The current outbreak of COVID-19 around the world is an experience unlike anything any of us have ever seen before. We’re all no doubt feeling a range of emotions: stressed, confused, frustrated, scared, and anxious. While we act it’s also good to reflect on what every church leader can learn from the COVID-19 crisis.
That’s no surprise because this global pandemic is impacting just about every aspect of our lives. Schools are closed. Travel is severely limited. Some of us have to work from home; some of us can’t work at all. Events are being changed or canceled. Sports have disappeared. In some parts of the world in-person, in the same physical space church gatherings are banned for now.
Despite all these unprecedented happenings, we can take heart from how people are responding. We’ve learned to embrace this new thing called social distancing to keep the virus from spreading. And we’re finding new ways to be generous and uplifting to one another online.
There are a number of lessons church leaders can learn from the coronavirus epidemic. Because how we respond to this situation could change how the church is perceived long after this disease has run its course.
1. Change is inevitable
“That’s how we’ve always done it” is a long-standing joke in the church. But we no longer have a choice about doing what we’ve always done.
Churches are being forced to find new ways to reach people beyond Sunday morning worship. This will likely extend to Easter, which is usually when we’re at our most traditional. We’re all being made to do things differently and the church is no exception.
Normally, the church is slow to adapt to change. But we can’t be in this situation. As leaders, we must be ready to be agile and flexible. This is going to push us far outside of our comfort zone, but this is also a space where we learn and grow the most.
We’ve always known that change was inevitable. We’re just having to face that reality in a much more clear and immediate way. For the churches and ministry leaders willing to adapt and adjust, that could be a good thing in the long run.
2. A church is not a building
“The church is a gathering of people, not a physical building.” That’s another phrase we’ve always said. But never before have we been reminded of this so firmly than now.
Because of COVID-19, churches are having to get creative with how they serve their community. Not only are we not able to leverage our building, but we’re also not even able to gather in person. How do we continue to serve people when we can’t even be with them?
Many churches are responding with online services and sharing messages of encouragement on social media. Many of us already knew the importance of leveraging technology to reach people—we just never realized how necessary it would become.
The church is not a building—it’s a collection of people connected to one another, even if that’s not in-person, in the same physical space. And now is the time when we need to be together more than ever before.
3. Be prepared for the crisis
“Being prepared for a crisis is not a matter of if, but when.” When we said that phrase, we never expected that we’d actually be the one to have to handle the crisis. Or that it will happen any time soon. We think we’ll still have time to prepare.
But there is no more time to prepare—because this is a crisis for all of us. It’s here right now.
Even if your church wasn’t specifically prepared for a global virus outbreak, the effectiveness of your response likely depended on your preparation for a crisis in general.
- How quickly was your leadership able to meet and make decisions?
- Were you able to get out clear communication to the church on how to proceed?
- Do you have an action plan for what’s going to happen moving forward?
Perhaps you weren’t as prepared as you wish you would have been. But realize that there will be more crises after this one— hopefully not on the same scale. And you have the opportunity to learn from this situation to know how to respond in the future.
4. Know how to serve your community
Normally, understanding your community’s wants and needs takes time and research. One of the few benefits of having a global health crisis is knowing that’s what everyone’s thinking about. It’s no secret how we can serve our community at this time.
Our people are likely feeling a financial pinch if they’re not currently working. Or they’re having to adjust to the new reality of remote working. They’re likely having to homeschool their kids. And they may be dealing with a shortage of certain essentials (like hand sanitizer or toilet paper).
Collect online resources on remote work and homeschooling to share with your people. Find ways to deliver or allow people to pick up needed supplies from the church.
No matter how you serve your community—either during this outbreak or after—it’s important to be there for people. When the church is able to embrace and meet the needs of the community, we’ll prove how relevant and needed we are.
What do you think every church leader can learn from the COVID-19 crisis? How is your church responding?