I’ve been really delighted with how well my home church in Lincoln has responded to the coronavirus. When a friend of mine asked about it on Twitter last night, I replied to her tweet:
Has anyone's church moved to virtual services for the immediate future? What's the communication been like from your church?
— Joy Beth Smith (@JBsTwoCents) March 12, 2020
But as the story has continued today, I thought it might be helpful to share what the process has looked like for our church. Note that I’m a lay member, not an officer, and so I’ve not been in any of the meetings to make these decisions. I’ve only been on the receiving end of the communications.
Late last week (around March 5 or 6) we received a letter from the church encouraging us to stay home if we feel ill and to identify neighbors and friends likely to be more vulnerable and seek ways to serve them. The letter was signed from our senior pastor, our head of church security, and a nurse who attends at the church who was involved in the process of figuring out how we would respond.
At church on Sunday we also changed the way the Lord’s Supper was served so as to minimize how many people touch the elements. So instead of passing trays, the congregation went forward and received the elements from a pastor or officer. We also streamed the service on Facebook Live for people who stayed home.
Over the last two days, we have made these additional changes:
- We are going to one service on Sunday until further notice. Usually we have an 8:30 and 11am service. We now will have one morning service.
- Sunday school is canceled until further notice.
- The nursery is closed until further notice. We are going to stream the service into our fellowship hall so families with small children that attend church can watch the service in there.
- The men’s breakfast this week and next month’s mens retreat are canceled.
- Youth group events are canceled.
- The men’s ministry coordinator who announced the cancelation of men’s events also included a link to the CDC’s resources for handling coronavirus.
Additionally, we were again reminded to be attentive to vulnerable people in our circles and, if we are well, to assist them as we are able.
We are a PCA church of around 300 people. We have two pastors on staff as well as a youth director and a few part-time staff to assist with music, nursery, and so on. So we’re a relatively small church. But the session has been proactive, they’ve included congregants with relevant expertise, and been decisive. And it’s been enormously helpful for me, as a congregant, not only in terms of just knowing “what is going on at my church?” but in feeling confident in the leadership of the church.
If you’re in positions of authority in a local church, I think the above is a good template for how to handle the situation. Communicate clearly, include congregants with expertise as you make these decisions, be cautious, alert your congregants to the resources already available to them, and encourage them to see this as an opportunity to love neighbor as they are able.