A friend texted late last night to say he’d just left a video conference with his area pastors. “They are trying to navigate in a world where the church is encouraged not to meet for a period of time.” Strange, indeed. He asked, “How did the New Orleans churches deal with Katrina? When so many had fled the city or were otherwise unable to meet with their church family. Were there lessons that might apply today?”
I lay awake in the night with that laying heavy on my heart. For this, the first week of COV-19 Captivity I have refrained from doing exactly this–trying to sound like a know-it-all who has been there/done that because we survived a hurricane fifteen years before. But perhaps there are a few things to be said from our experience. I’m willing to give it a try…
One. The pastors need each other. They need to get together (in some way!) to pray for each other and share encouragement and ideas. All of these guys are experiencing the same weird phenomena: no church meetings, members in some degree of isolation, uncertainty on every hand, conflicting news from each side, rumors abounding, and empty shelves at the grocery. And we’ve not even mentioned the Coronavirus itself. People are dying.
In New Orleans, we held weekly pastors meetings attended by as many as 75 and 100. Prior to the hurricane, we’d do well to have 15. After the hurricane, our pastors meetings lasted from 9 to noon with a lunch at the host church. None of that is possible now, of course, but it demonstrates their need to get together for prayer, sharing ideas, and such.
Associational and denominational leaders must find a way to have regular meetings of pastors and other church leaders. Video conferencing is a great way. And that is going to require a lot of people to get tec-savvy quickly.
Two. There are ways to minister to your people who are staying away from church and avoiding crowds altogether. Find those ways.
As a pastor, associational leader, or something else, you will want to monitor what others are doing. When you find some intriguing idea, call the leader and pick his/her brain.
Senior adults will have special needs, but likewise families where both parents need to hold down jobs. When no schools are operating, the needs of these families are many. There are ways to help them; find them.
Three. Even the smaller churches can streamline the worship services, thanks to Facebook and other forms of social media. Even if you have no clue where to start to set this up, you are surrounded by people who do know. Some of them are teens in your church, and since they’re not in school, call one of them up and ask for help.
After you have learned how to do this, there is nothing keeping you from bringing in your best Sunday School teacher(s) and letting him/her/them teach a class online. Get creative.
Today, I learned that the associational office in Charlotte, NC has taken the lead in helping smaller churches learn how to stream their services to their people. Three of the larger churches have made their telecasting equipment, staff, and services available for the smaller churches. Dr. Bob Lowman is the Executive Director.
Four. Now is the time. Change is now the order of the day. During our weekly pastors sessions, we constantly hammered on this point: If you have ever needed to end a program but couldn’t because the process would be too difficult or the price too high, now is the time. Just don’t start it back when you return to having services. Also, if you have ever wanted to start a new program or ministry, now is the time.
Before the hurricane, our association had nineteen committees, most of which never met or functioned. During the post-Katrina period (of two years), we acted as if those committees did not exist and worked with a super-team which we dubbed The Administrative Committee. Later, we split it off into administrative and finance. If anyone ever complained, I never heard it.
Five. Find out what other churches are doing to help their people to contribute to the Lord’s work online. As always, the simpler the better.
The churches will require the continued financial support of their members. This is not optional although common sense says the level will drop at the same time the ministries are decreasing.
Six. And remember, the U.S. Mail is still working. Write letters to your people. A handwritten letter is a rarity most days and can be a treasure if you will do it right.
Seven. Pray. You are now finding out just how strongly you believe in prayer. “Men ought always to pray and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). So, stay on your knees.