EFCA West is providing this guidance to church leaders regarding the corona virus to assist in determining appropriate responses to the issues related to the spread of this virus. This guidance is not to be confused with nor is it intended in any way to supersede competent medical advice.
Due to different size churches, not all guidance provided here will be equally applicable. The EFCA West district covers a very large area, so geographical variances are expected.
This is an evolving situation. The guidance provided here may become insufficient to address circumstances that may arise in the weeks, days, or even hours ahead.
Here are some general response concepts to keep in mind as you address this situation in the church you lead.
- All emergencies are, in essence, local emergencies. That is to say that the circumstances faced in one part of the country may be dramatically different than those found in other parts of the country. The same is true for states, regions and even cities. Pay particular attention to what medical professionals are saying in and around your community.
- We recommend that church leaders take fact-based measures to protect their congregants and communities from the spread of this virus. This means that it is important to know from whom you are getting your “facts” upon which you are basing your decisions. Social media sites are not necessarily reliable sources for accurate information.
- We recommend taking your cues from competent medical authorities such as the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and, in particular, state and local medical authorities. The purpose of these organizations is the practice of medicine and addressing the spreading of disease. The purpose of media is to sell advertising. Don’t just listen to the news – check out the Websites of these and similar organizations near you to confirm or refute what you heard reported.
- Remember that the fight against the corona virus has two primary fronts. One is to stop the spread of the virus from person to person. The other is to flatten, or spread out over time, the spread of the virus. We readily understand the first, but sometimes not the second. As a simplistic illustration of “flattening the spread” is that having one million people contract the virus over 12 months is a completely different situation than having one million people contract the virus with a six-week period.
- We recommend that churches comply with government requests for social-distancing measures such as curtailing or canceling public gatherings. Be sure you know the actual request/requirement before taking action. For instance, it was widely reported that San Francisco banned large gatherings. It was much less widely reported that what was actually banned were public meetings of 1,000 or more attendees such as sporting events. When making these kinds of decisions, clarity is your friend.
Here are some specific actions and recommendations for church leaders to consider.
- Know who has the authority to cancel services and/or programming of the church. It is our recommendation that the senior/lead pastor have this authority to make this decision. Because we always recommend that major decisions be made in consultation with others, we recommend that the pastor and perhaps the board chairman consult on this decision before it is implemented. Board members should let their pastor and congregation know that this decision has been delegated so that decision-making will be nimble and timely.
- Pastors – give yourself permission to make a decision to support peoples’ health and safety even though some may think your decision was unnecessary. You won’t be able to please everyone – so don’t try. Make the best decision you can under the circumstances and stick to it. You don’t need to be 100% certain that it was “required.” Sometimes it’s wiser to be timely than proven correct later. We don’t believe God will be angry with pastors who make the safety of their flock more important than their programming schedule.
- If you do a greeting time, consider giving social-distancing instructions to people beforehand. This is a good reminder and gives people “permission” to not shake hands or otherwise touch other people.
- Hand sanitizer everywhere. This may be hard due to shortages. A team member recalls a cruise where a crew member shot a dollop of hand sanitizer onto every pair of hands that entered the dining room for meals. We can do the same inside the doors to our church gathering place.
- Have a communication plan to provide up-to-the-minute information about church services and programming and tell the congregation to use it. This will allow you to make last-minute decisions if needed.
- Let the congregation know that the church’s expenses continue even though services and programming may be cancelled or curtailed. It is okay to let people know that they can still give tithes and/or offerings by mail and electronically and that the church needs people to continue their regular patterns of giving despite virus-related closures to maintain cash flow.
- Consider what are other churches in your neighborhood doing and why are they doing it. This is a good time to reach out to the leaders of surrounding churches to establish communication. Just because a nearby church has cancelled services doesn’t mean you should, but it’s good to know that it happened and why it happened.
It’s important we remember that, if we want people to do something, we need to tell them. We cannot assume they know what we want them to do. Many people in our churches do things out of habit or a sense of obligation. Here are some areas where you as a leader can provide clarity for your congregation.
- If you are elderly, infirm, or otherwise at high-risk from this virus, stay home. If you recently returned from travel to a virus hot spot, stay home. You will not bless the church by coming here, potentially becoming sick, and dying. The church will not be blessed by the ensuing publicity, either.
- If you have any symptoms of illness, stay home. This includes children, children’s workers, worship leaders and the preacher. If you wake up Sunday morning not feeling well, stay home. We prefer to cancel programs and have children sit with parents during the service than to spread a nasty virus among ourselves. Pastors – have someone every Sunday on standby to preach a decent sermon or lesson should you become ill and need to practice what you preached.
Don’t pass common items throughout the congregation. Do things differently and explain why. Here is a partial list of disease carriers that you should consider not using during this or any other health crisis.
- Offering plates or buckets. Consider collecting offerings as worshipers enter or leave.
- Communion plates and common bread or cups. Consider having those that can walk to a table to pick up individual communion elements. You can use two thimble-sized cups with a piece of bread in the bottom cup and the wine/juice in a cup nested in the bread’s cup. You will need to individually serve the infirm. If this won’t work, consider one or a few people serving the congregation as opposed to serve-yourself.
- Door knobs and panic bars on exit doors. These things are yucky all the time, but especially so during flu and virus seasons. Consider having someone at the doors throughout the service to open them for people that enter or leave. One person touching the door is more sanitary than three hundred people touching the door. And, you may find that a designated doorkeeper can eliminate the banging of closing doors during your sermon.
- Food utensils. Avoid serve-yourself buffets or food lines. We recommend not sharing food if possible during this time. If you must serve food, do not let people serve themselves. Have designated food servers place items onto people’s plates. Avoid refilling dirty cups or plates. This includes that coffee service on the patio. Be sure to have those servers smile.
Here are some ways that churches can show compassion toward those affected by this virus and the effort to slow its spread.
- The elderly and infirm are particularly high-risk populations. Especially if we encourage them to stay home, and if they do, someone reaching out to them to ensure their safety would be a blessing. Some may need assistance with groceries or the like if they feel they should stay indoors and away from activities such as shopping.
- If someone in your congregation contracts the virus, consult with family members and medical professionals about what, if anything, you should do to care for them. Cooperate with epidemiologists if contacted regarding quarantine or sanitation issues.
- Some in your congregation may suffer a short-term financial crisis as a result of loss of work or business-related income. Let people know who to contact should they require financial assistance.
These are some areas of practical guidance for church leaders to consider. But perhaps the most practical guidance of all is to bathe this entire situation, the virus, its spread throughout the country and world, its victims, the families of decedents, and the impact upon our churches, in prayer. We don’t know the future but we know who holds it. May this virus be used by God to help spread the gospel among all people, and may we be His instruments in doing so.