For several weeks, churches and pastors have been adjusting to new “social distancing” guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Some in the Christian community believe this is a temporary situation and will soon go away; others feel differently. In these turbulent times, the unknowns outweigh the knowns. What’s next? Could more social distancing orders come at various points in the future? And if so, will pastors and church communities respond differently?
While some pastors and churches are choosing to hold regular worship services, those who refrain from gathering have an opportunity to consider new, creative avenues for ministry that they may have not considered under different circumstances. While many of us are slow to adapt to change, this could be an opportunity to use new tools and unlock greater potential for connection and worship.
Creating Multiple Touchpoints for Connection
As a church planter, I often ask, “How can we connect with our worship community outside of the Sunday experience?” A mentor of mine introduced me to the concept of “touchpoints” some years ago, and I believe it is more relevant than ever. Pastors must consider that they may have inadvertently limited Sunday to be the only time of the week in which to connect with congregants.
What other ways can we bring pastoral presence into the lives of those most in need throughout the week? Today’s technology makes it easier than ever to connect with people for a few moments at various times outside of Sunday worship.
Social distancing reveals the need for more pastoral touchpoints during the week. Several free, easy-to-use platforms that are fun and engaging for people of all ages are available. While this list is not fully comprehensive of all of the options available, these methods can be quickly and easily implemented with people already on staff or working as a volunteer.
For School-Age Youth
For the youth of our churches, not all will have equal access to technology, and pastors using discretion will avoid direct contact with minors. But pastors and churches can use this time to build strong relationships with parents. Most parents are already in the rhythm of receiving a weekly email from their youth pastor. Now more than ever, those messages must be a supportive resource for parents struggling to keep their kids occupied for many hours of the day.
I sent one family some dinner table conversation starters for their two kids. Opportunities like this allow pastors to resource families while equipping parents to fulfill their primary responsibility of discipling their children.
Consider embedding a short video in your weekly email for families to watch together. Perhaps you can create videos 3-5 minute long with complementary resources from the week’s message or ice-breakers for mealtime discussion to generate conversation. School-age youth are how to communicate as young adults; what better way to help them learn by leading them into discussion with their parents and pastors.
A final note: with this age group, it is important that any communication from pastors is appropriate and comes under the guidance and supervision of the parents. It is not recommended, and is rather advised against, to send messages directly to minors.
For Young Adults Ages 18-25
Young adult pastors have unique opportunities to host small group discussions on Zoom and similar platforms, replicating breakout rooms to draw out deeper topics for conversation. Virtual small groups can give new participants the chance to lead discussions. It also opens up channels by which young adults can connect with one another and build ideas for new ministry to be implemented once social distancing orders are lifted.
One practical idea is to keep young adults engaged by hosting a virtual coffee hour. Block off an hour on a Friday, jump on-line, and just hang out! No need to prepare a sermon; just make some coffee and show up. It is shocking the things young adults will share once they feel comfortable in an environment. Do your best not to overthink this time. Make it about the participants; have honest dialogue and some tasty coffee.
Also consider the number of singles you have in your congregation. Singles may be experiencing unique loneliness during quarantine. For married groups, consider hosting “date nights” or free counseling sessions for those stuck inside. All throughout this process, be sure to identify new leaders who can help you guide new programs into place.
Adults Ages 25-60
Remember that with your church members in this age group, you will face a wide variety of needs. Some may be laid off and facing financial stress; others may simply be enjoying a relaxing few weeks at home on paid leave. You may need to adjust your shepherding ministry accordingly.
This age range could also be your best resource to find new lay-leaders for virtual groups. Use this strategic time period to identify key mentors or people who could become deacons or elders for your church community.
This group might also be resistant to change. Pastors may need to spend extra time getting these folks on-board with updates to your style of ministry. Try and make these conversations positive, and be an active listener. Take notes on the call, and address each point as best as you can. These people will most likely be the ones with the deepest relationships with the church as it is and how it has always been. Some might not desire change but may compromise if they feel heard and understood. It might take more than one conversation, but you could unlock a new leader if the time is invested with care.
Seniors 60 and Above
The COVID-19 pandemic makes ministry to the elderly challenging. On the upper end of the age bracket, many assisted-living facilities are limiting visitors (if they allow them at all). But pastors and churches must make their elderly members a priority during this time—especially given that they are the most physically vulnerable to illness.
This also means that leaders must think about how much they are investing in technology at this time. Is mobile technology the only way to connect with others? For the seniors in your church community, don’t forget the simplicity of a handwritten note or phone call. While technology can make it easier to connect in some ways, it is not always easier for everyone. A short call or note can go a long way and make a lasting memory. Also consider those members of your church who might not have the technical ability to watch a live-streamed church service.
Also remember that seniors can be very valuable mentors right now. If it is possible, try pairing up a senior member of your community with a young member to add an intergenerational component to your community. Many retirees living in quarantine have an excess of time on their hands right now, and the New Testament instructs us to have the older members of our church disciple the younger (cf. Titus 2). If you find your community has a rich community of active seniors, connect with them and let them be a resource for you.
In this time of anxiety and uncertainty about the future, pastors and churches need to continuously be thinking of ways to stay in contact with their community. This can happen by thinking about building a plurality of touch-points with smaller groups under your care. Empower people on your teams to think creatively. Your ideas don’t have to be complex or overly-produced. When reaching out to people in need, leading with the simple intention of love can change a person’s perception of what it means to be the Church.