Don’t Let Your Church Go Viral
The world is watching the ever-growing spread of COVID-19, or coronavirus. With each passing day, we read what if? scenarios surrounding healthcare supplies, travel restrictions, and advisories on large public gatherings.
Which raises the question: as the local church, how should we plan our weekend services?
For those of us in the guest services or leadership world, there are very practical steps we can take when any outbreak – be it coronavirus, the flu, or a stomach bug – threatens to disrupt our norm.
(Stick around until the end, I’ll share a downloadable one-pager we sent to our Guest Services Directors.)
1. Acknowledge fear, but don’t stoke it.
The 24 hour news cycle and social media misinformation hasn’t helped with the global anxiety surrounding the coronavirus. As leaders, it’s relatively easy for us to trend to one of two extremes: either we ignore the fear (thereby seeming aloof, naive, or uncaring) or we embrace the fear (thereby adding fuel to the fire).
Better to shepherd our people and guard our own hearts in the midst of the fear. In his excellent article for The Gospel Coalition, Joe Carter said “…we may be inclined to communicate in a way that is either overly rational or overly emotional. …While being deferential and respectful to those on either end, we must also be consistently biblical.”
We lead best when we lead out of fear and into prayer. Now is an excellent time to pray for overseas missionaries and church planters who are ministering in the hardest-hit areas. It’s a time to not just pray for your surrounding community, but talk about how you can care for those who may be affected.
2. Follow the guidance of local authorities.
Pay attention to what your local health department, public school system, and government officials are saying, doing, and recommending. Most of us are not medical professionals, but we can trust that God has given wisdom to those who are. When the board of education makes a public statement about school closures, you can be sure that parents will expect to know what their church is doing to prevent the spread of disease. That means we have to be (a) watching what actions other organizations take and (b) ready to respond in kind.
3. Provide for basic hygiene and sanitation.
When we gather, are we demonstrating good leadership by furnishing essential elements?
- Soap. Take a walk around your facility, because now is the time to check on those never-checked-on soap dispensers.
- Hand sanitizer stations. If you don’t already have these, good luck finding them (a quick Amazon search shows that pretty much everything is currently unavailable).
- Sanitized surfaces. Toilet handles, faucet handles, door handles, light switches, computer keyboards and mice…all of them are a breeding ground for bacteria. Deploy a team to sanitize throughout the weekend.
4. Pay attention to the kids’ spaces.
Take point #3 above and multiply it. Now is the time to create (and follow) a sanitation plan for all of your kids environments. Toys, blocks, books, and games should be cleaned after each service. Hand sanitizer should be used before every snack time. Plenty of tissues should be available in all rooms. Frequent hand-washing should be a given.
5. Kill the meet and greet.
Some might accuse me of capitalizing on a virus to get rid of something I don’t like anyway, and by golly you might be right. But let’s stop for a moment and think about the petri dish that is most people’s hands. Even if you cherish this tradition, shouldn’t common sense and respect for our congregation dictate that you dispense with it for the time being
and never bring it back again because at least half of your congregation thinks it’s awful? (oopsie, how did that get there?)
6. Encourage sick people to stay home.
I agree with the old adage that “the church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners.” But folks…it ain’t a hospital. Those with fevers or those who are symptomatic should sit the weekend out as an act of love for their fellow congregant. Out of the 59 “one another” commands in scripture, not a single one instructs us to infect one another.
Again with the kids: if you don’t have a sickness policy, now is the time to implement and enforce. 24 hours fever-free, no discolored nasal discharge, and no diarrhea should be a bare minimum.
No livestream? The vast majority of churches don’t have them. But consider those who are missing service: can you point them to the sermon podcast? Can you provide a simple recording of the service, uploaded to YouTube?
7. Consider communion.
I’d rather not wander down a theological rabbit hole here. Different denominations and congregations have differing opinions on whether the Lord’s Table should be celebrated each time we gather, once a month, once a quarter, etc. My point is not to dictate your practice, but to encourage you to consider how you practice: is it time to switch to those individually wrapped juice-and-wafer combos? Is it wise to postpone the communion observation if there is a current outbreak in your community? This is a discussion for your leadership, but it does need to be a discussion.
8. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
In all things, let us be leaders who lead with words, not just actions. Fearful congregants need to hear us say that God is sovereign over sickness. Parental congregants need to hear that we are sanitizing toys that their toddlers will pick up. Feverish congregants need to hear that God won’t love them less if they lay low this weekend. All congregants need to be gently reminded to wash their hands.
Think now about your staff’s communication plan: what should be said via email? From the stage? To the family who is checking in a child with a fever? To the volunteer who hasn’t stopped hacking since they showed up and never covers their mouth?
How will you keep your church from going viral?