With the explosive expansion of the COVID-19 virus, many churches have chosen to follow governmental guidelines and halt meetings and worship services for several weeks.
During times of crisis like this, many spiritual struggles could arise among our church members. For some, these spiritual struggles might be issues of guilt and shame. For many, their spiritual struggles could include despair, hopelessness, fear which seems to be gripping many people in its hold. Other spiritual struggles could be powerlessness, meaninglessness or loneliness from being isolated due to missing the regular fellowship with believers.
The time when they need spiritual support the most, they are limited in how they can receive it due to the pandemic.
How can the church minister to and meet the spiritual needs of their members when the church is unable to gather believers together for an extended time?
Embrace new technology to reach church members
One great technology that many churches embrace is livestreaming. Via internet, worship services can be viewed by their members in their homes. After viewing the livestream of the early service of my church this past Sunday, I viewed portions of worship services of a couple other churches. However, this technology is often relegated to larger churches who can manage this format.
However, all sizes of churches can take advantage of new technology and contact members via platforms such as Facetime, Facebook Messenger, Skype or Zoom (With Zoom there is a free basic package that will allow one-on-one viewing). With these platforms, face-to-face viewing is possible. This is great for one-on-one communication, as well as group conference calls for small groups to do their weekly Bible Study.
Small groups/Bible study groups could start a Facebook group or community. Each member of the small group would be invited. All posts in that group go the members of that group’s Facebook newsfeed. People can share freely their needs and prayer request.
If that is too much technology, email lists of can be developed. Members can send out requests to the group. My small group leader and his wife regularly encourage members through our email group.
Churches of all sizes can develop a 24-hour hotline for people to call with their spiritual concerns and struggles. Pastors, deacons, and lay leaders can take turns manning this hotline, offering spiritual care and prayer to those members who call in.
Churches can also email a daily or weekly devotion to their members. Several years ago, when our hospital was making the transition from one electronic medical record platform to another, most of our staff members felt great anxiety. To help with this, I sent out a daily email devotion for several weeks. This was so appreciated by our staff and dozens of staff members asked for me to continue it.
Soon afterwards, we began offering weekly devotions, written by different chaplains. Almost daily, I am stopped by people in the hallway telling me how they appreciate them and how the devotions spoke to them, when they needed encouragement the most. These devotions can serve to encourage your members, and to remind them that they are not forgotten.
We can also embrace various Bible or devotion apps. They can be linked to your church’s website. In my church’s GriefShare group that I co-lead, several people have shared how they have used various Bible Apps to help them work through their grief. They also use certain apps to share with their friends and family pictures of their loved one who died.
Don’t forget “old school” technology
The telephone is still a great tool to minister to church members. Churches can distribute call lists to various members, asking them to call people on the list weekly. I heard how one church recruited a homebound lady to call other homebound people. Even though she was not able to leave home often, she was active in ministry.
Staff members can schedule weekly phone calls to the most vulnerable. It gives the member something to look forward to. When I was in seminary, and poor as a church mouse, I had to limit my calls to my parents back home to once a week. As the scheduled day to call my parents drew near, so did the excitement from anticipating making that call. Likewise, when we schedule a weekly call with a parishioner, it gives people something to look forward to.
Over the phone, ministers can counsel people, listen to them tell their story, and pray for them. Working as a hospital chaplain, I receive regular calls from people in the community, who are in emotional or spiritual distress and desires prayer. Over the phone, I listen to their story, give them spiritual guidance, and offer prayer, which comforts the caller.
Another old school tool that we can use is mail. A letter or card from the church reminds people that they are not forgotten. Back in December, my mother died. When we returned home from her funeral, we had several prayer-grams from church members, most whom I didn’t even know. Still, they were great sources of comfort to me knowing that people were praying for me.
Even though physical contact is discouraged during this crisis, members can still make screen door or window visits. There is distance and no physical contact, but spiritual contact from seeing the face of a fellow church member can be a great source of comfort.
During these times we need to remember those who are isolated or on self-quarantine at home. It is important to contact them regularly and see if they need food or other supplies. Great pastoral care can come in a bag of food. Recently, my wife and I were quarantined by our pulmonologist. We both struggle with respiratory issues. Returning from a trip to Florida, my wife developed a cough and a low-grade fever. So, we were banished to separate parts of our house.
With the suddenness of this, we needed a few supplies from the store. Our oldest daughter delivered them to our garage. A few days later our son-in-law smoked a pork loin and brought us some of it. We spent about 20 minutes talking through the screen door. It was helpful to receive those items, but seeing their faces, even at a distance, was the best medicine. This is a medicine we can prescribe to all our members.
These are just a few things that churches can do to minister to church members during this pandemic. Churches need to think outside of the box and explore other ways to minister to their people.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful, once the crisis is over, if we continue to use these tools to minister to the sick, frail, and elderly who cannot regularly attend church?