6 Critical Ways Church Leaders Should Prepare for COVID-19

6 Critical Ways Church Leaders Should Prepare for COVID-19

As concern mounts about the spread of the coronavirus, Church leaders can’t afford to ignore it. This virus has affected the more than 100,000 people who have been infected by it, and millions of others who live and work in affected regions. The spread of COVID-19 has led to thousands of deaths, quarantines, school closures, and large-scale fear around the globe.

But in the midst of every crisis, the Church has an opportunity to show the love of Jesus and the hope we find in him. When things are darkest, that’s when the light of Jesus shines brightest.

Here are 6 ways church leaders can prepare themselves and their churches to respond to the coronavirus in a way that inspires hope and faith in Jesus:

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1. Don’t Feed into Panic

1. Don’t Feed into Panic

With the coronavirus continuing to be a concern worldwide, many people are experiencing a great deal of fear. Due to panic, many stores are running out of stock on essential items such as toilet paper, bottled water, and canned goods, as many families are stocking up in case of a quarantine.

As church leaders, we need to remember that we exert an incredible amount of influence over our people. And so if we instill a sense of panic by the way we speak and post online about the coronavirus, our people will certainly panic.

When we speak about this issue, we should convey a sense of empathy, concern, and unflappable hope. Church leaders need to model the kind of leadership that Jesus showed during times of distress.

On the night that Jesus was going to be betrayed, he shared a meal with his disciples. I can only imagine the amount of fear he felt thinking of what was about to happen to him. And he knew that his disciples would also be afraid. So in that moment, this is what he said to them:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

In times of turmoil, Jesus tells us that we have no need to fear. He has given us peace. And not the kind of peace that the world offers—which is based on our moment-to-moment circumstances—but a real and enduring sense of peace.

And it’s not that Jesus denies that difficult and painful things will happen to us and around us. He’s not unaware of the legitimate fears we have. It’s just that those things have no power over us. Here’s what he says later during that same meal with his disciples.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

We will experience troubles. But we are overcomers. So we don’t shrink back in fear. And we don’t panic, even when a dangerous illness spreads throughout the world.

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2. Be Discerning and Make Adjustments to Church Weekend Experiences

2. Be Discerning and Make Adjustments to Church Weekend Experiences

While we don’t want to panic, we do want to be wise, discerning, and safe. And the coronavirus outbreak brings with it very real and practical health concerns with regard to large in-person gatherings. We need to have faith, but we also need to be smart.

So as your church looks ahead to Sunday gatherings, there are a number of precautions church leaders can take to ensure safety for your church attenders, as well as peace of mind. Your plan may even need to evolve as more information comes to light.

Here are a couple of things the wise leaders at my local church have been doing:

  • Have some greeters stand at the door offering to spray hand sanitizer into everyone’s hands as they entered the building
  • Forgo the normal “stand and greet” time during our service where everyone shakes the hands of those around them
  • Ensure plenty of available tissues and hand sanitizer in strategic locations on campus throughout the day, as well as plenty of soap in the restrooms

We also plan to adjust upcoming Sunday programing to ensure continued safety. Due to a confirmed case of COVID-19 in our area, our church, along with many of the churches in our area, have decided to cancel in-person services until further notice. We will re-evaluate the situation week by week.

Prior to canceling services, we had planned to make other adjustments, such as refraining from taking communion to avoid contamination of the food elements, as well as adjusting how we collect offering to avoid passing around our offering buckets.

This definitely isn’t an ideal situation. But we need to continue to be flexible and attentive to our churches’ need for safety.

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3. Stay Updated and Keep Your People Updated

3. Stay Updated and Keep Your People Updated

During this time, communication is key. It’s also key to make sure that you have the proper information you need to make wise decisions.

The Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College has created a resource hub for churches and church leaders with tactical advice for how to address the effects of the coronavirus in your community.

Other important resources include the Center for Disease Control and the DC Department of Health. These sites contain a list of symptoms, what to do if you or a loved one is experiencing them, and important updates on the spread of the virus. You should also continue to consult your local news stations for the latest advisory information.

As leaders, the responsibility to make safe and wise decisions for our church rests on us. So we need to make sure we are continuing to keep ourselves abreast of the latest updates and responding with measured but decisive action.

And once you have made decisions about how to keep your church safe, be sure to clearly communicate them to your people via email and your social media channels.

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4. Focus on Being Present Online

4. Focus on Being Present Online

For many people in your church, they are simply going to be too afraid to attend an in-person church experience for likely several weekends. They may be elderly, have small children, or be immunocompromised by some other condition.

No matter how many safety systems you put in place, they are just going to need to stay home for the next couple Sundays. And, if you’re like my church, you might not even be able to hold in-person experiences at all.

It’s so important for churches not to lose an opportunity to connect.

An online presence is an important part of any church’s ministry, but especially when many of your people aren’t able to attend in person. So take every step to ensure that your online presence is as good as it has ever been.

If you do a live feed of your services, make an extra effort to ensure that all your systems are running optimally. If you post your sermon videos or audio to your website, post them promptly. Encourage your pastor to interact with your church through your church’s social media channels and email. Ensure that small group leaders are checking in on everyone in their small groups.

This weekend, my church will broadcast a live stream at all of our regular service times in lieu of an in-person gathering. We’re also asking that our small groups not meet this week but rather stay connected by digital means. We’re thankful that we have these tools to use to lead our churches through this crisis well, even though we can’t meet face-to-face.

We need to make every effort to stay connected when we aren’t able to see each other in person.

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5. Pray for Health and Safety

5. Pray for Health and Safety

Prayer seems like the spiritual answer to everything. But that’s probably because it really is the actual answer to most things.

So instead of panicking, pray. And as you plan your church’s response to this crisis, pray.

Pray for those affected by this virus, whether they are affected directly or indirectly. Pray for wisdom in how to keep your church services safe and sanitary. And pray for peace of mind as people come to worship.

When a crisis hits, we have a tendency to spring into action to address it. And that’s just what good leaders do. But before we jump up, let’s spend some time praying. It’ll give us some perspective and focus, and it will fix our hearts on Jesus.

Sometimes prayer is the most active thing we should be doing.

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6. Lead the Call to Faith

6. Lead the Call to Faith

Part of the fear we feel about the coronavirus exists because it forces us to come to grips with some uncomfortable truths. Life is fragile and fleeting. And while we do everything we can to ensure our health and longevity, we still don’t have ultimate control. Our bodies are not built to last. We get sick, and we die.

But followers of Jesus know that this isn’t the end of the story.

We have the hope of redemption, hope of healing, hope of a newness of life that lasts forever. Jesus died and rose again that we might have life abundant.

And nothing, not even the coronavirus, can separate us from the love of God, which is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

EDITOR'S NOTE: This previously-written article has become a resource for many as we face growing fear and anxiety due to the Coronavirus pandemic. God is ALWAYS our source of protection, strength and peace during unknown times. In addition, the following articles may offer more encouragement for all to remember as we face the trials of COVID-19 together:

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Dale Chamberlain (M.Div) is an author and podcaster who is passionate about helping people tackle ancient truths in everyday settings. He lives in Southern California with his wife Tamara and their two sons. Connect with Dale at KainosProject.com.