Communicating Clearly: How to Handle Coronavirus at Your Church

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This resource was first published here on Church Juice's website. Church Juice is a program from Back to God Ministries International, the media mission agency of the Christian Reformed Church.

In my lifetime, I’ve never seen a scare like the current coronavirus concern. The current fears have such a grip on society that nearly every aspect of daily life is somewhat affected by concerns about COVID-19. Gatherings, conferences, and events have been canceled. Companies are discouraging employees from traveling, and airlines are adapting their fee policies to alleviate the pressure around altering travel plans.

In some areas of North America, churches are also canceling Sunday gatherings or postponing special events. Other churches are taking precautions to reduce the likelihood of spreading the virus. So what should your church be doing, and how can you effectively communicate the steps you are taking to keep people safe while continuing the work of the gospel?

1. Ask Questions

We don’t know what the future of coronavirus in the United States and Canada looks like. The World Health Organization has officially named COVID-19 a pandemic. While we may not know what this pandemic means for our local community, now is the time for your church to make preparations in case Coronavirus strikes your community or alters your ability to go on as scheduled. Here are some things to think about:

  • What preparations could you make now to help alleviate fears around sickness and viruses?
  • Should you make any temporary or permanent changes to cleaning regiments?
  • If you need to cancel a special event or weekend services, how will you communicate that information? What could you do in its place (for example, hold services online)?
  • Who would make decisions about cancellations of plans? Many organizations have found it helpful to have a response team for these types of situations.

2. Establish a Communication Plan

Making plans in ministry is a great first step. As you consider the potential impact of the Coronavirus, you’ll need to think through how you are going to communicate changes to your congregation.

If your community becomes a “hotbed” of COVID-19, events and gatherings may be encouraged to cancel—including worship services. (This is already the case in Seattle and Kentucky.) But even if the response doesn’t go that far, you should make preparations now for communicating clearly to your congregation.

  • Develop a plan for distributing timely and accurate information.
  • Keep language clear, concise, and positive.
  • Identify actions to take if you need to temporarily postpone or cancel events, programs, and services
  • Consider what preparations your church needs to take for groups at greater risk such as older adults or people with chronic health conditions.
  • Identify space that can be used to separate sick people if needed.

3. Implement Small Changes

While we want to plan ahead and make preparations in case your community is directly impacted by Coronavirus, there are elements that you can change now to promote a healthy environment during events and worship services.

Many churches have discontinued the practice of shaking hands at welcome time; instead, people wave hello or find some other alternative. Your greeters may hold the door open, but perhaps they can temporarily pass on the handshake greeting. Consider posting hand washing reminders, provide hand sanitizer throughout the building, or send reminders to your congregation to stay home if they are feeling ill. Even think about alternatives to passing the offering plate or taking communion; these are great ways to proactively communicate healthy changes in your congregation.

Here are some ways to increase the likelihood of a healthy environment at your church:

  • Ensure that the church’s cleaning and disinfecting protocol is at a higher standard to ease concerns.
  • Provide COVID-19 prevention supplies at your church (e.g., soap, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, tissues, trash baskets, and a couple of disposable facemasks just in case someone becomes sick during an event).
  • Adapt your staff and workplace policies by developing flexible attendance and sick-leave policies, plan for alternative coverage, and monitor and track COVID-19 related staff absences.

4. Care For “The Least of These”

When it comes to a wide-spread issue, people respond in many ways. Engage with stigmatized groups and speak out against negative behaviors to help counter discrimination. Consider how your language and actions may impact those who are responding to the outbreak. People who already struggle with anxiety might be having an especially difficult time. Ensure you’re doing your part to encourage and edify; allow this to be an opportunity to speak to a tough subject by modeling how to “speak the truth in love.”

In addition, think about how you may respond to people in your congregation or community who are quarantined, the elderly who are uncomfortable attending public gatherings, or others dealing with a wide range of fears and accessibility concerns.

5. Make Online Plans

Streaming services online has become popular in recent years. Even if your church doesn’t currently stream its worship services, now is a great time to think about the potential for online services.

If your church currently streams online, consider what changes would need to take place if the regular worship schedule gets changed. Think about these potential questions:

  • What aspects of the worship service do you want to continue providing each week?
  • Do you need to make changes in how you live stream to make it more accessible to everyone?
  • How can you keep all audiences engaged throughout the online service?

If you don’t currently live stream, don’t fret. Now is a great time to get creative in how you can create a worship experience virtually. It doesn’t need to be a complete reproduction of your regular services. Think creatively with others about how you can create a unique experience for everyone online. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What technology and tools are we able to utilize for an online experience?
  • What elements of worship do we want incorporated into a worship service online?
  • How can we make it as easy as possible for people to transition to an online service from an in-person worship service?

If you have further questions or need additional advice on how your church can adapt to the needs of your church while facing coronavirus concerns, feel free to reach out to Church Juice for help.

Additional Resources

CDC COVID-19 Resources for Community- and Faith-Based Leaders

Mental Health and the Psychosocial Aspect of COVID-19 Outbreak

Five Ways to View Coverage of the Coronavirus

Christianity Today’s Concise Coronavirus Guide for Churches

Northshore Church’s Coronavirus Communication Plan

Menlo Church Coronavirus Precautionary Updates

Fishhook’s Article—Coronavirus: What should your church be communicating?

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