schools be closed.
OFFER YOUR BUILDING FOR MINISTRY.
While a virus outbreak may require members of the congregation to quarantine themselves in their homes for a period of time, the congregation and its facilities may also be of great benefit to the wider community. Hospitals, clinics, public health agencies, and disaster-response organizations may be able to use your facility to serve the community.
• Identify people in need and designate people within your congregation to check on these people regularly.
• Your church may be able to serve as an immunization site or a spillover facility for a hospital or a disaster service center. Prepare a description of your facilities (i.e., a list of rooms, offices, kitchens, bathrooms, and other details of your building). Reach out to emergency-management officials in your community and offer to let your facility be used during a crisis.