How your church can respond to a public health crisis

LITTLE ROCK – As Arkansas Baptists are aware, the outbreak of the Coronavirus around the world and in numerous areas of the United States has created unease and confusion. Uncertainty coupled with misinformation is often the recipe for increased anxiety that leads to fear and unrest. While we do not want to minimize the significance of this situation, doctors and experts teach us that there are commonsense steps that we can take to prepare our churches to protect their people and continue to minister with confidence.

Arkansas Baptists should not respond with fear or withdraw from church and ministry because “God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love and a disciplined mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) Now is the time to prepare our churches for a practical response that both encourages our people and prepares us for ministry. Times like this create opportunities for us to step into ministry opportunities and show the impact of our faith in Jesus. Arkansas Baptist churches that move forward by faith and with a disciplined approach will be lighthouses of encouragement and comfort in this difficult situation.

1) Demonstrate Positive Leadership

There are several actions church leadership should take in order to respond well. First, the pastor should demonstrate positive leadership in the situation. Given the widespread questions about the virus and growing fear, people are struggling with questions and apprehension. This creates uncertainty in the church – do I shake hands? Is it safe to go? Is it safe for my children? The pastor can create a sense of confidence and calm in the church by making positive decisions to handle the situation and communicating clearly with the church.

Additionally, the pastor should call together the key leaders in the church as a body as part of developing a plan. This team of leaders will be different in every church, but they should be engaged. There is wisdom in synergy of leadership. A team of key leaders also lends a sense of strength that calms the congregation. It is good for them to know that “our best people are on top of this.”

2) Develop a Plan

Second, the church must develop a clear plan that the church can follow. One of the many blessings of being an Arkansas Baptist is the sharing of information and best practices. The plans being developed across the ABSC follow similar patterns. The elements of most plans consistently include these elements:

– Define the leadership team to work with the pastor in monitoring and updating decisions.

– Communicate expectations of congregational behavior – handwashing, use of hand gel, stay home if you are sick, no hugging or handshaking during this season, etc.

– Explain the actions being taken by the church to clean, train volunteer workers on safety behaviors, etc.

– How updates on church plans and services will be communicated as the situation unfolds.

– A call to prayer for the church, the community, and missions.

– Be active in ministry to the sick and senior adults in your church.

– How to handle giving issues – passing the plate, online giving, how to give.

3) Communicate Clearly

The pastor then needs to communicate to everyone clearly and calmly. Do not let awkwardness and uncertainty dominate the congregation. The greeting time in the Sunday morning service is a microcosm of the context. They do not know whether to shake hands or how to handle the situation. Some will abruptly refuse any contact. Others will shake hands even if they are uncomfortable in order to avoid conflict. Many could choose to avoid church in order to avoid all of this and the fear of being infected.

The pastor can create calm by communicating well. When he calmly and clearly explains the plan the church leaders have developed, the situation will immediately improve. Everyone will be glad that the situation is clear. Most importantly, people will remain involved and connected giving the church the ability to minister during this season.

4) Seize the Opportunity for Ministry

Finally, situations such as these create opportunities to train the church to be better prepared to serve in these types of circumstances. Doctors and experts make it clear this situation is similar to the flu season in terms of how it spreads. Churches confront the flu season each year. With more strains of the flu, as well as more virulent strains, church leaders should have a plan in place. The spread of the coronavirus and current anxiety shows churches should prepare themselves to respond. The coronavirus situation creates an opportunity to develop and practice a plan. Even if the coronavirus situation is a one-time situation, the flu will come each year and only continue to grow as a problem. Develop a plan and you will be prepared moving forward.

This is a season for ministry. Could there be a better time to highlight the church’s IMB missionary partners? This is an incredible time to teach about the difficulties our missionaries face serving in foreign countries where situations like this occur. With mission trips being canceled, the needs are compounded for our missionaries and they need our support in new ways. It is important to lead the church to engage more in ministry and not pull back.

There are many resources available for churches through the incredible network of Arkansas Baptist churches. The following links provide a sample process for developing a plan, some sample statements from ABSC churches, links to information from the CDC, and a link to a video on for pastors in preparing to respond during the coronavirus situation. – A process for developing a plan – Protocols for volunteer mission trips – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – U.S. Department of State – World Health Organization – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Arkansas Department of Health – Sample statement – Sample statement – Sample statement

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