How Can We Care for Our Church Members During COVID-19?
Editor’s note: We asked pastors how they’d been serving their people since the pandemic disrupted regular ministry. This list will be updated as more ideas come in. For more resources related to COVID-19, visit our new site: COVID-19 & The Church.
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By Bob Johnson, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in suburban Detroit
I live and serve in the Detroit area where the pandemic has had a particularly big impact. Despite the severity of the disease and the strictness of our quarantine, I am very encouraged by my congregation’s response to this crisis and their care for one another. Here are some of the things that we have done in order to encourage and care for our church.
- I send out a daily 5–7 minute video devotional from a psalm.
- I email the congregation twice a week. The first email focuses on loving God and the second on loving one another. In the second one, I include recipe ideas for things that families can make with their kids and share with others.
- Almost weekly, our 15 elders check on the members in their Member Care Group (about 65 each).
- The women of the church have a Zoom prayer time on Wednesday’s at 6pm.
- The church has a 24-hour-a-day, 6-day-a-week prayer chain. It follows a suggested prayer guide that includes prayer requests for all of our members who are on the front lines and at risk.
- Most of our Adult Bible Classes meet weekly over Zoom for a time of prayer and teaching.
- We livestream Sunday morning ministry updates, prayer, and preaching.
- We livestream a Wednesday evening class on the Trinity.
- Many of our children’s leaders do a weekly Zoom event with their kids.
- My wife and I video tape ourselves reading stories for children and send them out to families.
- The elders did an online townhall meeting with the congregation to keep them up to date on what is going on at the church and how we can care for one another.
- I stay in touch with local pastors and share their needs with the congregation so that we can find ways to encourage them as well.
- People have sewn around 1,500 masks and skull caps for hospitals and nursing homes and delivered them to our nurses who share them.
- We have people who call the local hospital’s COVID-19 floors once a shift and pray for the workers with them.
- We offered our facility to be used for overflow for patients, and our parking lot for testing and food distribution. We have a group of members who are being certified by FEMA so that our facility can be used if needed.
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By Jeff Wiesener, pastor of North Point Baptist Church in Denton, Texas
Consider doing these two things.
1. Table the “business” of the church.
During this difficult season when regular “pastoral check-points” such as public gatherings, equipping classes, and small groups are cancelled and postponed, local church elders must resist the temptation to become fixated upon the “business” of leading—with its various technical, financial, and administrative challenges—at the expense of the businessof leading, that is, to knowand carewell for each soul in their temporarily scattered flock.
Given the effort church leaders will need to put forward to care for their members in this season, elders might consider tabling typical ministry issues in order to devote themselves more fully to (virtual) visitation and soul care. For example, in non-pandemic times, our elders meet together every other week and rotate between “issue-centric” and “member-centric” meetings, with the latter being devoted entirely to updating one another on specific members with whom we visited and praying for each member individually.
During COVID-19, however, we postponed discussions and decisions on as many non-essential, non-time-sensitive issues as possible and turned all of our meetings into member-centric meetings. In doing so, we’ve nearly tripled our member visitations. This practice helps us know the condition of our flock and care for their souls until our public gatherings and additional pastoral check-points are restored.
2. Identify, equip, and test would-be elders.
When identifying prospective elders in our church, we pray for, encourage, and test godly men who are growing in spiritual influence (as disciplers) and ministerial competence (as teachers and shepherds). We want to see if they are men who genuinely love God’s Word and God’s people or if they simply love being seen as one who loves these things. Pandemics have a good way of revealing the motivations of would-be (and current) leaders.
When the spotlights are off, small groups are cancelled, and classrooms are empty, which men continue to pursue the spiritual good of their brothers and sisters discreetly and on their own initiative? Who are the men who don’t need a platform to open their Bibles and pray with fellow members? Which men have shown a mind to pursue not only the saints they enjoy, but also those who are difficult—not only the well-known, mature, and influential, but especially the fringy and immature? Surely COVID-19 will reveal much about our churches, including would-be elders.
Brother-pastor, let me encourage you to lookand listen for such men. Should you find any, invest your time in training and equipping them. Invite them to accompany you on visitations. Train them from the wealth of 9Marks resources in person (safely distanced, of course) or over regular video calls. You might give specific attention to excellent works on elder-ministry by Jeremy Rinne and Phil Newton. Strengthenthe work these men are already instinctively doing. When the COVID-19 dust settles, it won’t be men who merely loved the long-since vanished stages and spotlights that your flock will follow. It’ll be shepherds. May our Lord raise up many in these days!
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By Tony Shepherd, pastor of Hampton Roads Fellowship in Hampton Roads, Virginia
1. Elders lead weekly Zoom prayer calls to update the church and pray.
We call this “Elder-Led prayer.” The lead pastor will give a brief update on the current thinking of the elders in regards to member care and where the church is. Sometimes we take questions from the congregation. After a brief time of updates, elders transition to pre-selected prayer topics that members have been pre-assigned to pray for. We spend time together praying through those topics and then break out into smaller Zoom video groups to check in with one another and head out.
2. Elders are conducting zoom “pastoral visitations” with the church.
Members sign up for slots on our calendar to have pastoral visitations. This is a brief, 30-minute session for elders to ask members specific questions about how they are doing in their personal lives and how they are doing in their discipling relationships. Elders pray for members on the spot and give any guidance on making the most of their time during this season.
3. We conduct pastoral briefings on Slack.
We have used Slack for a few years to communicate as a church. The platform allows for us to send out announcements; every day, the lead pastor sends out five thoughts/points of reflection, complete with recommended resources to be reading or listening to during this season.
4. We share occasional (pdf) resources that elders are using in their quiet time/family devotional time.
Other elders share PDF resources of material they are reading through or leading their families through. This happens multiple times throughout the week (2 or 3 times) to keep the congregation engaged over various topics.
5. We put out a weekly family worship guide.
Every Saturday, we put out a family worship guide to help members worship the Lord in their homes with some structure. The guide features a song to sing with lyrics, a list of five things to pray for, a psalm to read aloud, a brief explanation of the Scripture with a little commentary, a model prayer for that psalm, and three sections of questions: 1) questions for family 2) questions for Fellowship Groups, and 3) questions for Discipleship Groups.
6. We have hand-delivered care bags to members.
They include a note, kid books (if there are kids), and a TP roll—just to say “We love and miss you!”
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By K. Edward Copeland, senior pastor of New Zion Baptist Church in Rockford, Illinois
- Daily congregational prayer on our free conference call line at 7am and 7pm. This allows us to check in with senior saints and update those who are social media-adverse.
- Automated voice message updating the congregation on important news or schedule reminders 3x week. We had been doing this 2x a week for the last 18 years. We just added a day since the pandemic started for the purpose of adding an encouraging message about following health guidelines.
- Small groups meet on Zoom during their regularly scheduled times. Pastor usually stops by at the beginning of the everyone’s session just to greet and answer questions. We currently have 5 small groups going plus a weekly Men’s Fraternity Zoom, a weekly Women’s Fellowship Zoom, and a Kids of the Kingdom (Children’s ministry) virtual Sunday School on Sunday afternoons.
- We host Tuesday Night Bible Study and Saturday Congregational Meeting Updates on Zoom.
- Ministry Action Teams have the congregation broken down alphabetically and contact everyone in their section of the alphabet by phone at least twice a month. We were doing this before the pandemic.
- Pastor regularly and randomly calls senior saints with no biological family in the area, as well as members we haven’t seen on Zoom or hear from on the daily phone calls.
- We have members standing by to run errands, pick up prescriptions, and drop off groceries for senior saints and those who are quarantined.
- On Sunday morning, Pastor does a Facebook Live Sunday School. At 10am, we host the worship service where the music, sermon, and testimonies are prerecorded and broadcasted on Facebook and YouTube.
- Pastor and a local Christian psychologist do a weekly Zoom/Facebook Live conversation called “Honest Conversations: At the Intersection of Theology and Psychology.” These conversations are designed to give practical, biblical tools to work through the fear, anxiety, and fatigue of living through a pandemic.
- We post daily encouragements on Facebook and Instagram, as well as weekly updates via email and biweekly letters to the congregation.
- The main thing I’m trying to do now for my congregation is over-communicate both God’s love and control, and my concern and empathy. I want them to be confronted with truth as opposed to conspiracy theories and dangerous myths, hope as opposed to despair.
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By Matthias Lohmann, pastor of an evangelical church in Munich, Germany
Based in downtown Munich, Germany, I serve a church with 375 members together with an Associate Pastor and a pastoral trainee who is about to become our youth pastor. In addition, we have three more trainees and two part-time admin staff.
Germany has been under lockdown since mid-March. Here’s what we’ve done to serve our members:
- We started calling all our members on a semi-regular basis to check in with them personally. In addition, I use WhatsApp and email to stay in touch with members.
- Four times a day, we host 30-minute online prayer times—two of which I lead every day.
- I blog thoughts on a psalm every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
- I started doing a 10-minute Bible talk every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday in a podcast format.
- Twice a week, we two pastors do a “Pastors’ Talk” Podcast both to discuss last Sunday’s sermon (posted on Wednesday) and to address some other issue (on Friday).
- We offer a livestream service on Sunday.
- As elders, we have kept meeting online and have taken more time than usual to pray for our members.
- We have moved bible study groups etc to online formats
Here’s what we’ve done not strictly for our members:
- We have moved our weekly trainee session to online and have enjoyed some guest lecturers whom we would not have been able to have in person (e.g. next Tuesday, Mack Stiles will be our lecturer).
- We have (through Evangelium21) produced the German edition of the Coronavirus and Christ e-book and audiobook. We’ve encouraged our members and many others to read it and listen to it.
- I have been recording German language “Christianity Explored” videos (with CE approval) to address those asking questions about Christianity during this time
On May 4, public gatherings will be allowed with very strict conditions. We can have maximum 1-hour meetings for maximum 50 people, with face masks, social distancing of 6 feet apart, and no singing.
- We are planning to have three weekday night gatherings (Tue, Thur, Fri) for which we will divide all those of the church who want to participate in regional groups of 50 max.
- One of us pastors will give a 30-minute sermon followed by 10 minutes of Q&A. In addition, we will have 10 minutes for testimonies and sharing prayer requests, and will devote the last 10 minutes to prayer.
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By Chopo Mwanza, pastor of Faith Baptist Church Riverside in Kitwe, Zambia
Covid 19 has affected the way elders shepherd their congregations. The situation calls for elders to find ways to oversee and care for the members the Lord has placed under their care. Here are five ways that can be done.
1. Continue teaching and preaching.
Make the most of all the technology available to you and proclaim the word of God. You do not need to live stream the church service, simply send out sermons and bible studies. “Preach the word” is Paul’s rallying call to Timothy and by extension to all under-shepherds.
2. Pray for the members and encourage prayer
With the extra time, you may have on your hands, pray—and then pray some more. Pray through the membership directory and encourage members to do so as well. We need to be reminded that praying is doing something about an issue, even if it may not seem like it.
3. Shepherd family heads.
Encourage the heads of the family to lead worship and disciple those under their care. Some may be clueless about what to do, equip and encourage them. Covid 19 could just lead to a revival of family worship.
4. Stay in touch.
Use whatever avenues are available to you to stay connected with the members. Let them know you are praying for them and are available in whatever way possible. Call, text, and email church members. Ask them how you can be praying for them. Loneliness will be a struggle for some, stay in touch.
5. Seize gospel opportunities and encourage the members to do the same
Every crisis presents opportunities. In one way or the other, believers will have numerous opportunities to share and display the gospel to neighbours, friends, and family. Set the example by seizing opportunities that come your way and encourage church members to do likewise.