There’s no denying the stress in recent days surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak. The reaction has been fast and fluid—the Dow Jones dropping some 4,000 points in two days, the NCAA conference tournaments and March Madness cancelling, along with the NBA, MLS, university spring sports, Disney properties, and the list is still growing. No wonder we feel a bit off-balance!

Emotions include anxiety, fear, worry, and sadness. Depending on where you live you may already find yourself in a community where neighbors have tested positive for the virus. We’ve not known days quite like these.  

Churches and their leadership are not exempt. Fellow colleague, Joel Snider, reminded us two weeks ago here of various areas every congregation should be considering. Church leaders are scrambling to find footing, to bring timely and proactive leadership when there really is no tried and true template. 

Here’s a simple reminder to church leaders:

  • Move toward the issue(s) we face, not away from it. It’s healthier and more effective for all if leadership remains calm and confident as we address matters head on. Your congregation will thank you.
  • Be honest, humble, vulnerable as you move forward. Confess that together we will be building this plane as we fly it.  We’ll need to be fluid and agile.
  • Connect with trusted colleagues, peer groups, and sister churches to “discover” and “test” what is working. Surf the web to check for best practices. Peer learning like this can serve us well.  
  • Communicate clearly and often through various channels with your church family—online media, social platforms, personal email, text messaging, phone calls. You get the idea; more is better.
  • Engage and enlist others to join you, from ministry staff to lay leadership, as you connect with the church family and your partners in mission and ministry.  
  • Reaffirm your mission. Lean into your values as the Body of Christ. As Simon Sinek would say, “Remember your WHY.”  Be the presence of Christ to one another and to your neighbors.  

Here are a few “best practices” among churches we’re seeing:

  • Sunday Worship is being livestreamed and/or broadcast on Facebook Live. Church members are joining in live and “chatting” during the service to promote a sense of community. Laypersons are engaged, where possible, in the leadership and production of the experience. Engage your people to commit to joining together online during service and participate as a “virtual” worshiping community. It can be surprisingly rewarding.
  • Sunday School/Bible Studies groups may utilize social media to convene and connect.  Many do so already. Be intentional about such opportunities.
  • Be sure to post ongoing and timely “updates” on your website. There is opportunity for access to resources, including links to Sunday worship, a password-protected prayer list, and online giving.
  • Encourage small groups to care for one another via phone calls and texts. When we are not together it is good just to hear a friend’s voice or connect. Make a call to a fellow church member to check in on one another. 
  • Ministry staff should determine the best manner to do pastoral care during this time. Clearly communicate this plan to the congregation regarding pastoral care visits/contacts in homes during this time, especially hospital and healthcare facility policies.
  • Most church offices are finding ways to remain open, even if modified from regular schedules or staffing. It is the hub of connection. If church offices do close, program telephone systems (if available) with clear and concise information related to church activities and events, as well immediate contact information to ministerial staff members in the event of an emergency.
  • Pray for one another, your community, and our world. Remember those families directly affected by COVID-19 and the health professionals providing care, our government leaders, and for the sick and most vulnerable.

At CHC we often refer to the uncertainty of “transition periods” in the church’s life as a kind of “wilderness” journey.  It’s appropriate that it coincides with the Lenten season. 

This is a time for spiritual discernment, a time of prayer and fasting.  Remember it is God who is “our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble.” (Psalm 46).

  • Face your fears with a bias of faith and hope.  
  • Engage your assumptions with facts and the good reason God has given you.  
  • Act on what we are learning from the medical and scientific professionals. Wash your hands; practice social distancing. Be a leader where God has placed you.
  • Release your fears to God. Pray, take this seriously, but don’t panic.
Bill Owen
Dr. Bill Owen is a Congregational Consultant and Coach for CHC after a 32-year pastorate at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Cross Plains, TN, just north of Nashville. Bill is an experienced, certified leadership coach. He also works as a cognitive coach among educators, particularly secondary school teachers with a focus on innovation and personalized learning. He brings these skills and experiences to his work with and love for congregations and ministry staff development. He is a consultant for CHC and the coordinator for CHC-Southcentral.